Unsocialized Horse issues - Need Help

Discussion in 'Horse Training' started by Pluffix, Aug 11, 2016.

  1. Pluffix

    Pluffix Full Member

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    Hello world of horse lovers, experts and trainers. I have a rather strange problem here. I'm trying to keep this short, but forgive me... It's still going to be a lot of reading...

    I work security during 7pm-7am four days a week at a farm filled with horses in various stages of boredom and stress. The caretakers do what they have to (grooming, clean stall, take them to the paddock, take them back to stall, fresh food and water when needed and a couple carrots at night) and nothing more. There aren't any "toys." And most of the time the only social interaction they seem to have at all is when their food is being tossed in (it's a thing of a sort of greenish straw-like grass I forgot the name to. It's supposed to be high in nutrients.) and when they "talk" to the horses in the other stalls.

    The owners are a couple of rich people who I don't know the names to who just simply own the place and live somewhere else. They are among the people that own horses simply just to say they own horses because they can afford it.

    I'm not going to go over all the horses, but I would like to pick out a couple with curious behaviors that I don't understand, no matter how much research I've done.

    First off, I'll start with a large, 13 year old beautiful mare, which I will call Horse A, for sake of privacy. My very first time actually coming face to face with a horse, and both of us were clearly nervous about it. But insanely curious was I, so I made the mistake of opening her stall door to come pet her, as I normally do whenever I see something cute. I realized my stupidity soon after, no worries, as I had no clue how to read her at all. She approached me timidly, and I mistakenly believed that she was showing behaviors like a cat. (Ears down, head lowered, inching closer with her nose to smell.) I lowered my head to blow at her softly with my nose, as I had learned that several animals do this as a form of "hello." The movement startled her enough to charge at me and stomp at the ground with her two front hooves. Instinctively, I literally jumped back, out of the stall. Now, armed with knowledge of my obvious offense and mistake, I keep trying to re-approach her anew. But she does not trust me. She has gotten to the point where she will come up and sniff me without showing any "get away from me" behaviors but stays far away as she can and shows signs of tension and stress when I get too close. (I have never even smacked her or pinched her. Just said "no" very firmly and raised my arms to make me seem bigger for a moment. Just to get her to move.)

    Horse B is a male (gelded) horse maybe 11-12 years old and who seems to have been the only one who liked me, despite his nervousness around me. He nickers when he sees me through the bars and approaches, ears forward but otherwise relaxed. I let him sniff my hand and he does that lip nuzzle thing that horses do when they are showing affection or grooming. The other day he nodded his head at me after nickering and snorted. I had asked the manager of the farm who was present at the moment what that meant and he said that he wants to be petted. Later Once alone, I said hello, he nickered at me softly, and I opened the stall door. He came up and nuzzled my shirt and I started scratching his neck. He started lifting his head, ears still forward and I softly pet that round part of the jaw(?). He nipped my collar bone, and I immediately reacted. I wasn't expecting it. We both backed away at the same time and he turned his head and looked away. I told him "no" then confused I left the stall. He doesn't nicker at me anymore.

    Horse C... Well... He's about the same age. Gelded as well. He has solid walls so he doesn't see any other horse but the one across from him, and when I just walk by he gets very, very tense and stressed. One night, I approached trying to find out if maybe he was in pain. He pinned his ears and charged me a few times (this time I knew better, didn't move and said "no."). Once he calmed down, I told him he was a good boy and opened the stall door. Immediately, he jumped a bit, startled perhaps, but not enough for me to say he reared, then literally hit me with his chin onto my forehead hard enough to knock me down and make me see stars for a second. I quickly shut the stall door and waited a second to calm myself down out of sight. Once that was achieved, I knew it was too late to correct that behavior, so I slowly stood up to meet his eyes. He stared at me for a minute then ignored me. I talked to him softly, calmly, and he started tensing up again. Ears pinned, and he'd yawn. Act like he was biting at me, then yawn again. Now, I know that this is a sign of stress, and I was about to walk away to call it quits (obviously this horse wanted zilch to do with me and clearly I was just making it worse.). However, I noticed during his yawn that he was missing literally all his front teeth. Nothing but gums. He had his back teeth, because I could hear them at the end of the yawn when he clamped his jaw together, and at first I thought this was why. Maybe because he didn't have his only form of working offense besides his hooves, he felt strongly fearful of me? But he never once went to obviously rear at me, or kick me (thankfully). His behavior overall, if I could properly describe it, is precisely how I react to seeing a spider. I don't intend to kill it, but I don't want it anywhere near me so I do my best to scare it away. I tried to earn his trust a second time tonight, earning another bop on the head. I lost my cool and crouched down and literally started crying. Not because it hurt, because unlike before, this one was a lot softer. Probably because it hurt him when he did it before as well. But because I am going through a rather oddly similar situation with a person friend I lost and was trying to get back as a friend. And I had what I could only call a female moment. I mention this only, because the reaction of this emotion from the horse wasn't at all like before. At first he reacted startled, as my crouching movement was startling. He got close to sniff at me, ears forward, nuzzled me once very lightly then slowly walked away. I made sure to give him a carrot as a sort of "thank you." I imagine he likely thought the behavior from me was weird, and evidently decided I wasn't a threat to him and just wanted to ignore me. But I'd like to think that maybe that was a genuine sign of compassion, or even pity. Horses can pick up on our emotions for sure.

