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Horse Problem - Scared Horse - Horse too scared/too wild to allow human to get close/to be touched









QUESTION: I work at an equine rescue in Pennsylvania. I recently decided to adopt and work with a two-year-old, ungelded, full-blooded quarter horse with a great personality and lots of intelligence whose owner could not find anyone to take him. Unfortunately, this horse was not worked with as a youngster, and from what I can tell, his few experiences with humans (outside of being fed) have involved some level of force. Before I brought him home three weeks ago, he exhibited a lot of halter vices (i.e. jerking off of the handler's grasp, rearing and bolting off a lead, and always holding his ears flat back when his halter was touched). He also was extremely touch sensitive and head shy if you handled him without grasping the halter.

He was placed in a large stall in the barn, and he had other horses around him for company, so I decided to remove his halter and give him some time to settle into his new accommodations. When I took off the halter, I discovered that it was rubbing the hair off behind his ears and making him very uncomfortable. After a week or so, I attempted to put a halter (not his old one) back on him and he went nuts! I made only three attempts to put it on him (or should I say, walk up to him). First time, he ran across his stall; second time, he half-reared and ran across his stall; third time, he half- reared, ran across the stall and attempted to jump his stall rail.

I decided at that point that I would not make another attempt at placing a halter on his head until he gained some trust in me and was willing to let me touch him all over without jumping through his skin. I have spent a lot of time over the last two weeks with him, just talking to him, attempting to touch him, and offering treats. I usually lean on his stall rail while inside his stall or sit on a five gallon bucket by the gate while he eats because I'm 5' 8" and I don't want to intimidate him. He is making progress; he now greets me with forward ears, bright eyes, a nicker sometimes, and sticks his head as far over the rail as he can when I enter the barn. In the last two days he has started to nuzzle my jacket and let me touch his nose with my open palm.

To make a long story short, I'm being encouraged by my parents (both long-time western horsemen) to keep with this routine and let the colt come to me. On the other hand, I'm being pressured by other trainers to get a halter on him no matter what the consequences. My gut tells me to go with the slow and easy approach, but I would appreciate your advice. If I can get him over this hurdle, I know he will be amazing!

REPLY: Believe it or not, I get a lot of horses like that in my region. I do believe that "the long way is the short way," as we say in Natural Horsemanship, however, there are techniques you can use to speed things along there -- and they are all natural horsemanship (gentle) oriented.
What I do with a highly mistrustful, untouchable horse like that is to start with at liberty round penning/hook up techniques, applying prey animal psychology, that gets the horse choosing to be with the human for a start. Once the horse has latched on at liberty, by choice, I then begin desensitizing them to human touch, using precise, refined advance/retreat NH methods. I actually built on my web site a section that teaches this technique, step-by-step, for such fearful or formerly traumatized horses that I think will help you a lot there if you read it, study it, and then try this method to begin there. Here's the section on my site:

My Whispering Way Round Pen Leadership DVD also teaches the art of natural horsemanship round penning visually. To learn more about and order that video: CLICK HERE

Done right, it actually goes very fast -- usually just one session. I've even used this for starting wild, off the range initially untouchable horses.

I have more sample training sessions, some using this round pen technique, starting on this page on my web site: (down the left margin there on that page are links for sample sessions with various horses)

The minute I do get my hands on the horse, and have them desensitized to human touch, I immediately then plug them into my training program. It works wonders to build trust immediately and generally progresses them quite fast along a learning curve that serves them well for getting along with the human.

And here's where I would suggest applying horse whispering/natural horsemanship training techniques in a very clear step-by-step program, which you can learn more about in my DVD set, the Whispering Way 12-Step Total Training System, and you can order that here: CLICK HERE

After watching the videos, and after learning and applying the methods, you, as the horse's primary teacher, will have taught the horse:

  • How to be bonded to you more deeply so that the horse trusts you to the max and they will be far more willing to do whatever you ask, even when they are in doubt;
  • That you both have a "bonding place" (a "safety zone") to come back to always, from then on, if the horse is ever upset or afraid, on the ground (or later, in the saddle); we plant a one-rein stop in the foundation of every horse, on the ground first, so that in the saddle, it is automatic. This keeps you safer and the horse more rational, and feeling supported, bonded, connected more deeply emotionally to you.
  • How to relax the horse when they are tense about something before they are called upon to react negatively.
  • How to have the horse yield easily, in any direction when asked -- they'll learn how to yield properly to pressure to receive the release of pressure. All horses learn from the release of pressure what it is you want, not from the pressure itself;
  • How to progress bonding to even deeper levels to the point of downright intimacy; makes a horse feel like they never had it so good being with you!
  • How to move the horse from the rear, and learning to do that rationally, which is so important to teach a horse to do before you ever ride them, and which you'll be using for a lot of other things like trailer loading, going in and out of a gate, into a stall, and so many other places/situations; this also teaches a horse that you are in charge of their feet.
  • How to address effectively any fears (and the horse's reactions to them) that you flush out in their behavior at any given time; my program focuses greatly on finding the fears before they find you and fixing them -- safely on the ground first! Even lay folks can do this. It's all about: safety. This then builds a far more rational, confident, happy, trusting horse, because, in essence, you have effectively raised the horse's "fear/anxiety bar." And you will have taught the horse simultaneously in the process, how to turn to you for nurturance support when/if they are ever afraid or upset.
  • How to do all this first on the ground, then later in the saddle, in that order.
  • How to keep you safe and the horse safe at all times, throughout all of this --- always my biggest training focus.

This video set will help you to lay down an even stronger, more solid and trusting foundation under your horse that will then serve you well, tremendously, actually, when you do step up into the saddle. By the time you complete the steps, you will have a transformed horse. The final steps are in the saddle and those exercises will more deeply plant into your horse's foundation the one-rein stop/the "safety zone," and more, that will turn the horse into a far, far more rational, trusting, happier -- and safer -- horse in saddle as well.

And you can do this yourself if you just back up and learn a few things yourself there. This video set will get you there the fastest with your horse, which is why I'm recommending this route. It's designed for anyone on any level, horse or human, to get professional trainer-like results.

And Whispering Way Complete Training Package contains all my videos and training tools that you need to train or retrain your horse yourself the natural horsemanship Whispering Way. You can check out/order the Whispering Way Complete Training Package on my web site here: CLICK HERE

I'm a very strong believer that every horse owner is their horse's primary teacher/trainer whether they realize it or not. Every time you are with your horse, that horse is learning something. You just want to make sure the horse is learning what you want them to learn, not what you don't want them to learn! My natural horsemanship training techniques are gentle, effective, and powerful. Works with every horse every time!

But it's real important to back up and break down all teaching steps in a way that you are releasing baby-gives, allowing the horse to feel the release for the right answers incrementally, so that they learn that's really what you want.

This route will absolutely get your horse past all of those issues, and more, I assure you.

One last link on my site that I think might help you there, as "What is Natural Horsemanship" section to teach you more in depth information about prey animal psychology and how we use that to our advantage in NH:

I hope this helps, and let me know if I can be of any further help to you there. Good luck to ya! And thanks for writing. 

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