Rebuilding reasonableness in dangerous horses

Do you have a "spooky/overreactive/hypersensitive/dramatic/flamboyant/neurotic/destructive" horse? You might want read my following thoughts I shared with a client after her older horse arrived for an assessment:

We had a good first week. The major underlining issue is that your horse is fearful, which creates dramatic and defensive behavior.

How ever he initially learned added with whatever the human experiences afterwards were, has taught him to be "contained" no matter how worried he is, until the moment he cannot "handle" what is being asked and becomes super chaotic in his fleeing movement.

Basically he can never let down and relax due to the anticipation of what might be asked of him next, and is so consumed with being on high alert, that he literally cannot see or acknowledge the world around him. The moment he finally does notice things, it all is too overwhelming and he wants to flee from it.

The cresty, over bent kink in his neck, his dramatic sewing machine like steps, his constant excessive movement- like taking an extra four steps in order to be able to stop and not fall over, his overreaction/hypersensitivity to spatial pressure/physical pressure of the lead rope, etc. are all signs of his stress and are his coping mechanisms. But he's not coping very well.

So the conversation between him and I has been to physically slow down, so that he can literally start to think, then move. The real goal is that he can finally let down and relax and just be present, happily waiting for what I might ask.

It is near impossible for him to look where he is going before he offers movement; this often comes from conditioning a horse to stare at the human all the time. But when we ride, we can't have a horse who is always trying to turn around and stare at us. For him to initially roll both eyeballs towards where he was about to move was mind blowing.

For him to first think, then move perhaps two or three steps and halt, was also very difficult. He offers 0-60 in his reactions all the time. None of his behaviors are out of resistance or defiance, it solely is based on fear.

He could not rationalize that the constant containment or flee wasn't working. So I broke everything that I asked of him into very, very, very small pieces. First look and think, then move with a specific energy, then halt and mentally check in with me. Breathe, chew, relax, sigh.

My goal has been that he can stay mentally present, breathe at a normal rate, let the constant worry peaks above his eyes down, relax his jaw and lips which he holds in a constant tightness due to stress, and lengthen his neck into a "normal" position. None of this is actually about his physical appearance, but rather the physical posturing tells you what the emotions and mental status is. We're aiming for boring.

Whether I worked him loose or on the lead, we needed to change how he felt about pressure- his response in getting taller in his posture and to hyperventilate was not making him feel better. He has now started to learn how to gently soften to pressure- this is a hugely important concept- if he's that defensive towards a lead rope, what happens when you go to sit on him or use reins?

Just touching him, moving around him, he was on guard. Showing him that just because I moved, didn't mean he had to. He acts if he's been reprimanded multiple times for getting something wrong, or just a whole lot of "driving" with pressure has totally overwhelmed him mentally. So we're doing a "re-boot."

Pressure needs to be seen as a positive support and a tool, otherwise it is an ineffective aid. He also has to believe my aids the first time I ask, rather than do nothing at all or overreacting. I noticed as I walked by his side with my hand touch him where your lower leg would lie if you were sitting on him, he got super swishy with his tail- more defensiveness. If he was that bothered by my hand lightly touching him, I can only imagine how he feels about real leg pressure.

Each day is happier, less defensiveness and less flamboyant. He is realizing every time he tries, all pressure goes away, and he feels better.

This encourages him to keep trying, and "meet me" in the middle.
Experimenting with familiar things like lining up with the mounting block- just to see how he felt, he must have grown a foot taller. It isn't about the block, but rather the trigger the block creates, about the potential upcoming ride. So every time he shows concern- we have to divert from whatever we're doing, and address him until he can LET IT GO. Which is very hard for him. But helping him though bothersome scenarios, rather than critiquing him, builds his confidence to try.

He's very sweet and really does want to feel better, and let down, he just couldn't help change his own behaviors.

Need more ideas for your own horse or scenario? Find out about Sam's Remote Coaching services.  Click HERE

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