During the work with Glory, I was able to show Joey, visually, that Glory had a few irrational and unfortunate beliefs:
" Glory believed that lifting any one leg while standing in the trailer would make him fall down.
" Glory believed that while in the trailer, his right hind leg didn't really function at all.
There is no way to make an animal, or a person for that matter, change a belief; they must do it all by themselves. My teaching method sets up scenarios where the animal has to make tiny, almost miniscule free will choices that quickly compound at a high rate of speed. Unlike most training philosophies common today, none of these scenarios puts any added pressure on the horse at all. He has enough trouble as it is.
Most animal trainers will attempt to treat a terror fear by desensitizing to get an animal 'used to' standing calmly in the trailer. But even a year after they have been taught to 'tolerate' a situation, you'll notice the horse still holding his breath, like a stone statue. The problem is still in there, it's just buried.
What I do to treat such a problem is just the opposite. I teach the horse to actively choose thoughts opposite to the one currently on display. In Glory's case, we needed his rational brain to click on and override his panic attacks. We taught him "active self-recovery" by drawing attention to the split second moment at the end of every wall pinning push.
Mead: "After a few repetitions, the horse was pretending to be scared so that he could actually self-recover and get Casey's attention and reward. You could even see Glory watching Casey out of the corner of his eye when he was "pretend crashing" into the divider; he was making sure Casey wasn't missing the show. "
Once an animal has the ability to turn his fear response on and off, consciously and on-purpose, it no longer catches him by surprise. At this point, the horse couldn't escalate into panic even if he wanted to.
After that turning point, we could talk to him about actually moving two feet at once to find his balance. Soon he was happy to show off his balancing talent when the truck turned on and when the trailer moved. The day Glory re-found his feet, he was riding the trailer like a surfer rides a wave, and he was actually having fun. Every lesson, he would load up with more gusto, in order to play this new "surfing" game.
For good measure, we really put him through the wringer. With hand held radios and me in the chaser car, Joey punched the brakes, drove over bumps, uphill, downhill, and all around. Glory was having a grand time using his new found skills.
Glory had indeed been a victim of the "slippery slope"… a right hand uphill slope to be exact. In our rides around the local school parking lot, we found that the only thing that could still trigger Glory's anxiety was an uphill right hand turn. That's when we got to the root of the problem. At some time in Glory's past, his right hind leg must have slipped out from under him, sending him down the path of spiraling anxiety. So… off we went to find the steepest right hand curve in town so that Glory could teach himself to again trust his right hind leg.
Today, Glory has regained control of the situation even though he has memories of past trauma. On the steep hills and at speed, Glory is doing all of the learning and all of the teaching.
Glory is even more famous these days. No one can believe that this horse is the same notorious Glory. Glory self loads, and drives off to the shows. He is not on any drugs or tranquilizers and he uses no physical aids. He is taking care of himself.
How long does it take to fix a frightened horse? It depends on how many "unfortunate beliefs" are compounded, but there is not much repetition involved. This type of learning is not linear, it's exponential, which is a big way of saying that, on his own, Glory can learn faster than we can teach him, and that's why every session using this method makes a very noticeable and permanent improvement.
Problems from tying to riding can be quickly diminished with this method. Horses who won't tolerate needles or injections take less than an hour. Farrier kickers take a few hours. A complex case like Glory takes more time.
Note: This article is not instructional. Emotional recovery in dangerous horses should be directed by a professional behaviorist to reduce risk of injury to people and horses.
Casey Sugarman, Phobia Specialist/ Behaviorist
Sugarman has been reversing phobias in animals and in people for 18 years. She can be reached at 617 359-7941
Note: This article is not instructional. Emotional recovery in phobic individuals should be directed by a professional behaviorist to reduce risk of injury.
Reversing a dangerous horse trailer phobia...
Free Articles from Willing Results
By Casey Sugarman, Behaviorist
Everyone for miles around knew to protect their trailers from this notorious horse. Lisa Samoylenko is the owner of Eleazer Davis Farm, an eventing and dressage barn in Bedford, MA. "In all my years trailering horses, I had never seen this type of panic come from one that used to trailer so well, and I have to say, I wasn't sure anything could help him."
Joey Mead of Carlisle, MA is the horse's owner: "Glory, my 15 year old Morgan gelding, was always difficult to load, but one particular day was especially troubling. We were headed to a show in a 2-horse trailer. It was unclear what set him off, but when we arrived at the show and took him off, he was soaking wet and had cut up his legs, having ripped off his own trailering boots. On the way home, (because we had to get him home somehow), Glory was pushing his whole body with all of his might into the middle divider and all four feet were climbing up the outer wall of the trailer."
Mead: "Later, we tried a large 6 horse trailer, tranquilized, riding backwards, and this seemed to work for a show or two. But one day he walked right on, we closed up the trailer, my friend opened the tack room door, right behind Glory and he went crazy, almost blowing out the walls, and with other horses on board. It was a very frightening thing to witness."
If your horse has developed a dangerous habit, what can you do? Tranquilizers are most often prescribed as the answer. But when drugs are not reliable, and when animals and people are at high risk of injury, an owner is often left with no choice but to change the plan for that horse: he'll just never travel again.
Mead: "Unwilling to make that decision, I looked for anyone in the area that could help, but there are not many who specialize in this kind of problem. Finally, I tried the internet and found Casey."
It always takes a while to get at the root of a problem, because typically no one knows what exactly caused it. Glory is a normal horse in nearly every other respect; he's a sound jumper, a lesson horse, and an all around good guy.
The tricky part in working through problems like this is evoking the trouble just enough to gain access to it, but not enough to get horses or people injured. And this horse was no exception; the first time I saw the behavior for myself, my heart skipped about five beats.
No behaviors, good or bad, come out of thin air. Underlying every defensive, evasive, aggressive or altogether dangerous behavior is a little internal tornado of strange beliefs learned from past experience. That belief tornado churns out the motivational reasons why animals do what they do. Everything your horse believes he has learned from his own interpretations of experiences he's had. All beliefs are learned, but certainly, not all beliefs are taught.
To fix problem animals, most trainers work toward building good behaviors that are incompatible with bad ones, but what I teach is quite different, it's more psychologically based: I re-teach beliefs, and then the animal teaches himself the new behaviors we want.
Mead: "Don't confuse Casey for a practitioner in alternate plane communications; she is not that at all. With her professional scientific background in the laboratories of Woods Hole and her 10 years as a veterinary biologist at Boston's New England Aquarium, her science is solid. But she doesn't wear a white lab coat either. To watch Casey with animals, it looks more like a Shamoo show at Seaworld than anything you are used to seeing in horse training. Whenever possible, she works with her clients stripped of halter and lead."
The wide cross section of species I've worked with, (from horses to squid and lobsters, sea lions and whales, dogs, birds, cats, and thousands of fish) have taught me to hone in on what an animal expects to happen next … in essence, what s/he believes. In Glory's case, his set of beliefs was all out of whack.