Problem Horses - Aslan's Story 1 - From Fear to Trust [Slideshow]
Aslan is a very special pony, who had some unfortunate experiences in his past which caused him to lose all his trust in people and especially their tools and what they will do to him. He is here for 2 months to get help with his deep fear and to find trust again. This is the very beginning of our relationship. First of all, I have to convince him of my good intentions.
That's why I would like to share in great detail his journey and progress while he is here at Haras Plessis. My goal is to help him regain trust and confidence in people, their tools and finally the rider.
Earning trust is key number one
This is his first session. Aslan is since 3 days at Le Plessis, and all I did so far was to go and spend a few minutes in the field. He would come to sniff my hand but not allow to go past his nose in order to scratch him. Worse even when I have a halter in my hand. On day 3 I decided it was time for the first session.
Only friendly games in order to prove to him that I have only good intentions.
Remember he had made a lot of experiences where he felt forced, scared and pushed to do things he didn’t understand. So my plan was to give him very different experiences.
Earning his trust is key number one, so he would open up to me and allow me to work on his bigger fears later on. Pat Parelli says that there are a lot of domesticated horses but many of them have never been tamed – Aslan is one of them.
He is a very interesting horse regarding learning to understand the body language of horses – pay close attention to his facial expressions and muscle tone – I will point out several important key points which can help a lot when dealing with horses like him.
Slideshow with detailed descriptions of the session
Saying hello - you can see his skepsis - neck arched, tight lips and stiff ears. Aslan is skeptical about what I am going to do with him
Can he be confident with the leadrope swinging over his back? The pricked ears are not curiousity or that he feels good, no he is very worried, trying to block me away from his side and keep me in front of him where he can see me better. Maybe you also notice how he is leaning away.
This looks better. He is ok with me on his side, no longer blocking me out. He lowered his neck and has a softer look on his face.
When I did the helicopter in front of him, he showed no issues with it.
Time for processing is very important for horses like him. Sometimes he wouldn’t lick and chew for 10 min. This is very important to notice, licking and chewing indicates that the horse understood or starts to relax on things. Do not proceed to the next step if your horses didn’t lick and chew!
I decided to present the flag. In my experience, if I get horses to accept the flag, I earn a lot of confidence points. Way more than with just the stick and string. First thing I did - walk away, even with my back towards him. I wanted to be sure that he doesn’t feel threatened by it. Walking away usually causes the horse to feel curious about things.
Should I or should I not? is what Aslan is thinking here right now. His body language is telling me that he is on high alert - ears pricked forward at the flag, neck arched, front legs braced, everything tight. A delicate moment - fear and curiosity are fighting.
He got almost brave enough to touch - but he didn’t which is important to notice. He didn’t touch it, so I don’t have the right to touch him either. Things can’t be forced, except you are willing to sacrifice your horse´s trust.
I started to play with approach and retreat - not just walking away with the flag - and this gave him quite some worry. Look how he is tight in the rear end, ready for take off. Also he is fixating the flag like a bull fighting horse
Take off. He has developed a very strong reflex of flight whenever he gets scared of something. And he made the experience that it usually was effective and people weren’t there to help him but usually were the cause for his trouble.
It is important to allow the horse to move, so it doesn’t feel trapped. But more importantly to keep the horse engaged mentally and not let him find peace when in flight mode - he would just learn again that flight is effective. I would like that he understands that I will never hurt him and that confrontation with scary things and communication with people are the keys.
It seemed to much too ask of him to allow me to touch him with the flag or tolerate it close to him. So I started to approach his shoulder with the flag away from him. This worked, he felt safer with me between him and the terrible flag.
Watch the hind leg on this picture - it is not cocked for relaxation, he is ready to take any action he thinks necessary for survival. Also his nose is pointing away, indicating that he would rather run
also on the left - the hind leg is still cocked and he is fixing on the flag, but at least his head is lower.
This is how we ended the session. After lots of repetition, approach and retreat, he finally accepted me standing at his shoulder and the flag about 2 m away from him. You can see that the hind leg is no longer cocked and that his face has a softer look. I didn’t manage to go all the way with the flag in this session, but his distrust in people and tools is big, so I am happy how he allowed me to help him feel more confident in the end.
Read more about Aslan