Sunday, November 13, 2011


Today I unearthed an issue from Phil's past that I had an inkling of, but didn't fully understand. More than once when I had been riding him he had taken off in fear. It was mostly when there was a lot going on, and I figured he was a little overstimulated and having a difficult time concentrating. Now I'm certain that it's a past trauma that is rearing it's ugly head.

During our ride today, there was nothing going on at the barn. He was the only horse in the arena, and it was pretty quiet. But he took off on me twice in a panic. The second time I realized what was going on. He had gotten a little quick at the canter, and I needed to take up on my reins. Both times he bolted it was because I raised my hands up, specifically my right hand. And when he took off, he wasn't bucking or spooking - he was running in fear, haunches tucked under and head high in the air, trying to get away from me.

When I finally got him stopped, I tested my theory. I simply raised my right hand up and forward and slightly out, towards the side of his head. He about jumped out of his skin trying to avoid the blow that he was sure was coming.

Someone has hit this horse in the head, with their right hand, while on his back. Maybe only once, maybe a lot, but I'm certain that he has been punished harshly by someones right hand in the direction of his head.

This makes me unbelievably sad.

Phil has done nothing but try with me. I can't believe that he's ever done anything to warrant such punishment. It makes me sad, and angry.

But that doesn't matter now. I can't change the past, but I can try and convince Phil that he can trust me not to bash him in the side of the head. I know there are going to be times when I'm riding and I'll need to adjust my reins or move my right hand. I can't have him bolting in fear every time this happens. We need to work on this.

The last ten minutes of our ride consisted of me moving my right hand up and out, him freaking out, and me patting him and telling him it would be okay. We started at the walk, in small circles, so I could control the bolting.

Let me just say at this point, that I've been bucked off of two horses who have bolted on me. Both wanted to dump me, and pulled some nasty moves to achieve this. I have a bit of fear about horses who bolt, but with Phil today I was sure that he wasn't trying to throw me in the dirt. He was just scared.

Anyhow, after some time at the walk with me raising my hand and him not reacting, I was able to move out to a 20 meter walk circle and have him be wary, but okay. Then we went to the trot. This was much harder on him, and me, but we were eventually able to get to the point where I could move my hand and he didn't bolt. I won't say that he was relaxed, but at least he wasn't reacting as much.

So now I'll be spending at least part of every ride waving my hands around. I know it will look silly, but this is something that I have to include in our training. I can't expect Phil to give me his best if he's afraid of getting punished in such an unjust manner. Time to build a lasting, trusting bond with this horse.


Kate said...

Poor boy. My old pony used to spook if you reached your hand out to pat him while on his back. You couldn't carry a whip, remove a coat, or even give him a friendly scratch while on his back when I first started riding him. It took almost a year for him to allow me to put a blanket on, and he never let me ride in a quarter sheet or pull something onto him while on his back. It makes me unbearably sad to hear stories like this... at least he's in a good home now.

Unknown said...

You are so on the money with him. Shame, shame on whoever pounded on Phil.

Kerri said...

Very sad! We hear these kinds of stories way too often. Moving forward you just have to ensure that you have only positive interactions with Phil. You have to be strong for him now and just show him that you can be trusted. It sounds like you're on the right path already. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

You might want to check his teeth. The Arabian that I ride started acting like this when his teeth hurt. He had never been beaten (hand reared and spoiled rotten, but not beat).

Sonya said...

That is tragic....My last Arabian had skeletons galor that made him unsafe to ride. It was heart wrenching to decide he just wasn't safe to be on as you never knew when a flashback was going to occur. It took many trips to the ER and my trainer refusing to teach us to convince me he deserved a retirement home. I am glad you got to your boy in time!

Anonymous said...

that's so sad. Having dealt with horses that have been abused, it never really goes away, that fear that something's coming, but once they learn to trust you, it gets significantly better. Waving your hands around will work wonders, don't worry about how silly you look:)
I worked with a horse that was deathly afraid of gloves. I was pretty certain whomever handled him would take his gloves and hit at him with them, so I would wave my gloves all around his face, raise my hand up like I was going to hit him but instead come down with my hand and rub his face. By the end of each session he was much more relaxed.

Urbancowgrrl said...

That is so sad about Phil. My new horse Toad was sold to me with the message "She is a project horse. Very wild and very difficult." But the horse my trainer and I see is this incredibly sweet horse who more than anything wants structure, love and training and just wants to please her people. The only "project" about her is that she's young and hadn't been trained. She has some scary memories too from her days on the track though none as obvious to figure out as Phil's. It makes me sad that there are people out there who mistreat horses and can't see the great horse right in front of them.

Val said...

Great post and good plan. Phil deserves a trustworthy person. I am glad that you can be that person for him.

Achieve1dream said...

Poor baby. That break my heart that someone would do that to him. I'm glad you figured out the cause of the bolting/fear and that you're fixing it. I'm also glad he ended up with you so he never has to be hit like that again.

I was riding a horse for someone one time and I raised my right hand to adjust my helmet or hair or something. He panicked and started spinning until he got me off. I thought it was because they never did anything on his right side, but maybe it's because someone hit him. I never thought of that. That's still one reason I will desensitize my horses to everything on both sides though.

Also Faran, the Percheron we recently rescued, is terrified of whips. If we put one on the ground twenty feet from him and just reach towards it he bolts. It kills me to know someone was that abusive to him. He has a lot of fear/trust issues that it's going to take a long time to fix, but he's here to stay forever. I hope we can someday built that trust. :)

Stacey Kimmel-Smith said...

The good news is, you have all winter to help him understand that happy days are here again. Isn't it awful to think someone abused his good nature that way?

This is not anything new but but my former trainer used to wave stuff in riley's face (towels, blankets, not too close but close enuf)and she waved her hands until he stopped jumping around. Within 2-3 blanket shakes Ri-Ri got it. When he didn't react, the blanket shaking stopped immediately. I'm not sure how this translates into your situation, but...

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