Sunday, December 9, 2012

Relax, Sweet Angel

Sigh. Don't you just hate when things go wrong?

Peeling back the layers of a severely abused mare sometimes offer up surprises that are both eye-opening and very sad. It is clear at this point that whatever was done to her was done repeatedly and in serious excess, and putting her in the roundpen and having someone aggressively chase her has brought back memories of trauma. That is the exact word for it... she is traumatized. If one single session of real roundpenning did that to her, I can't imagine how deep her fear runs. My poor, sweet baby... we have some backtracking to do.

We'll have to face going back in the roundpen at some point, that is for sure. I don't want her to associate the roundpen with terrifying things, seeing as that is where I want to back her for the first time, so maybe in about a week or so I will just take her in there for some low-key work and some love. For now, however, I just need to focus on getting her mind back and relaxed again.

Yesterday, I wanted to go back over the idea that ropes are NOT scary. She was totally fine with ropes - TOTALLY fine! - up until she was roundpenned. After that, they were terrifying - S slapped her all over with it, chased her with it, and pulled it over her ears in an attempt to desensitize her. It completely backfired, and gave her a reason to be afraid of ropes instead. This video is really, really long - like 10 long, boring minutes of pretty much nothing except getting her to relax - but if you watch most or parts of it you will see the difference from beginning to end. She starts off practically leaping away from me when I raised my arm with the rope, to lowering her head, to leaning into me instead of leaning away, to finally following me around at the end of a very loose and long line. She needs lots and lots of this, every day.

This morning, I wanted to see if she still remembered how to properly lunge. Unfortunately, the roundpenning very effectively backtracked us a few weeks - she had been doing absolutely fantastically up until now, which is a real shame. Today, she kept slamming on the brakes to wheel in to me, was gritting her teeth while chewing the bit (it w`as a new bit, to be sure, so that could have had something to do with it), and kept exploding backwards every time I went to correct her for wheeling in to face me. It took a little while, but she remembered what she was supposed to be doing, and I had a proper walk and whoa at the end of it. She was still wanting to whoa and turn in towards me (I HATE THAT!!) but at least she stayed out where she was supposed to instead of coming in to me. (Why natural horsemanship people want their horses to come barging into their personal space is beyond me, even when invited. To me, it is much more natural for me as the leader to come into THEIR space, not the other way around!) But I couldn't raise my hands at her - she bolted away from me every time, absolutely terrified. Even when we were grooming, if I raised my arms too fast, she went shooting away in the other direction. This is brand new and a direct result of being shooed away while roundpenning... sigh. Given everything that has happened, she was really quite good today... she could have been a lot worse. She had frenzied, frightened moments.... but once she was calm, she was very good.

I also can't believe how much weight she had lost in a single week. She must have dropped 75lbs... she's not totally emaciated, to be sure, but she's not the thick, healthy, muscular mare that she was one week ago. Observe:

It makes me want to cry looking at that picture. I can NOT believe how the weight has just come pouring off of her in ONE WEEK. I'm going to say it's probably 100% certain that she has ulcers by now, despite the fact that she lives out 24/7 and has free access to pasture and hay, is on a really good pre/probiotic with colostrum and beta glucan, is on aloe juice/slippery elm/marshmellow root/chia, and eats a very high fat, minimal stach/sugar diet. I tripled her aloe dose, doubled up her fat, and am looking into some other options, but I think the main thing to do this week is just to STOP all physical activity and not ask her to do anything stressful at ALL for the next week. We need to stop the weight loss immediately, and I think the main way of doing that is to minimize stress and maximize comfort, relaxation, and food. I'm trying to think of other things that can help her... another digestive supplement? Calming supplement? Immune-boosting supplement like APF with adaptogenic herbs? Ideas?

I could just kill whoever did this to this sweet mare. You know the funny thing about her jittery personality? She's not spooky. She's not spooky at ALL. She will go anywhere and do anything, and new things don't concern her in the slightest. It is probably why she walked into the pool no problem for the first time, and why she never so much as tucked a tail at her first saddling. The only things that scares her are threats to her own personal safety, and PEOPLE. People did this to her. Had the people in her past life only taken the time to be nice to her, she wouldn't be like this at all.

