I rescued a pony about three months ago. She was in pretty bad condition (skinny and had a big cut on her cheek) and she was terrified of people. She is roughly 10 years old and was used as a brood mare to have two foals (as far as I know).
She is now comfortable around me and is okay with my family, but is still super worried around strangers (the vet, farrier, dentist, etc.). she won’t let them near her.
I am not blaming any of this on her and we are taking things very slow.
She is always very tense (and has a serious U neck to show for it!), but since she wasn’t really handled before I got her, I was wondering if her anxiety could be caused by the other horses she lives with as well as humans… She is a bit of a push-over in the paddock, so all of my other horses pic on her a bit and I’m sure this would have happened at her old paddock as well.
I know its a bit of an abstract idea but, I was just wondering if anyone else has experienced something like this happening, and if it is possible that her anxiety has been caused by the other horses in the herd?
Sure. Anxiety can be caused by almost anything. I’d put her out with the calmest/gentlest in the herd and see if her demeanor starts to change. I’ve seen my personal horse become stressed when in a pasture situation where a bully moves her around, the water gets blocked out, or there are other daily stressors.
Maybe you could start by giving her a place of her own, where she won’t have to worry about staying out of other’s space?
A larger pen/small pasture with a safe horse fence between her and other horses, where she is not alone, but just not sharing personal space?
Start there, then see how things go.
You can then go from that to a place shared with another super friendly quiet horse, that loves people, which would model to her how to connect to humans.
Watch her and use your imagination to try to find what makes her tick and work based on what you think would work that won’t reinforce her anxiety and will her learning to manage in her current situation.
Always remember horses, when it comes to other horses and humans, are in flux, may act one way for a bit, in some situations, can’t say they will be consistently the same in other situations, have to take each one as they go.
Why is that?
We can intellectualize all we want, but we just are not horses, can’t really know what all they see and smell and react to, being humans, so have to guess best we may.
Managing horses so they are contented is an ongoing task that requires people with attentive, caretaker aptitude, sounds like you are one, lucky mare you are looking after her well being.
I think you’re asking whether she learned to be fearful of humans by being picked on by horses she’s been turned out with; is that what you’re asking?
In some general sense, I think the answer is yes. If all of her interactions with other animals, whether human or equine, have resulted in her being pushed around, then the lesson learned is: beware of everyone, whether two-legged or four-legged.
I’ll add though that horses’ acceptance of human interaction isn’t something they’re born with. They have to learn it. And if they don’t learn it early on as foals, it can be harder for them to really get over the baseline fear.
Herd dynamics are complex. A weaker or unhealthy horse can absolutely be picked on and driven off food and resources. At my barn we have individual runouts and then do a lot of attended group turnout where we put 2 or 3 horses in a big arena and sit and watch them play or interact.
It’s very interesting. Horse behavior will change from pair to pair. Horse might be assertive with one buddy, aggressive with another, avoidant with another, or clingy but submissive. Absolutely there are horses that are anxious around some other horses.
Anxiety around other horses is not however hard wired to anxiety with people on the ground or people in the saddle. You need to deal with each of these things separately.
However if you observe that her basic living situation is unpleasant for her, then change it. Watch the horses at meal time. Does she get enough food? Watch body language. Does she have a horse buddy or does everyone run her off? Etc.
There are also all kinds of horse related anxiety. A horse can be anxious about leaving the herd or out of sight of horses. Or about the behavior of certain horses in a paddock or field. Etc.
Horses feel anxiety in any number of situations. Sounds like you are helping her on her fear of humans but if you continue to keep her in a herd setting where she is picked on, I don’t see you making a lot of progress.
She needs to feel safe and have a place that is hers where she can eat, drink and rest with no fear of being shoved away by another horse. Until she has that it may be an uphill battle for her.
I adopted a hot mess with tremendous anxiety. First thing I did was get her teeth done and they were terrible - huge hooks front and back and sores in her mouth. TMJ and poll pain from such dysfunction in her mouth. For a few months she would try to leave the barn to get away. Charge at me in the pasture.
First time I brought a body worker out for massage she would barely allow any work and the therapist said she’d never felt such tight, dead tissue. And she had terrible posture. Tight muscles bulging at her neck.
My thought is your girl is in a lot of pain. Could you help her begin to release using Masterson Method techniques - just hovering your hand over her at a place she would allow? I can only imagine the releases, eye blinking, yawning etc that you will experience.
Maybe you could give her a sedative in advance to allow a good dentist in her mouth and get those teeth done? God only knows how bad they must be. And the pain from them.
Some 6 years later my girl has had TONS of bodywork and loves it. She’s all over ANYONE who comes to visit too. No fear.
Great advice above too about the horses in her turnout. Minimum stress is so important rehabbing these poor things that have had such abuse.