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Dakota: Affectionate horse? or demanding pet?

By Denise May

Dakota is a 7-year old quarter horse. I bought him from someone who assured me that he was extremely affectionate, safe and would make a great riding horse for someone like myself who was just learning to ride.

Affectionate was an understatement. Dakota was in-your-face constantly with absolutely no ground manners. He blocked your entrance to gates. He ran through every open gate he could spy. He had to be chased to be haltered and he was frightened of almost every new person or thing. Also, he was a bully with the other horses. Dakota wasn't truly affectionate, he was aggressively affectionate…forcing himself on people and blocking their path. He was also somewhat herdbound.

I found Dakota an interesting challenge. He had been an abused horse…badly beaten and confined to a stable too much of the time. His "rescuer" had tried to make up for it by constant treats, little discipline and few expectations. He obviously had learned to survive by being a large pet. On the other hand, when he was to be ridden, she was very rough with him, saying he needed to know who the "leader" was.

I decided that he deserved a chance at being more than he was. But, I had no idea how upsetting it would be to have his old rules of survival no longer apply. When he found he was expected to have manners, not run through gates, overcome fear and go without treats, he was like a spoiled child. Kicking, bucking…even refusing to come out of his shelter, just because he was asked to back up at feeding time and allow me to pass through a gate trying to intimidate me. He was also expected to respect my space and not to lick, chew hair, tug on clothing. Only when he was invited, was affection offered. Love was his only reward now…treats had been outlawed until this junk food junky saw treats in their proper place.

For months, new rules were reinforced without any anger or punishment on my part. I simply was not going to give in…even his tantrums and constant requests for sympathy went unrewarded. He was taught to walk through gates like a gentleman. He was allowed to face his fears like an adult and to build confidence. He learned to wait his turn to eat and not bully the other horses. His requests for affection are now genuine and are returned with trust and respect.

Today, Dakota is proud of himself. It shows in everything he does. Although he still spooks a little at new things, he gets over it much quicker. He feels safe with me and I with him….and that is everything. He no longer has to be "caught" but gently comes when called…stopping a respectful distance. He even has much closer relationships with the other horses.

I hope this experience will help others understand that spoiling an abused horse…or any horse is not the way to his heart. Where there is confidence, respect and trust,there will be real love and a better way of life.