Horse nervous of being followed

Dry Rot

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We have a spooky pony. He was bought in with quirks. His ground work is good so someone has clearly done this work with him. He'll lead over plastic, over a pallet, over ply wood, load, etc. and someone has obviouly done a lot of work with him, but he was then sold on. But we are occasionally finding things he is phobic about and gradually over coming them one by one. It is slow work, but we are getting there.

The other day, someone was leading him and I was walking behind. He definitely did not like that one bit and kept swinging his bum around to the right in an attempt to face me head on. Clearly, he fears someone walking up behind him like this. No problem walking up to him from behind in the field, it is only when he is being led. We then tried to lead him up beside a fence so he couild not swing round and it was clear that he would have reared rather than put up with this, so stopped.

How do we overcome this fear? Clearly, it is a phobic reaction and he is frightened of being attacked from behind when led, but how do we get him to accept it? Long reining? I decided not to force the issue and wait until I could arrange things better, but what can I do?
 

asmp

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Do you not have a bombproof pony that you can walk along side him then gradually move him in front?
 

Shay

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Sadly it is more likely to be the human behind him he fears than another horse. Its quite possible he has been struck from behind - or possibly someone has had a go at breaking him to drive and frightened him badly. Long-lining him - without any other preparation first - could get you seriously injured!

How about a back to basic approach? Have one person stand by his head while another moves to his girth, then step by step slowly until they can safely stand behind him. Go to the point he tenses slightly and stop. When he relaxes move away. Don't press him or he could hurt someone. (I have a phobic ISH who we suspect was beaten at some point.) Depending on how bad he is you could try things like an exercise bandage looped behind him to de-sensitive him to that sense of something there - but obviously being safe. If he strops you have got to be able to get it off him safely. Lunging with two lines to see his reaction before slowing moving to long lining? But it all starts with moving to the point he is a little tense, then when he relaxes move away to reward him.

Oh... re-reading this... Could he have a sight impairment? I have a cob who cannot see behind and to the right. It isn't a problem to him as he is a real steady neddy - but not seeing you there could account for some of the fright?
 

Dry Rot

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As the previous owner hasn't been 100% straight with us, we don't know what went wrong but something certainly did. I suspect he may have been long reined and been badly spooked so he got a bad jab in the mouth. He has actually been long reined here but that was last year before being laid off for the winter. This is the same pony I posted about a while back in the thread "Tough Love". He really is not that difficiult to manage as he is not nasty by nature, just untrusting. He came from a big herd kept on the open hill. He's never tried to bite or kick and on this occasion just had a few mini rears. We did think he was sight impaired as he had a problem lunging anti-clockwise, but he's got over that. I like the idea of pairing him with a confident non-spooker and we are hoping to do more with this. Happily, his best mate is probably one of the more laid back ponies here so that is going to be interesting. On the other hand, he does not get upset if left on his own. He is very much the bottom of the herd social order - and then some - so it is a relief that he's got a pal who is the opposite and very near the top of the herd.
 

NiceNeverNaughty

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hmmmm.. as you know Im working through many issues with my own young highland. Ive come to the conclusion there is no point in trying to find reasons for what they do, instead just look at the problem and work through it. Mine was wild on the hill for the first 3 years of her life before she came to me so I know there is no ‘history’. Im not saying your boy’s issues cant have been caused by the previous owner but just sometimes it’s just who they are. You’d think someone had hit my girl, she is very wary and head shy still. There have been so many odd things she’s worried about and Ive been so frustrated as I thought I was buying a blank canvas so to speak!

The first thing Id ask is; does he HAVE to have someone walking behind him just now? If not then Id forget about it and really just build on the things he is confident with, chances are that in a few weeks it might not be an issue at all as his overall confidence grows. If you really believe it’s a total phobia then Id also look at it from a horse’s point of view. You say he is the bottom of the pecking order, so is my mare. If you think about what the rest of the herd will be doing to move him on, they push from behind so it may be as simple as him feeling threatened. Can you work behind him in the stable? Id start with lots of grooming around the back end, standing behind and waiting until he relaxes and then moving away from him. I wouldnt go straight to long reins but id play about when you lead him on your own with him on a longer line and let him get in front of you a bit then bring him back, work on being able to position yourself around him. Ive found with many things mine has just clicked in time but trying too hard to fix something you see as an issue can make it worse, so unless its crucial, Id focus on other things and just gently chip away with some positioning work without putting pressure on him if that makes sense?
 

