Gift horse, anxious amateur.

LouBee

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Oct 5, 2022
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Hi, this is my first post, you guys seem really supportive and I think I just need to type this out, I hope that's OK. It may be long, sorry.
I'm a 38yr old mum, got back into horses after about 25 years.
Childhood equine experience is riding, grooming, bathing and playing with friends ponies as well as ponies being kept in fields that my Grandparents rented out (amazing summers spent there, calling ponies from the bedroom window and having them waiting for me once I'd dressed and grabbed tack!) No lessons, no guidance, no form, just get on with it and go.
After a bad relationship, redundancy and then lockdowns of 2020 I felt pretty down so decided to book a hack which went well and I ended up volunteering there. Soon got some paid work at the yard, poo picking, waters etc, occasionally helping to bring ponies in and tack up etc. Generally left alone though to poo pick and hang out with the ponies which suited me - too much responsibility with the horses made me anxious, as I said, no formal training and already pretty down.
I got to know the ponies and had a special bond with one of them in the herd of 9. She would pop by to get a hug and some scratches, follow me around sometimes. I was told she wasn't really that kind of pony so i was chuffed that she had chosen me. Cue the daydreams of doing more with her and becoming a dream team!
My actual dream is to part loan a quiet pony to hack out and have fun with one day with a more experienced person (I don't have the time, money or experience to own my own). I told my boss one day and she suggested I part loan the pony for free! Basically she has some that are OK for the riding school and a good few who are being brought on, too young or her personal ponies. This one is not suitable for the riding school. I thanked her and instinctively made plans to start from the beginning - a groom, some ground work, target training - very small sessions of 10 - 20 mins, maybe 1 - 3 times a week when I have time and the school / stable is free.
Then I get told about her past, she had a tumour which caused havoc with her hormones and she behaved like a stallion. She was dangerous. She is still very dominant.
I haven't had her being aggressive towards me but she gets easily distracted, spooked by anything going on around us and stroppy when she thinks we should be doing something (I keep my planned sessions calm - for me as well as her!) I'd assumed this was because she wasn't used to doing anything but field to stable until i was told more about her. To be honest, she scares me! I have twice been shown how I should be handling her and each time the handlers corrected her dominant behaviour she tried to square up to them. I've avoided this myself but probably because I'm taking such small steps I'm avoiding her triggers - probably also subconsciously too afraid to try anything that might trigger this or even in my ignorance missing her dominance and just not correcting it, hence giving her no reason to try to 'battle it out' with me. If she does try it I'm afraid that I won't know how to react and that I'll get hurt or create more problems for her, I just don't have the knowledge, experience or confidence.
So far I'm still practicing leading her around the school, stopping, backing her up etc and all seems fine until my boss sees and tells me I'm doing it wrong. She corrects me but it's hard to see the subtle differences! I've watched videos etc and we do some target training which she clicks onto straight away but then gets greedy and stroppy, pawing the ground for treats (I have been advised to use chaff or similar low value reward which I will do from now on). I have never lunged which seems a million steps away anyway but I have never learned groundwork. I had a riding lesson on a different horse and found out I picked up a lot of bad habits 30 or so years ago so even that is not even basic level - feeling like a complete failure!
I haven't even picked her feet myself yet as her energy can sometimes seem uncomfortable (I know, sounds lame). I know i don't have the experience but i've never had so little confidence around a pony I'm supposed to be bonding with!
It's creating a lot of anxiety, it feels like it's always a relief to get something done successfully (even getting her to and from the field as the other 8 usually want out too, it's stressful!) and a relief when we've done and I know I don't have to worry about it for a couple of days... then I'm worrying about the next session! I'm even anxious about going to work there now which seems ridiculous.
I feel very alone with it all, I talk to my boss who is lovely but she is so experienced and straight forwards, I don't think she understands that I don't get what to do or how to be, she seems generally happy with how I handle the riding school ponies but this is another level, there seem to be more rules, probably because of how dominant the pony can be.
I just don't know where we are heading, and i don't know how to progress. It doesnt sound as though she can be ridden after her previous health issues but that isn't a huge thing for me just now (can't bloomin' ride properly myself and we have a lot of trust work through first anyway). A part of me thinks I should admit that I'm not going to be assertive enough and that I'm the wrong person for the pony. Another part of me thinks we can get through this, just keep taking small steps (it's been about a month, maybe 7 or 8 short sessions), my boss helped with the 1st and another trainer i was lucky enough to get a free session with on my last who Basically said to carry on doing what I'm doing. But I'm scared - I can't work if I'm hurt by her and I definitely need to stick around and be physically fit for my daughter!
I won't be making any quick decision, I'm hormonal and think i have seasonal anxiety at the moment so I Will keep at it. I just needed to type it out to people who might get it, I don't know horsey people! I spoke to my non horsey mum and she thinks my boss wouldn't have offered the opportunity if she didn't think i was capable but I'm not sure!
If you got this far, thank you for reading, I appreciate it.
 

