Girls Horse Club Blog

Ask GHC: Regaining A Horse’s Trust

Published by • Mar 31st, 2009 • Category: Ask Girls Horse Club

Ask Girls Horse Club

My friend’s horse is very afraid of people. She was once an amazing dressage horse, but was abused by her former owners. My friend’s family then adopted her, but they can’t get her to trust them. She will not approach anyone and is very hard to catch. She is becoming very dirty and is too old to roll to shed her winter coat to keep cool. How can my friend’s family help her trust them?

submitted by Allison, age 13

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16 Nickers »

  1. Well, when you do end up catching her, try putting her on a long line and join up.

  2. Well first of all what gender does the horse feel most comfortable around. Does she stand longer for the guys or the gals. It is just a feeling for many horses that they do better around one or the other. If it is true for your friend’s horse… the person who abused the horse might have been the other gender. Anyway I would sujest that the owner of the horse spend as much time as the can with the horse. Talk to her, sing to her, and so on. If she bights or lashes out don’t respond with anger… its might be what she expects. (And then the relashionship might as well be lost). Have patience… It might be best not to let the horse be in such as huge pasture because it will give her a larger since of freedom to be away from the owners. When trying to catch her don’t just automatically walk or run up trying to but the bridle on her. And never ever chase her. Actualy walk into the enclosure and walk away from her… try not to make eye contact because it will make her feel nervous. Stand always with your back to the horse. After a time horses feel that you are ignoring them and might come to investigate… even after a while if the horse does come to the owner do not turn toward her or even look at her. I know it is hard but until she let’s you touch her lightly do not reward her. It might be best to start out with a rope or some kind of soft halter. Walk around her eviornment to let her know you mean her no harm. Now i don’t know the specific abuse treatment.. but whatever it is you need to fix that problem before anything else. Patience, time, and compassion are three key ingredients. (A carrot now and then wouldn’t hurt).

  3. OH and you will make great progress if you can gradualy get her to eat out of your hand.. that shows trust. Maybe leaving an article of clothing or something that has your scent on it, somwhere close to the place where the horse sleeps and eats. That way when she smells someone coming it will be familiar to her and possibly comforting.

  4. Make a carrot stick, it’s really easy. Tie an old glove onto the end of an old, long whip. You can touch the horse from far away to get him or her used to it, without you being close. Good luck =]

  5. I googled your question and found Franklin Levinson’s site(famous horse handler). Someone had a question very much like yours!
    Here is his answer:
    OK….Here are some suggestions: First off, never get angry! The horse is never doing anything to you personally! It is just being a horse and doing what horses do. This horse (Chance) has a lot of fear. If he is chased this fear will remain. Gentle direction of movement in the round pen, lots of breaks and a bit of verbal praise as rewards for compliant movement is golden. When the horse stops, turns and faces the handler, that is exactly what you want. You might consider a food treat when he does this to encourage the horse coming over to the handler. You want him to begin to follow the handler around. Without putting a halter on the horse, you want him to stand quietly at liberty while being rubbed all over with as many things as you can come up with including the halter and leadrope. Do as much at liberty joining and bonding as possible. When you can put the halter on, do so and immediately take it off. Do that a lot so he does not associate the halter and lead with being ridden or worked. Carry the halter and leadrope a lot without using it all the time. The big reward is turning the horse back out in the pasture with a cookie before he moves off. A bond with any horse is formed first and foremost on the ground playing games and doing fun things without much pressure on the horse at first. Playing with a horse, as opposed to working the horse, while possibly being the same action, has a different ‘feel.’ Would you rather play or work? Both are active.

    I have no problem with using a lot of food reward (horse cookies, a handful of equine senior or sweet feed) for compliance with a fearful horse. You can always drop the food when the animal becomes more trusting. Try to have the animal earn the reward through some little ‘try’ at compliance. Getting good at recognizing even the littliest effort on the horse’s part is worthy of a reward. Most folks do not know how to recognize these small efforts, but they are a key to successful training. One small step at a time is what you are looking for (one little lean in the direction you want is a try). The horse’s head slightly turned where you want it is a ‘try.’ Picking up a foot and immediately putting it down is the animal trying to provide the foot and deserves reward and praise. The vast majority of humans do not understand that simple fact.

    To read the original question and find more info: Google Franklin Levinson’s Equestrian Help Center,click on “Qs & As archives”, and then click “abused”. The heading for this Q. is “Catching a horse”.
    Hope this helps! And sorry its so long ;)

  6. Great advice, HF!

  7. Go into her pasture and sit down as far away from her as you can get. Don’t look at her. Read a book, twiddle your thumbs, anything as long as you aren’t making a lot of noise. Eventually, she may come over. If she doesn’t, then come back in a while. Do this regularly so she can get used to having you around. Eventually, she may be willing to let you touch her. That’s all I have time to write right now. Good luck!

  8. Thanks for the advice everyone! I’ll be sure to tell my friend!

  9. Sweetie- i never heard of a carrot stick. Does it work or have you tried it? I would think that it would spook a horse but i may be wrong. Fill me in

  10. I’m not an expert, but I hope these help!! :)

    Be patient, and do your best. They should spend as much time as they can with the horse. Whether they’re sitting far away, or very close. Observe her/his behavior, and notice what he/she does when you get closer. Does he/she flinch when you get closer, as if she thinks you’re going to slap her? Does she turn her back to you? This would help if I got some answers..

    Also, let her smell your friend’s hand. Let her get as close as she can without crossing the safety line. Be sure to give the horse a treat everyday after her “obedience” lesson. It will make the horse feel happy, and get the trick: If I behave well, and gain trust, I get treats. That’s what you want the horse to think.

    About the grooming part… Show the horse a brush. Let her smell it, and get used to seeing one. Then she won’t be too scared. Next, once your friend has gained a bit of trust, stroke the horse with your hand softly. Be sure to have an adult nearby, just in case of an accident. Once that’s been done a few times, start grooming her. Slowly, but surely.

    NEVER make sudden movements around this horse. She seems a but flinchy, but once you have gained trust, it will get better. :) Also, no loud noises. Be quiet and calm.

    I hope my advice helps, and good luck!!

  11. ALLISON! Quick Tip! Tell your friend to make a sort of chewing sound (sort of like chewing gum) when they are around their horse. Foals do this to older and stronger horses in their languege that says “Please don’t hurt me, Im just a baby” If your friend does this it might surprise their horse… thinking that the human is asking the horse not to hurt them instead of the other way around. It might not work but its worth a try.

  12. She’s not really scared of of grooming or being ridden, she just can be pretty afraid of people. She was abused by a man (she now is terrified of men in cowboy hats) previously and has scars on her nose from her hackamore, which was too small! It makes me so mad to see that horse in her condition because of that man!

  13. She doesn’t flinch, mustangmane. And she doesn’t willing let her self get caught. You can’t get close to her unless she knows that she’s trapped. We recently had to chase her down and corral her to brush her and get her used to us, and after that she was back to being stubborn!

  14. Keep catching and brushing her like you did. (although don’t go into an all out run after her) The more you do it and are kind the better she’ll be.:)

  15. You can maybe spend time and take time as quality time hope this helps love,jade:-)

  16. This is a common problem. Give her some treats. I mean, put some treats in your hand, the horse might approach you. If it does, patt it on the neck, never the face.
    I’m sorry this is not much advice.