Dry Rot

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hmmmm.. as you know Im working through many issues with my own young highland. Ive come to the conclusion there is no point in trying to find reasons for what they do, instead just look at the problem and work through it. Mine was wild on the hill for the first 3 years of her life before she came to me so I know there is no ‘history’. Im not saying your boy’s issues cant have been caused by the previous owner but just sometimes it’s just who they are. You’d think someone had hit my girl, she is very wary and head shy still. There have been so many odd things she’s worried about and Ive been so frustrated as I thought I was buying a blank canvas so to speak!

The first thing Id ask is; does he HAVE to have someone walking behind him just now? If not then Id forget about it and really just build on the things he is confident with, chances are that in a few weeks it might not be an issue at all as his overall confidence grows. If you really believe it’s a total phobia then Id also look at it from a horse’s point of view. You say he is the bottom of the pecking order, so is my mare. If you think about what the rest of the herd will be doing to move him on, they push from behind so it may be as simple as him feeling threatened. Can you work behind him in the stable? Id start with lots of grooming around the back end, standing behind and waiting until he relaxes and then moving away from him. I wouldnt go straight to long reins but id play about when you lead him on your own with him on a longer line and let him get in front of you a bit then bring him back, work on being able to position yourself around him. Ive found with many things mine has just clicked in time but trying too hard to fix something you see as an issue can make it worse, so unless its crucial, Id focus on other things and just gently chip away with some positioning work without putting pressure on him if that makes sense?

Yes, all that makes sense. We did swop roles but I was working with a teenager who has her own ideas! As soon as I saw things were not going as I intended, we stopped and left it there. BTW, he was also stick shy when he came and I imagine some of these big breeders just treat them like cattle. My approach is to deal with each phobia as it arises. That may be wrong, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I do think last year we were going wrong ny reassuring him after each spook, so rewardimg spooking with positive reinforcement. Now it is a question of checking the spook, then applying the reassurance when he'd calmed down, if you follow me. Unfortunately, he really needs a one-to-one home which I can't provide here. But these problems are interesting too.
 

welshd2013

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My advice would be to create the spook in a controlled environment rather than wait for it. Sounds like he's incredibly lucky to have found you!!

When my boy arrived last year he was hugely cautious about his bottom and back legs. He'd never had a bad experience, came to me as a, just, 2 year old from the yard where he was born and loved dearly so not quite the same but I'm talking MAJOR issues around his back end. The first we knew about it was a couple of days after he'd arrived when my young, autistic, daughter walked behind him quietly without thinking and he kicked her and threw her over seven feet from where the impact was made.
Having a horse who is unpredictable (or worse, predictably naughty) around their back end is simply not an option for us because my daughter has little idea about safety and so I spent some time de-sensitising him.
I started by quietly stroking and scratching his bottom and tail whilst standing to the side. Once he realised he liked that we'd broken down a huge barrier. I went on to taking his rugs off by sliding them off his bottom and as far down his legs and he could handle and within a couple of days I was able to slide them right down and let them drop to the floor by his back feet.
Next I got a lunge line and began just dropping it over his back and then pulling it off, almost like a snake, he was fine with that so I put two loops on, then a third loop over his bottom. That took a few goes before he was comfortable but then I let the line drop around his hocks. Very quickly we'd moved on to him allowing the line to be pulled through his back legs in a figure of eight! I once had a youngster who spooked and got the line caught around his back legs whilst long reining and he just panicked and bolted, so I am really sensitive to that and was really keen to make sure when I eventually do long rein him I'd done everything I possibly could to prevent it ever happening again. I then got a lunge whip and slowly built up from snaking the 'tail' of it over his back to being able to wave it around behind him. Then I moved onto plastic bags, stroking him with my hand in the bag on his shoulder, then neck and moving slowly down until I was able to stroke his bum with it.
Finally, I asked EVERYBODY, farriers, dentists, visitors etc etc to come and stroke and scratch his bum, standing at his side of course and eventually moved on to stopping people when I'm out walking with him and asking them to do it.....I have had a few funny looks ;-)


The result? I went too far! I tried to load him today for his first show of the season and his very calmly stood on the ramp and politely refused to move. After and hour of coaxing I got a lunge whip to just snake or snap behind him, I'd never hit him!, but he was so confident that I wouldn't hurt him he didn't even stop relaxing his back leg haha! Little sod was actually falling asleep while we tried everything to wake him up!

