New horse possibly abused once, now won't let herself be touched?..

A) Thanks so kindly for reading and responding, and:

B) I'm sure something helpful is on here somewhere already, but I can't find it--Sorry!!


My Great Aunt gave us her 2 Rocky Mountain Pleasure horses (mares) about a month ago--we named the red girl Donoma and the bay girl Kai. They were never mishandled or threatened before. They were both very sweet and LOVED people before, but when they were trailered here, Donoma changed. She was the "leading lady" and LOOOOVED people before; now, she's the less dominant of the 2, and is positively NOT allowing us to touch her without jerking her head back so hard her neck snaps! It's like she thinks we're going to hurt her, which we would never do! She won't even let us near her STILL.. I think we're being "allowed" to get closer to her, but touching is still out of the question.. I DO NOT make eye contact with her and I haven't tried to force my attention on to her. I've been as patient as possible, spoken softly, sang softly to her, and all..

We have some reasons to believe she was mishandled, but I suppose my questions are this:

1) Would being abused or mistreated by one person, one time be enough to change her in such a dramatic way?

2) Any pointers on getting her to trust us and let us near her, and bonding?


I do not have a round-pen and I've heard of join-up but she prefers to stay away from us.. She'll sometimes get curiuos and come up to us, but won't stay long at all..

Sorry if my details are sadly lacking.. I have to take off for now, but I'm so grateful to have found this site.. Seems to have tons of folks who are of the same mindset I am with training (which I'd also love advice on!!!)

THANK YOU SO MUCH--Can't wait to read replies!!

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Just a complete guess of course, but whether she was deliberately abused (a possibility) or even accidentally really hurt herself, say reared and bonked her head, she could be traumatised. There could even have been an injury that caused some pain after the fact, and let's really hope it isn't still lingering. I would keep doing exactly what you are doing. If she's already feeling pressure with your low key approach I wouldn't push it. But I might try some non threatening changes, like just camp out in her paddock, take a chair, and a book, a small bag of carrots, apple chunks and set them progressively closer. If she's curious enough she'll approach and take a sample, maybe come back for more. You don't have to do anything, I think she will come to you, but there's no predicting how many sessions it might take. I'm betting that progress will happen all at once when it happens. She will be eating carrots off your lap. Is there any area where you can set this up so that only she gets to interact with you. You don't want her to have to compete with other more dominant horses, so if you can confine them in another paddock or field that would be best. Are the other horse(s) treating her decently, if she is traumatised or in pain, she cannot defend herself very well and some horses will pick on a weaker one. You might need to watch interactions with dominant horses that she is getting her fair share of feed or hay. While pasture is nice, I would try to bring her in to me for some kind of feed, not just set it out and go away. Who cared for her before, was it your Aunt? Any chance she could come by and see this mare, she could be mourning the loss of her caretaker. It might help to isolate what is bothering the mare.
We're thinking it was deliberate because of a mix of things.. My Aunt heard bad things about the guy, unfortunately AFTER the fact.. She had a wound on her left hind leg that looked like it was torn or rubbed off and he was trying to tell us it was a wasp sting (a 4" long, 1 1/2 thick wasp sting.. yeah..), and mostly just the fact that Donoma's love for people has been terribly staggered. She still interrested in people, but acts like she thinks we're going to kill her each time our hands move. I do just hand around them a lot, and she will gladly take snacks from me, but if she even accidentally brushes her nose on my hands, she freaks.. Not every single time, but most. She's pinned her ears back like she was mad a couple of times.. Probably just fear, I think?.. And yeah, I feed them every night (hubby feeds in the mornings) and when i feed them, I squat outside of the fence right where she eats and just fiddle with her hay. It doesn't bother her.. Again, unless she thinks I'm trying to touch her. I haven't TRIED to touch her since she tried to nip (I want her to be OK with my hands being around her first.. yes?)
Other than that, I've been watching for signs of wounds, pain or sickness. I haven't noticed anything.. She needs to be wormed, but I cant worm her 'till I get touch her:/
The other girl is definitely the boss now (Donoma used to be!) and can be very showy about her status at times, but she's not bad at all now. They eat quite peacefully and everything and she gets PLENTY of food--She's quite fat--We're working on that:) Their paddock is pretty small and grassless for right now--We're working on a better place for them, but it's pretty meager at the time..
And yes, it was my Aunt that cared for them before.. Would she still be mourning her after a month? I don't think she got to see the girls that often..