    Horse D is another gelded horse with a curious attitude... This one isn't clear if he wants my attention at all. He comes up. He never nickers or is friendly, but he doesn't try to scare me away. I opened the door just tonight, after a long period of constantly doing research on behaviors and what they mean, and confidently I approached this short stocky horse. At first, he was scared, but I offered him my hand and let him come to me. Then he was alert, but not tense. He nuzzled me but began to headbutt me in a way to push me, and if I resisted he'd nip. Thinking this was a test to see who was boss, I pushed him away from me at his shoulder and firmly told him "no, not okay." Then I'd wait a second then coax him back. At first this worked, I though. He, ears forward, approached again then started licking me and nuzzling. In what appeared to be grooming. I raised my hand to pet him back and immediately he nipped me. I'd push him, he'd yeild, then after coaxing he'd return and repeat the whole thing. Next time he bit and tugged at my pants, then my belt, then my shirt. After a few more attempts to pet him I gave up and just let him groom me, thinking perhaps he didn't trust me enough when he saw my hands to know it was a good thing. Then he bit me on my forearm. Hard enough to leave teeth marks and a very small, faint bruise, but not hard enough to break skin. But this was different. He didn't bite then move. He bit and HELD. I had to smack him on the jaw (I couldn't reach his neck) to get him to let go. I waited for him to stop acting aggressively and corrected appropriately (I hope) ( trying to bite; smack his nose -NOT HARD- or pinch, and a charge earned waving hands and loud noise) before I pat him on the nose and finally left. I tried to figure out what warranted such behavior and after an hour or so I came across something that matched. Not the behavior specifically, but his expression while he was grooming me before he bit me. His ears were what I thought were "relaxed" not pricked or alert, not pinned, just kind of loose, but the rest of him was incredibly tensed up. "Pain." Maybe he was trying to tell me he was in pain? Or he was frustrated? But he'd also sort of "bare" his teeth. Which I found out wasn't actually baring his teeth but a flehmen response? Either way I left him alone and have since proceeded to seek help on him in particular. A friend of mine offered that perhaps he was reacting to my hormones? Either way, I want to know what he's trying to tell me. Back off and stay away? Or stop trying to pet me? Or maybe he was licking the salt off my arm (it was a hot day) and was getting mad when I'd move?
     
  2. Pluffix

    Pluffix Full Member

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    These animals need a friend, I feel like, and I know it's possible that they just plain want nothing to do with me. But I'd like to at least give it a chance and try to interact with them and give them at least a little chance to have a friend. Is there anything I can do with these particular horses?

    The others I didn't talk about give various "fear" signals at first, but yield to me easily without reprimand and let me pet them and talk to them. I do NOT mess with the old ones. One is crippled and 33 with ulcers on his hips from laying down so much. But the people who own them don't believe in putting horses down. So I do my best to not startle him or the other old ones so they don't have to move more than they already have to.

    It's really depressing, because I'm only here 4 days out of the week normally, and 12 hours all at night... So my time that I could spend with them is short. And this farm is in a small but obvious enough state of social neglect.

    Is there anything at all that I can do to perhaps earn the trust and maybe the friendship of these horses? With all animals, personalities varying included, I believe that only those capable of making complex decisions and understanding the consequences for themselves and others are honestly capable of cruelty. I really think these horses can still be shown that I'm not a predator to fear, but an adoring child-like person that is honestly wanting to be their friend.
     