So learn from my mistake and don't do it too much but it definitely works and genuinely only actually took me half an hour two or three times a week over probably three or four weeks ;-)
 
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Dry Rot

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My advice would be to create the spook in a controlled environment rather than wait for it. Sounds like he's incredibly lucky to have found you!!

When my boy arrived last year he was hugely cautious about his bottom and back legs. He'd never had a bad experience, came to me as a, just, 2 year old from the yard where he was born and loved dearly so not quite the same but I'm talking MAJOR issues around his back end. The first we knew about it was a couple of days after he'd arrived when my young, autistic, daughter walked behind him quietly without thinking and he kicked her and threw her over seven feet from where the impact was made.
Having a horse who is unpredictable (or worse, predictably naughty) around their back end is simply not an option for us because my daughter has little idea about safety and so I spent some time de-sensitising him.
I started by quietly stroking and scratching his bottom and tail whilst standing to the side. Once he realised he liked that we'd broken down a huge barrier. I went on to taking his rugs off by sliding them off his bottom and as far down his legs and he could handle and within a couple of days I was able to slide them right down and let them drop to the floor by his back feet.
Next I got a lunge line and began just dropping it over his back and then pulling it off, almost like a snake, he was fine with that so I put two loops on, then a third loop over his bottom. That took a few goes before he was comfortable but then I let the line drop around his hocks. Very quickly we'd moved on to him allowing the line to be pulled through his back legs in a figure of eight! I once had a youngster who spooked and got the line caught around his back legs whilst long reining and he just panicked and bolted, so I am really sensitive to that and was really keen to make sure when I eventually do long rein him I'd done everything I possibly could to prevent it ever happening again. I then got a lunge whip and slowly built up from snaking the 'tail' of it over his back to being able to wave it around behind him. Then I moved onto plastic bags, stroking him with my hand in the bag on his shoulder, then neck and moving slowly down until I was able to stroke his bum with it.
Finally, I asked EVERYBODY, farriers, dentists, visitors etc etc to come and stroke and scratch his bum, standing at his side of course and eventually moved on to stopping people when I'm out walking with him and asking them to do it.....I have had a few funny looks ;-)


The result? I went too far! I tried to load him today for his first show of the season and his very calmly stood on the ramp and politely refused to move. After and hour of coaxing I got a lunge whip to just snake or snap behind him, I'd never hit him!, but he was so confident that I wouldn't hurt him he didn't even stop relaxing his back leg haha! Little sod was actually falling asleep while we tried everything to wake him up!

So learn from my mistake and don't do it too much but it definitely works and genuinely only actually took me half an hour two or three times a week over probably three or four weeks ;-)

I am a great fan of the plastic carrier bag on the end of a long stick, though since they now charge 5p for them, I've gone over to feed bags! :)

As for loading, we find a round pen invaluable. The trailer is backed up to the gate and the ramp put down. Then we have two methods, either they are fed a little hard feed on the ramp every day, gradually moving the feed bowl in a few inches every day until they are happy to walk in. The lessons finally end when the pony will walk in and pull at a small mesh hay net. Then we just leave them to it. If at any stage they want out, we let them as it seems to reassure them that they are not trapped.

The second method is to free lunge the pony in the round pen and take off ALL pressure when they get near the ramp, i.e. turn and walk away, gradually upping the 'ask' at each session. So, they have a choice. Stay outside and work or load for food and rest.

Both methods take time, possibly daily practice for weeks, but I have trained ponies that wouldn't even approach the trailer to being self loaders and loading on command.

Of course, we now feed in the trailer from an early age and, as you've said, have another problem. We can't keep them out! One thing, never be tempted to try to force a horse to load except in an emergency or they will associate the bad experience with the trailer and get even worse!

And that is all off topic and nothing to do with my problem!!! :D But, hey, this is a discussion forum!
 

welshd2013

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My little horror kept coming into the box and helping himself to food and then backing out, I agree never to force them in, the idea of the lunge whip was simply to stop him from taking the you know what not, to actually scare him but to to wake him up, it didn't work haha!! We eventually resorted to pressure release and he loaded calmly, because he realised it was the easiest option and he is like a cardboard cut out of my teenage son, will do anything for an easy life - Food, Sleep, Girls repeat! xx
 
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