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Women & Horses by Mary D. Midkiff - horseback riding fitness techniques for women

Women & Horses, knowledge for the female equestrian; female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

Your Questions

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Q:

Hi Mary - I read your article about "How to create a Special Bond with your horse" with tears in my eyes - I WANT that special bond with my horse, but she isn't interested in any of the bonding gestures you described in your article.

I purchased my filly as a foal because I really had a special bond with her mother, but the owner wouldn't sell. From the time the baby hit the ground, she was a sassy brat. She kicked the barn owner the first day, and reared up and tried to strike me with her feet the first week.

For 3 years, I was determined to create a bond between us. I've logged a LOT of hand grazing hours, and just hanging around hours, but she still hasn't warmed up to me yet. A trainer started riding her last October and she was good as gold for her, but I still can't lunge her without her rearing or trying to kick me.

Anyone else can brush her, but if I touch her side, she moves away and pins her ears. I have never beat her or given this horse any physical reason to dislike me. She has had the best feed, vet and farrier care we could buy. = Everyone who meets her comments on how friendly and easy to manage she is, but she doesn't want me to rub her withers or pet her head or anything. She comes to the fence whenever she sees me, but as soon as she finds out I don't have a treat, she leaves. If I do have a treat, she eats it, then pins her ears and demands more. . . then leaves.

Inside her stall, she isn't careful about where I am and often turns her rump to me and backs up, but has never kicked me. She did pin me in the corner by the door one day and try to flatten me against the wall, so I really have to watch her. She has no respect for me whatsoever.

3 years is a long time to try and make friends without much success. I'm sure there is something I'm leaving out. I have had good relationships with horses in the past, but this one has me stumped.

Any suggestions? - A. (April 2006)

A:

Dear A.: Thank you for your letter. Without meeting you and the filly this will be hard to figure out. It sounds like you are giving it your all and I respect you for trying.

First of all, let me just say there are mismatches and maybe this is what you have with this filly. But I think it is worth trying many options before you give up on her.

I would have a professional animal communicator talk with your filly and find out. I don't know how you feel about this kind of work but I have found it extremely helpful and useful. A good communicator will be able to tell you what is going on and why the filly is treating you this way.

There are many things for you to consider when communicating with a horse. They have to like the smell of you, the sight of you, your way of moving, your ability to move with them, your opinion of yourself must be excellent without being arrogant, your touch soft but firm, your messages to the horse must be very clear and understandable, you must show them great compassion even when they hurt you and the hardest of all, you must be clear of your own issues and hang ups that might send her negative energy. If any of this is not agreeable to her, the filly will find ways to express her opinion and choose someone else.

It sounds as though the filly has been testing you all along. When she strikes out, stomp your foot hard on the ground and change your voice low and strong and say "unacceptable behavior" and make her just stand there and think for a minute. Don't hit her or back her up or jerk on her just ask her to stand still and think. Give her some time and wait. Talk to her while you are waiting in a very soft voice. This is very hard for a youngster to do and it is a lesson that goes deeper than any physical discipline. When you see a change in her eye, she begins to lick and chew, she yawns, drops her head, any sign of release, then massage her between the ears and on the withers to lower her blood pressure. Anytime she does something you consider disrespectful try this.

If she is rearing and bucking and pulling against you on the lunge line again she is testing you. As long as she is going forward in the direction you are asking then she can play a bit on the line and I encourage some bucking and playing and galloping as long as they are going forward and stay out on the circle. When or if they do decide to stop and rear or change direction, I shorten the lunge line, again stomp my foot(as a lead mare would do) and say "unacceptable" in a strong deep voice, go up to her and guide her back on the circle saying "it's okay, now let's try this again" and send her with my lunge whip. If they know they can have some fun and it's not all about pressure and work they enjoy being lunged. But you have to know what you are doing to change her behavior.

As silly as it may sound, I have talks with my horse when things aren't going well. I will put his halter on and look him in the eye and have a discussion with him about what I am giving to him, how important he is to me, what I want and need from our relationship and then give him choices to participate or not with me. I will actually discuss the whole problem out loud in the pasture or if I am alone in the barn, in his stall. It has worked beautifully every time. Thankfully my horse has always answered "yes" I want to dance with you and not be a couch potato. But I have offered him the choice.