  3. foxtrot

    foxtrot Senior Member

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    I mean this as nicely as possible, but your entire posts show an alarming lack of understanding about how to interact with horses. Alarming because you're getting hurt and will get more hurt if this continues. You should -not- be regularly being bitten, headbutted, nipped, etc.

    If you want to learn to interact with horses I'd suggest you take lessons and learn how to handle horses. More than likely you are projecting fear and seeming like a predator and setting them on edge. Many horses will nip without even meaning to be aggressive, since that's what they do to other horses, but they should NEVER be allowed to do it to a person and you aren't being clear enough with your signals.

    These horses are going to hurt you if you don't get help. As for needing a friend, they might need more turnout and horse friends, but most horses do not view people as friends and people aren't a substitute for interactions with other horses.

    What sort of facility is this where you work security but the owners apparently don't use the horses for anything? Is it a riding stable, breeding, racing, etc? A lot of this doesn't ring true--most people know what hay is for example, but I'm hoping I'm just reading it wrong.
     
  4. apndi

    apndi Senior Member

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    Well, first things first, you're anthropomorphizing them too much--they don't want to know that you're an adoring child-like person that wants to be their friend. These are 1000 lb animals, they think a lot differently than you or your cat do. I see this so much with new horse people--they think, aw they're so cute, like big fluffy dogs. I've known people that have been seriously injured while acting like this. So for your sake, please stop likening them to cats, please stop trying to interact with them outside of feeding, unless supervised, until you can interact with them safely. It's alarming that already, two of them (by your description) have already charged you.

    I don't mean to sound condescending or anything. I just see this way too often. You can't treat horses the same way you would your household pets--because they're not. And trust me, I've been guilty of the "aw so cute" syndrome as well, to a lesser extent, but it took some smartening up and some undesirable behaviors from my horse (no biting and charging from him though) for me to realize I can't be like that around them.
     
  5. Pluffix

    Pluffix Full Member

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    (alfalfa mixed with hay, as it turns out, is what I meant.)

    First, off, thank you very much! I wasn't expecting such swift responses, nor an openness for intelligent discussion. I was more braced for trolls and derogatory replies than anything.

    I broke down the quote into smaller bits for the sake of response.

    I do believe I stated quite plainly that I am very new to horses altogether. I will not ever claim to "know" about horses from movies, but until I took this job I had zero interaction with horses. That said, I did not approach these horses without doing a fair bit of research. As of right now, it's safe to say that I have a basic understanding, but no field training to speak of. However, please also take into account that I do have personal training as far as not projecting fear when it comes to body language. If they can pick up scents of fear, I'm afraid that I am not able to hide that, and I'm not sure anyone can

    As far as the description of the facility that I currently work at. It's your average "I'm rich and I own horses in another state" storage kind of place. They aren't used for breeding, they aren't being ridden and definitely not being raced. All these horses are being "used" for is for the owners to be able to say "I own horses." I will save my personal feelings on the matter. They have paddocks, stalls, food, water, and that's it. As for why this place needs security, your guess is as good as mine. I'm not self-employed, rather, I'm employed by a third-party contracting company that was hired by the previously mentioned owners who I am unable to speak poorly of for obvious reasons. Don't know them personally, and also work for them technically.

    I'm not sure if I mentioned this clearly, but I'm there only at night. I'm not present during feeding times, (except if I catch the tail end of the fresh hay/alfalfa mix stuff and fresh water) nor is it my duty to do so.

    I may have misunderstood these horses, but I'm willing to call it a safe bet that while yes, I'm relatively a stranger to these horses, that they are actually terrified of me for a deeper reason. Namely abuse.

    But as far as signals go, the way I mentioned each situation played out, 100% wrote it down. I personally was hoping that someone might read my essay in depth and without trying to add extra fluff into it that what I was doing was wrong or something. However, if something else needs to be present in order for it to make sense, I'm willing to bet that previous abuse, boredom, and perhaps some underlying medical issues are presently the issues more so than me "giving off wrong signals."
     
  6. foxtrot

    foxtrot Senior Member

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    I have honestly never heard of such a thing, let alone a facility that has 24/7 security if they're just pets owned by absentee owners. Weird.