What a horrible week. Amazing how it is the little tiny things that can completely throw everything out of control.


  1. I feel for you both, but at least now she is in very good hands with you. If anyone can teach her that not all humans are bad, its you.

  2. I'd feed her in the roundpen, if you are allowed to. Positive associations. Or bring her and P in there for grooming sessions, etc.

    One of the few "hoodoo" things that I've actually found to work to my advantage is teaching a horse to lower their head when asked, and the fact that when a horse lowers its head~ that is a relaxed position so it actually *helps* them to relax. I used this a lot with one particular fruit loop... walk him out near the road, which usually made him very nervous, have him lower and keep his head lowered a few times, and the amount of relaxation was rather remarkable. Tense up again, lower his head, calm.

    Worth a try, and shouldn't have any risk of brain fry ;-)

  3. That really stinks. Setbacks can be so disappointing and heart breaking at the same time. I'm not sure why they would "shoo" her with their hands, I have never seen round pen work done that way. Nor tried to scare them, I have always seen and done it with voice or long whip gently used behind them or in front. I'm sorry you guys are going through this, but you will get through it and be stronger in the end. Thank god she found you!

  4. Agree with Bebe.. thankfully she found you! Sounds like you have a great plan for her and she knows you want the best for her. Stick with your gut- you are mom and mom knows best :)

  5. The shooing away was explained to me as such: when the horse comes to you, you are the safe spot and you can do whatever you want to them, rub them all over, rub their ears, etc. If they lift their head and move away from you when you rub their ears, they have done the wrong thing, so you chase them out of your space and they have to go back to work. Imogen is very afraid of having her ears grabbed, so when she was being touched, she lifted her head and moved away from that. For her effort of saying, "please don't hurt me, I am afraid," she got chased aggressively away. It very effectively proved to her that yes, she DID have a reason to be scared of humans when they raise their arms into your face.

  6. If you're around horses for long enough you'll eventually get one that challenges everything you thought you knew. Then you can either sell the horse or learn a new way. It sounds like you've got that horse.

    You might want to look into Constructional Aggression Treatment for her, Mary Hunter has a good post about it here: Personally I've had a lot of success with this approach to my mare's fear.

  7. Well thank goodness this mare has landed with you. She clearly has been severely mistreated in the past. Horses are such forgiving animals, that she is not just a case of a few mishaps or an ignorant first owner. A clear case of intentional abuse. But she has come so far with you already! :) Love to hear about her progress. You will get there.

  8. Ugh, I am so sorry that turned out so poorly for you both. That is most certainly a case of roundpennER fail (not you, the person doing the directing) -- it's only a tool, like a bit or a spur, and it can just as easily be misused by someone not experienced enough to apply it properly.

    It can be a wonderful tool for anxious, abused horses; which is what Solo was to a lesser extent and it was a huge boon for us. However, as you have clearly seen, if you are just a little bit off, you will only make anxiety worse.

    I have a dear friend who has been training horses for over 40 years and is a true master of the technique. Even so, it took him over two years to break through to a poor, completely neurotic Arabian he was given from a Halter training barn (not the good kind).

    All of this is not to say that THOU SHALT ROUND PEN, but I rather just think the trainer used a generic technique and didn't REALLY listen to what the horse was saying. If you are making progress in your own way, definitely stick to what works! Because listening to her is the most important thing of all and that, that I am so sad to read, this trainer completely and catastrophically failed to do. And now you are left to clean up the mess. Which won't take as long as you think, but there still shouldn't BE a mess in the first place.

  9. Don't get discouraged. Setbacks are inevitable in the training process, particularly with horses with tough pasts. Overall the trend is positive with her...and her weight loss might be a combo of things--just moving barns and adjusting to a new place/herd can do it. Just relax and trust the process and your intuition.