Horse Problems: Training The Abused Horse

Equine PTSD. Let go of it.

Approximately 50% or more of the people I meet with a problem horse tell me that the horse is a rescue, was abused, or was PROBABLY abused before they got it.

Horse abuse pulls on anyone’s heart strings.
It comes in the form of neglect and malnutrition or is practiced as physical punishment.

But another type of abuse is much more prevalent and much more subtle. It comes in the form of an owner whose good heart (but lack of training skill) has allowed the horse to become completely overbearing, aggressive, or dangerous (leading to the Rescue Shelter) because of the owner’s inability to draw a line in the sand.

A perfectly fine but disrespectful, untrained horse often ends up at a rescue because it exhibits bad behaviors that need correcting before it can become a good companion.

Training is the key to his mind and his heart.

The most important thing to remember when adopting a rescue is that a horse is a horse is a horse. Whether your horse was starved, beaten or mishandled, he still has the instincts of a horse.

The best way to treat Equine “PTSD” it is to let go of it in YOUR OWN mind.

Trust is built daily between a horse and his owner. Challenging for Leadership is the issue most often affecting rescued horses, and it is a natural phenomenon for a horse. When he questions your ability to lead, he isn’t a bad or damaged horse, he is a NORMAL horse. Read: Pasture Etiquette

Every horse wants to feel safe. Every horse wants to lay down the burden of leadership and take a leader.

The ingredients in the Training Sessions that MUST be present are:

1. Authority: Give him a reason to follow you. Be as gentle as possible but as strong as necessary to get an exercise accomplished. Show him (using his natural language) that you ARE the leader. See Joining Up – Taking a Leader

2. Consistency: Fear of the un-forseen consequences is the basis for most behavior issues stemming from physical abuse. When a horse is trained by a mean-spirited, un-skilled or ignorant trainer, punishment is rarely meted out in a predictable way. If a horse doesn’t understand the basis for the reward or the punishment, he can hardly be blamed for trying to avoid it by any means possible. He uses the weapons at hand: he bites, kicks, charges, bucks, rears, or runs. See Fight or Flight.

If you are ALWAYS CONSISTENT, he can figure out the rules of the game and play right along with you instead of being frightened about your next move.

Horses are creatures of habit, and strong habits are formed during abuse experiences. He must come out of his “reactive” mind (the one that acts first and thinks later) into his thinking mind (the one that stops and thinks before action). That requires unending consistency and a calm mind-set (read on).

3. Companionship: Time spent rewarding a relaxed state of mind is never wasted. During training sessions, allow the horse to benefit from a job well done (no matter how small ) by standing, resting, relaxing (See Release Training). Don’t stop until he is in the relaxed state, but be sure to stop when he gets there! A previously-abused horse may exhibit more anxiety in the beginning, but you can demonstrate how to relieve that anxiety by rewarding a relaxed state of mind. see: Introducing Maneuvers

End every session on a good note, and allow a few minutes at the end of each session for talking, stroking, grazing or other pleasurable activities.

See Reinforcement Theory and Release Training.

Treating him with “kid Gloves” is not the answer. Handle him with with Strength, Kindness, and Consistency. Change his mind and you will change his life.

It bears repeating, “Training is the key to his mind and his heart.”

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