There are many theories and successful trainers that write about their experiences in how to tame, train, retrain or start a horse.
Apparently they all follow the same psychological principles from the animal ethology and equine behaviourists. There are lots of books, studies, clinics and even video learning covering every step of the horse training. So why then when we have our first approach to a rescue horse the same question pops up in our minds? What am I doing now? How am I suppose to heal this poor rescue horse without knowing anything or very little about his past?
In the old horsey post I mentioned that every animal has an individual personality. We, as humans, can tell what is wrong. If is physical or we are just not in the mood for any kind of reason. We, indeed, have a verbal communication, other animals don’t.
When we study animals’ behaviour, we learn everything about facial expressions and body language. As horse trainers, we always hope that we are reading our horse properly and not creating any confusion. A confused horse, as a prey animal we are having the risk that our horse acts in terms of survival. Which might compromise our safety.
This is, for example, the case of one of our newest rescue horse at the finca, Zingaro. At the moment he came, he was so shut down that he couldn’t react or defend himself from anything. To the point we all thought he was one of the easiest rescue horse to handle. We could easily lead him and walk with head collar on. He even tolerated our interaction with him. There were only two clear sings from the beginning that told us something was wrong. His pinned back ears and a heart-breaking sad expression in his eyes. However, this signs wouldn’t match with his general behaviour. It wasn’t until he started to feel more comfortable and getting his strength back that he really showed himself and so did his enormous trauma.
He is absolutely terrified of human’s interaction and any kind of close contact. Including, of course, handling and touching. Anything that you would ask him that involved a minimum effort or little pressure was too much for him to take. We started very light training with him too soon. Before we even knew about this as he was too scared and shut down to tell us. His aggressiveness started to grow in the meantime.
He found his voice and now he is clearly saying that that we need to give him time to heal. He needs that time to become a horse again, and realise not all humans are a threat.
This is exactly what I mean when I said we know very little about a new rescue horse. All the key information is missing. Zingaro came as a 5 years old horse, left in a paddock with other horses who impede him to get any food. His body was full of bites, scratches and also was kicked on the knee. Leaving him with a chronic injury in his front leg. We didn’t know anything about his behaviour, past training or experience. He has been saddled and ridden a couple of times before apparently, but no training on the ground seems to have been done. His teeth are in a horrible condition and his hooves don’t look any better. Apart from all of these, he is a very young healthy horse improving massively in body condition every day.
The next steps on his psychological process of healing included no more that getting him to relax around people, touch and environment.
It's hard to see his aggression and dangerous ways, behaviours that many horse people would put down to “naughty behaviour”. Though this is not the case. There is a good side to this, he is relaxed enough to stand up to us and talk. He has found his voice and it's our responsibility to listen to him. And understand why he wants to hurt us, why he is scared. And show him that as humans we are here to help him and not hurt him any longer. He is not aggressive by nature, he has a kind soul and on the rare moments he feels 100% relaxed with a human he thoroughly enjoys a tickle. We are here to read his signals, give him what he needs and encourage these moments.
There is a long and slow road ahead of us to run with him but I cannot wait to see this horse to be as happy as the other ones we have at the finca.
"He found his voice and now he is clearly saying that that we need to give him time to heal, he needs that time to become a horse again, and realise not all humans are a threat."