    It's a common mistake to assume horses are being abused but from your description I don't see any warning signs. If they aren't being ridden, are being turned out daily, have access to free choice hay/water and regular stall cleaning, not sure where the abuse would come in. Some horses are naturally nervous. I have one that it would be really easy to assume is an abuse case since he jumps at everything and is very tense and nervous but I had one with his exact personality that I raised from a weanling. There are naturally high strung horses, and horses that become aggressive due to poor training/handling, but it's not always as simple as abuse.


    I'm sorry you view my opinion as "adding extra fluff" but giving off the wrong signals is exactly what it sounds like you were doing.


    Horse A – by ears down do you mean ears back? As you say, going in an unfamiliar horse’s stall, especially when you describe yourself as tense, is asking for trouble. Blowing at her with your nose is just flat out nonsensical since you don’t want your head anywhere near a 1,000+ prey animal. She shows signs of stress when you get close because you invaded her space and projected tension. You also don’t “smack or pinch” horses that misbehave.


    Horse B – many horses will “play bite” and that’s what it sounds like. You were scratching him so he returned the favor. When a horse does this I immediately get loud with my body language and send them away, or set the horse up to run into my elbow if he tries it again so he disciplines himself. Not nickering at you doesn’t mean much, most horses are silent, I doubt he’s holding a grudge.


    Horse C – why do you keep going into the stalls of nervous, agitated horses? I have literally never been hit in the head hard enough to fall down by a horse because I don’t let them get that close to me. I feel like these horses are projecting their intentions from a mile away but you don’t see them—which isn’t an insult, just fact. You have to learn how to read horses, their body language is that of a prey animal and not a dog. Anyway, I’m not sure exactly how you got hit on the head again. Never ever let a horse put its head near yours. Doubt he felt defensive due to no teeth.


    Horse D – he wasn’t acting aggressively, he was mutually grooming/playing with you like he would with another horse, *which isn’t okay for a horse to do to a human*. When horses interact, horse 1 nips horse 2, horse 2 nips back, horse 1 nips again, so on and so forth. That’s play to them. You gave this horse mixed signals by hitting him and pushing on him which is what he was doing to you. You were playing back. You’re also giving him a whole lot of human attributes.



    I guess what I don’t get is why you’re messing with someone else’s horses, ones that apparently have a lot of issues and you’re just being paid to guard. What sort of liability is there if one of these horses severely injures you while on the job? If you want to interact with horses you’d have a lot better luck taking lessons somewhere.
     
  7. Pluffix

    Pluffix Full Member

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    As I mentioned in my above reply to foxtrot (which you couldn't have possibly read in the time it took for me to create a new post and respond here... heh heh) I am not present during feeding times. I am only there for security reasons. The initial reason I am not allowed to share, again for privacy reasons, however as to why we are still there... I don't know. But I won't question it.

    I feel very lucky to be around such beautiful animals. The horses likely do not feel the same way. I will admit that I do find this terribly depressing. But I can't help what they are and what I am.

    As far as the charging thing, obviously I find this concerning as well. However, their behavior more so makes me worried that these horses are maltreated and extremely unsocialized. For example, during one of my far more pleasant interactions with Horse B (did I mention that I was pointing out only negative interactions, and not positive ones? The negative ones aren't the only interactions I've had.), the lead rope got knocked off the hook as I was leaving his stall, and immediately Horse B went from content and relaxed to immediately fearful and cowering. The lead rope is a rather thick rope that's knotted at the end, however, soft enough that it barely made any noise. If anything, me brushing against it made more noise than it landing on the ground and sliding a little. It's still possible that it startled him because of that since horses have sensitive hearing, but I can't ignore the possibility that something about the lead rope was traumatizing to him.

    But... As I so often do... I may be reading into it too much. In fact, maybe all of this is because I'm reading into it too much. However, in reference to Horse D... I can't bring myself to see horses as mean creatures. They don't seem to have it in their nature to start a fight. End it, perhaps. But not really start it. I've seen plenty of videos of mares establishing the pecking order, so to speak, however that's still a purpose driven "aggression." I haven't shown that I mean any harm to these creatures, other than when I am attempting to correct a horse from charging at me or biting me. But if this was a mistake, as well, I apologize. I read many a forum trying to read into "correct" forms of corrections. From poking, to pinching, to yelling, to pushing... all the way to even making the horse believe that you are going to kill it...? I really don't know how one would do that, but I'm more than positive that was an exaggeration and was not something I tried.

