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Behavior change in young filly

I have a female yearling Shire who was very friendly and could be walked on a lead when by the time she was a couple of months old. As she approached about 8 months old she started to become very shy and easily spooked. Every now and then she would let me touch her and brush her a bit, but not consistently. She was probably never weaned well from her mom and resisted all attempts to be separated (jumped the fences that separated them). She is now in a big round pen with a shelter and very high fences, by herself. She still spooks extremely easily, even when she bumps into the fence and it makes a noise she bolts. I try to spend about a half hour with her several times a week just to get her used to me being in the pen with her and combing her and touching her. The owner has asked me to come up with a plan that we can both adhere to that will get this young horse to eventually be comfortable with a lead and walking and tying, etc.

Can you give me any suggestions as to what you think might be most helpful to start with? I have used the principles that you taught us as to respecting her "face space" and standing at her side. But her eyes just show enormous fear. What would you do?

Thank you in advance,
Jan Richards
Manchester, Michigan

Hi Jan,

Sounds like growing pains for the filly.....

I agree the weaning process probably didn't go that well. It is also not good she is by herself. It would be much better if there were other young horses for her to be with and run around with. If she is only by herself in that round pen, it’s not very good. Also, horses like to look out to the distance. She'll get very cranky and depressed not even being able to look out. You would too.

As long as she is in the round pen anyway, try working her in it, a lot. Spend a lot of time with her, as much as you can. Ask her to move around, both directions and let her break a sweat (just a bit). If she begins to lick and chew, offer her a HO! a break from moving. It’s all the better if she turns to you. Tell her she's a good girl. If she moves to join up with you, certainly let her. Pet and praise her if she does this. If this all goes smoothly you could socialize her pretty fast. Although, it may take some initial time for her to drop her head and lick and chew. Please stay with it. It may take an hour of her moving around before she looks to you for a break. I am not saying to run her into the ground or push her around in a really bullying way. I am saying you ask her to move as gently as possible, but do it. Keep the horse moving and changing directions until she looks to you for a break by licking and chewing and maybe lowering her head. Look for her inside ear to point to you as you keep her moving and keep talking to her all the time. When she is doing what you want praise her. If she does something you don't want don't make a big deal of it. Unless it requires immediate response, let it go. Reinforce what you want. Either ignore what you don't want or make it hard for her. Do not punish her. You need her respect and trust, not her fear. At some point you'll be able to whisper HO! Or just change your body position a bit and she'll hit the breaks. Once she looks to come to you and join up, you should be able to brush her and do anything you want with her. At that point begin to 'sack her out', leaving a halter on with the rope loosely on the ground or just steady her a bit as you rub her with saddle blankets, tarps, raingear, anything. Keep the sessions short (20-30 minutes) and don't stay on one thing too long (10-15 minutes).

What do you think? It will require a time commitment, but it will work.

Keep me posted.

Aloha, Franklin

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