Thank you so much for your reply.. I really, really appreciate your time and insight!!!
I meant HANG around them a lot--Not hand. Haha:)
I have never done this, but from my reading I am thinking that you might try clicker training. Your mare sounds scared of people, and often horses get scared of people not just because of the abuse but because the horse simply gives up on the humans making any sense--it is better to keep away and safe than to come up to even a nice person. Clicker training might be an effective way out of this confusion. I wish I had known about the clicker training decades ago, it may have made my life easier.

One foal I had gotten was really leary of me, and he had never been abused. He WOULD NOT let me catch him. Finally I decided to accept what he let get close to me (his rear end), and started scratching him at the top of the dock of his tail (making sure to stand to the side!!). After a few days I was able to work all the way up to his head, scratching all the way, and after a few more days he would let me catch him. That was the only thing that worked with that particular horse.
Oh wow, clicker training for horses?? I'll definitely look that up! Man, who'd have thought? :) I'll definitely look that up and give it a try--She deserves some love but is afraid to get it, poor girl!
Thanks so so much! :)
If she will take treats and doesn't have a lot of other food sources, that is already a good set up. You don't want her out in a lush pasture where she doesn't need to even approach you for weeks on end. You can casually set up situations so she has to touch you to get a treat. Say you are leaning on the fence, one hand has the treat, the other is a little in front, but natural looking. She might have to brush your arm to get to it. If she touches and snaps back, don't flinch, or do anything. Let her figure it out. You must not be afraid. Did she actually nip or did she "lip" you.She may have found a handy way of keeping you away by pinning her ears. If she is pinning ears, don't open your hand to allow the treat. If she is approaching but very wary, or spooking, let her work it out. Hand feeding can be tricky, you don't want to teach her to mug you for treats. Putting it in a bowl, but again setting it up so she had to touch you or your hand to get to it can get her just past the don't touch me thing. Have you tried having a brush in your hand, let her sniff it, just a slight accidental touch. What you want to do is work in small steps. Allow her to retreat and advance. She may tolerate a slight contact with your shoulder or arm before she allows a hand. When you put her hay out, try to be a close as she will allow, up to her practically touching you in order to approach, while you are "rearranging" her hay.
The clicker training might help a lot, but I have never used it, so I can't say. I personally like to just concentrate (without looking like I am concentrating if you know what I mean) on the animal itself. I look for very small signs of progress from day to day. A month is not that long since she obviously has been through something traumatic. She can figure this out herself, but you need to give her lots of opportunities to do that.
The reason I suggested someone come by who could touch her before is to help her past the touch thing if she accepted any touch from them before, and to help you figure out whether she has just lost trust in new people, or whether she has lost trust in anyone including those she knew before. With a known person she might revert to her old habit of allowing touch even if it's for a few minutes, and get her past that glitch, even for a short time in your presence. You will still it seems have to gain her trust on your own, but it's a starting point.
Hi, Megan:

Talk to Jennifer Lamm (on Barnmice) about her experiences with clicker training, and getting close to a difficult horse. She's done it very successfully, and I'm sure could offer you some valuable insights and encouragement!
Yes, Jackie's point about working on an easy place to touch and then working with that is a good one. She may very well have been twitched for trailer loading or unloading. If a horse is twitchedbeyond a certain point, they can suddenly explode, bad things happen, and you may never be able to twitch them again, and of course injuries and fear can result. But it could certainly cause a horse to flinch at human touch near their muzzle face, or generalize to any touch in general.


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