    As far as anthropomorphism... it's rather difficult to not do so. They have expressions much like we do, they pick up on our emotions and seem to understand them, and they do seem to have a level of compassion. Plus they seem to act like naughty children, so from time to time I find myself comparing them to that.
     
  8. Pluffix

    Pluffix Full Member

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    There is an initial purpose for us being there. But I cannot give details. However as to why we are still there... It's not 24/7, however that doesn't matter much. It's only at night.

    And ah.. yes that all makes sense. No I don't take offense to anything you said, I'm actually happy that I am being corrected. If anything I enjoy educational insight. As far as the aggressive horses, I haven't made it a habit to get close to them on purpose. This was my very grievous error. I'm lucky I only got bonked on the head with a jaw. It could have been much worse. And yes, more than likely I didn't read the more subtle ques. I figured that if a horse didn't want me coming near it, it would drag it's teeth against the bars (which a few of them do, and I do -NOT- approach. There is one that is very upfront about not wanting me around her, and I haven't even gotten close to her for that reason. She's very skiddish and I know for a fact I'd terrify her.

    And as much as it hurts my pride, I will have to admit you are correct about the signal showing... A lot of people say I come off with an intense personality which comes off as intimidating to most people, so I don't imagine it's that much different with other animals.

    Even still, I just don't understand how an animal that is domesticated isn't as willing as a cat or a dog (who are both smaller) to be slathered with affection.
     
  9. slc

    slc Senior Member

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    In the kindest way possible, there are several important points. Of course your interest and desire to do well and learn is admirable. But you desperately need to change your approach before some human or animal is badly harmed.

    First is safety. It must be said that you need a lot of supervision and lots and lots of instruction, before you can work at an equine job, in a manner safe for the horses or for yourself or the other staff. If you are a guard, please stick only to guarding the property and do not interact with the horses until you have had some intense supervision and instruction.

    You have learned that horse body language is not like cat body language. It appears that the way you get yourself into trouble, is that you assume that you know what to do with horses based on other animals and your own assumptions about how horses function and what they need. These assumptions will cause you to make mistakes dangerous to yourself, animals and staff.

    Next, please try to be less judgmental of the horses' owner, okay? Consider these facts: Toys and lots of 'human attention' are not required for horse happiness. Horses need exercise outdoors. These horses get that. Each one has a certain level of activity it will want. Some will trot or run outside, others will just stand or walk about quietly. Horses socialize very effectively, in the stable, in the paddocks or pastures. They do not need to be in the same enclosure together, or touching, to socialize.

    I know you put some work into descriptions of each horse, and that you don't understand that your interpretations, an even observations of the individual horses are not realistic. These observations are based on lack of experience and assumptions that they think and feel as humans and other animals do. But horses do not think or feel like humans or other creatures. They think and feel in their own unique way. They have their own unique reasons for doing what they do.

    It is very touching to see a person write a lot about each horse, but you must try to understand that you need a great deal of supervised instruction before you can safely interact with horses.

    I think you're very intelligent and you may pride yourself on being 'logical' and 'observant'. But unfortunately, with horses, much of what they do and why, can only be learned through openly accepting instruction from a more experienced teacher. It is important to simply doing things the way that teacher tells you to do.

    And each barn is different and has different rules. At the therapeutic riding center I volunteered at, no one was allowed to stand directly in front of any horse. But at other barns, the manager will laugh at that rule and say it is not necessary. At each barn, respect the rules of that barn.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2016
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  10. manesntails

    manesntails Senior Member

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    Everything you've written says you have no idea how to approach a prey animal. You are being yourself, a human, who looks at animals with two eyes, thinks nuzzling is affectionate, etc.

    Leave these horses alone before you get hurt. You're scaring the first horse by how you approach and you're allowing the second to be dominant over you because you allow it into your space.

    Best thing for you to do is to Get some books on how horses think and study Clinton Anderson on how to be with a horse.

    We can't teach you on a bulletin board how to be with a horse. You have humans around you who also don't have a clue. Horses don't knicker at you because they want "attention" that would be a dog. Forget anything you understand that dogs and cats do, this is a horse. They think of being over you in dominance 24/7 and hitting them is a VERY bad idea. Just sayin.
     
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