This filly sounds as if she has been out of balance in her mind, body and soul since she was born. She simply sounds angry at the world to me. My mare Theo was the same way when I met her and it was because she had been in pain for so long and learned to live with the anger. Once I took away all of her pain and gained her trust she was the partner of a lifetime, but that process took several years.

Your filly could have inherited loads of toxins through her mother's milk (heavy metals and vaccine trash) and become difficult and high strung and temperamental because of the stiffness, tension and lack of mental processing the toxins set up. Or her nervous system is off-balance because of an injury no one has been able to locate such as a deep soft tissue injury in the neck which is causing headaches and pain. There is the extremely rare incidence of a horse being born mentally ill and dangerous but I certainly wouldn't go that route until I had tried everything else.

I am just speculating to give you some ideas. But I would really need to see you and the filly to be sure.

A good communicator is going to be your best bet. - Mary

 

Hi Mary,

Yes, you may print the letter. Maybe some other people out there are having the same trouble with their horses too.

Actually, last night the filly had a lesson with the barn trainer, and she tried the kicking on the lunge line with her, but the trainer pushed her through it. By the end of the session, my horse was not too happy, but she was lunging without a fight.

Afterwards, I went into her stall and tried just approaching her at the withers and giving her a little rub. Usually, she will turn to face me and pin her ears. But, last night she was MORE than happy to stand and have a friendly, soothing hand giving her some comfort. So, I think we are making progress! Sometimes, all it takes is someone to give some friendly advice - and offer much needed encouragement.

I do believe in horse communicators. I just never knew one before, and I'm sure there are more than a few questionable people in that profession. Thank you. I would like to try a few of the things you've suggested, then if it seems we are still not moving forward, I will certainly get in touch with Cali. Interesting that she has the same name as my filly's pasture mate!= Thanks also for the speedy reply!

Cheers, A.

 

A.: I think I need to be clear and honest about what is going on with your filly. I am not questioning your judgment or being offensive in any way, I just do not want to see another horse misunderstood and passed from person to person and ending up who knows where.

These horses that are angry about something will only get worse when pushed and pressured. And fillies/mares are at the top of the sensitivity scale. They get hot easily, they get hyper very easily, then their nervous systems are over taxed and their mind's check out. They basically have a very sensitive circuit breaker and if the wattage is wound up too high for them to handle and process they will blow a fuse and you have lost their brain. She is telling you through her actions that she is not comfortable within herself and cannot handle what is being asked. If this continues she could easily be ruined (dangerous and incorrigible) by the time she is 5. (See my newsletters about the "Nervous System")

The opposite of how she is being handled needs to happen. Slow, quiet ground working with lots of mental "thinking" exercises will influence her and educate her much more quickly and deeply than putting her on a lunge line and making her work. The world needs to be slowed way down, like moving underwater, for these horses. They will honor and respect you and the trainer and want to partner with you if you take this approach with her. And she will be able to process her lessons where as now she just goes through the motions of what she is supposed to do.

I have just been through all of this with my 8 year old Hanoverian. He was fried mentally and physically when I got him at 5 years old and every trainer's solution had been to push him and make him work harder.

It has taken me two years to recover his mind and body to where he is safe, quiet, comfortable and happy in his work and with himself.

She will need lots of good body work along with the slow, quiet thinking training. Either under saddle or in-hand for the next 6 months minimum, I would probably take her out for long walks 3 times per week asking her to do simple things and give her little challenges along the way plus 1 day of ground work and the rest turnout. Perhaps on the 5th day body work, massage and grooming just with you and no demands. Let her learn by being proud of herself and her little accomplishments. It takes a great deal of patience and compassion to successfully train a horse like your filly.

I would also try putting Rescue Remedy in her water everyday and a few drops on her tongue before she works, this will help her emotions to settle and relax through her back.

Best wishes in your journey with her. Very Sincerely, Mary

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