Sunday, July 21, 2013

Green Horses and Strangers

 Part 1

It is one thing for a green horse to allow someone on his back that the horse knows but another to tolerate a perfect stranger. I had learned that years ago with Rhythm at a horse show when  I offered to let a friend ride the horse. Poor Rhythm took one look at that stranger trying to step up into the stirrup and the horse went flying sideways away from the man. No way was he standing still for that.

I will never forget the fear in the horse's eye as he tried to escape the predator "attacking" him. Even though we worked through it and my friend was able to ride Rhythm within just a few minutes, I knew I had let my horse down. That panic on his face was there because I had overlooked the obvious. Trust is given by each horse on a personal level; it is not blanket permission for the entire human race.

Ever since that day I have remained aware of that lesson about trust. With every young horse I train, I try to find ways that will broaden the scope of that trust. I never again want to see fear on the face of one of my horses because I didn't prepare him/her with something so obvious as always training to the horse's perspective.  It is, after all, the only one that matters when it comes to establishing trust with the horse.

Percy had his own issues with trust. Having Bey Aana as his mother, he has been taught to be wary of humans except for Lindsay whom the mare adores. It had taken many months after weaning the horse to get him to trust Dave and me and a couple of years for him to feel comfortable with most anyone who visited our farm.

Then when Richard Galarza had tried to start Percy, the man had pushed too hard, too fast. His crack method for resistance of laying a horse down to get inside its head,  he couldn't even get done. Percy was wide-eyes with fright and the man was forced to back off.  Richard's methods certainly were not conducive to building trust with this Arabian horse.

Maybe had I been paying attention to what Percy was saying about Richard, I could have avoided some grief myself. Had the man really had the skills he claimed, Percy should have been putty in his hands but instead the horse was traumatized. The inconsistency was most definitely a red flag missed by me.

As it was, it had taken the horse's trust in me for him to allow a rider on his back. That trust was strong enough to overcome the previous day's harm. Only once I had shown the horse the intent of these strangers did he finally stand for mounting by them.

When this happened, I confronted Richard about his technique with Percy lest his pushy methods cause damage that might not be as easily fixed as Percy's initial trauma appeared to be.

Unfortunately much of the man's inappropriate behavior with my horses was not as obvious to me as his work with Percy had been. Only in hindsight did I realize the resistance I was seeing from my horses was caused by the same "too much, too soon"  methodology he had foisted on Percy.

That bullying by Richard remains in each horse's history as a permanent record of unfairness at the hands of a human. Like all trauma experienced by the horse, it can influence behavior when we least expect it so it is useful to at least know and recognize its source when deciding how to deal with any resulting issues but I sure wish I had listened to Percy's reaction to the man and saved us all the resulting grief.

Now with people here to see Percy, I had to consider his rocky start with Richard so I could be ready if something about these strangers might cause his fear to resurface. If any horse was going to repeat Rhythm's  reaction to a stranger trying to mount, it was this one.

 I was counting on the horse's behavior in the aisle way with these people fussing around him as a barometer for the horse's view of their trustworthiness. Their behavior certainly pushed the limits of what one would expect as safe behavior around an unknown, green horse but Percy hadn't seemed to care. Would it be the same now that this loud, unfamiliar woman attempted to mount?

To be continued.......

An Unexpected Trial........


  1. You know, I always wonder about this with lesson horses. How many complete strangers do those horses accept on their back over their lives- and do they really accept them at all or just resign themselves to it? I remember how much my gelding freaked when I let my dressage trainer ride him, the look of confusion on his face was plain as day.

  2. It seems Percy was handling the commotion pretty well in the aisle but mounting is a different set of circumstances. I'm thinking he might have rebeled a little wen we went to mount. Doesn't seem like this woman had the finesse to deal with a green horse.

  3. >Trust is given by each horse on a personal level; it is not blanket permission for the entire human race.<<

    Boy did you ever say a lot right there! It is amazing how many horses tolerate everything under the sun while others are a one person horse at best until some sort of bond is established.

    When you deal with only the horses that seem to be missing screws, not just having a few loose ones, you learn how to quickly dissolve those fears and gain their trust. Once that is accomplished, as you said- they are putty in your hands.