Trewsers

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Oct 13, 2004
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Although your mum has a good point perhaps about your boss thinking you are capable, the fact you've mentioned a couple of times in your post about being scared tells me the situation is too much for you right now. It seems a shame it's beginning to make you anxious about working there too. I think with supervision it could work, as in if your boss wanted to help you learn with this pony, but if you're left to your own devices, that sounds like it's making you anxious and scared which isn't an ideal start for building a pony / human relationship. Casting my mind back to when I first started being involved with horses as an adult (I was 34) I didn't feel scared - maybe I should have lol But seriously, I think that now almost 20 years on, I wouldn't like to be involved with a horse or pony that worried me on the ground. I have a 17hh KWPN (hope that's right lol) warmblood that has the manners of a saint - and I can cope with him on the ground just fine (riding him I'm lacking confidence but that's not the same as being scared). I totally understand about the getting her from the field too, it's a common problem when there's a herd. It's not something I've had to do very often, but I always think hat, gloves and good boots go a long way to making you feel a bit safer and more confident.
Anyway, sorry for the waffly reply. I hope others can advise you - but personally, I might lean towards letting your boss know exactly how you feel, ie, that you feel out of your depth and would like more supervision / help. Oh and welcome to NR.
 
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Mary Poppins

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Oct 10, 2004
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Correct me if I have got this wrong, but you only became scared of her once you were told by someone else that she was dangerous? I find it so interesting that she naturally came to you and you formed a natural bond in the field. Perhaps she was attracted to someone in you and the way that you were around her? Don't put yourself down because you were not officially taught to ride, it seems to be that by being self taught you developed your own approach and feel. There are so many different approaches to dealing with horses, while your boss may have her preferred way to doing things, it seems that this escalates the problems with this mare rather than calms her down.

My advice is to follow your instincts. You say that in your in-hand work with her all is going well until your boss tells you that you are doing it wrong. It seems to me that if the mare is behaving with you and you are taking small and quiet steps with her, that you are actually getting on very well.
 
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newforest

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Mar 15, 2008
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You are saying you were happy being around horses being self taught, however you don't know what you are doing.
You like being left to do your own things, but get anxious with to much responsibilit - because you don't know what to do.
So currently you are in your own way, book some lessons to learn the basics of handling etc etc, this will build confidence because you will get the necessary skills.

Being safe should be the top priority. From what you have said having you on my yard would worry me, because of how worried you are.
But that can be worked on with a bit of one to one confidence building.
 
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carthorse

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My honest and brief opinion is that if a horse scares you you don't work with it unless you absolutely have to, and you don't have to. That being the case I would suggest you walk away and instead get some riding and handling lessons with easy horses that you're confident around.

It sounds like the owner is experienced and also has experienced staff, yet nothing has been done with this mare - why? Is there more that they aren't telling you? If it was going to be easy to get her mannerly and ridden then surely they would have done so, to me it feels irresponsible to pass her on to someone who is green and anxious.

Sometimes it isn't necessary to be dominant with horses that act as if dominant, sometimes channeling them and getting them on side is far more effective, but to do that you need to be calmly confident and impeccable in your reading and timing with them. You know yourself that that isn't you at the moment. Please don't try lunging her, that could go very badly wrong.

I can understand your dream and also how you want to do right by this mare, but I'd still say walk away. There are straightforward horses out there that you'll be longing to see and ride, don't stay with one that makes you more anxious and fills you with dread at what may happen.
 

Huggy

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Nov 11, 2018
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You don't sound as though you're having fun, it would be a terrible shame to be put off so early in your return to all things horsey. Before I got my first pony (at 35) I had one on loan. She was evil and aggressive on the ground, but a dream to ride. I gave her back after 6 months, when I realised I was scared of her. I'm so glad I did - I went on to buy my heart horse, who was her polar opposite, and I never looked back. If you enjoy what you're doing with this pony, carry on, but don't let it interfere with your ultimate aim of loaning something that you can ride and learn with, and most of all, enjoy.
 

Frances144

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Step away. Was my first thought.
Do what you feel comfortable with.
It is so easy to form "a relationship" with a horse in a field, think there is a special connection, get all "Black Beauty" about it in your head.
And then real life kicks in.

Sorry, but walk away. Enjoy what you do and what you have. Don't kid yourself that this will be the one. Plenty of lovely horses out there. You don't have mug written on your forehead.
 

Doodle92

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Apr 6, 2021
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Another who thinks you should walk away. If you are scared of a horse (and in that I am meaning everyone, not just in this situation) then it is never going to work out. There is a reason this horse has had very little done with her. There will be other horses out there who will suit you and will teach you a lot.
 

Jane&Ziggy

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Although I really understand how amazing it feels when a horse wants to be with you - especially a difficult horse! - I also think this is not the right pony for you. The old saying is "green and green = black and blue" and I am worried that you might get hurt.

It's not just you and the horse. Your YO is in the picture too, and I feel the pressure of wanting to do things "right" - her way - could be affecting the relationship you were beginning to develop with the pony. It's all a bit complicated, and for a person like you who's been through a lot it sounds just too anxiety-provoking. I would step back from the loan so that you can go on enjoying getting horsey experience, and maybe find a nice quiet pony to loan or share in the not too distant future.
 

LouBee

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Oct 5, 2022
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Thank you all so much for your time in responding - I do appreciate it and apologise for not writing back sooner - I didn't realise until I started coming out of it quite how depressed I'd become. I will try to respond individually when I get time.
So I decided to start from scratch again - the idea was to get her I to a stable and groom her. Unfortunately every day that I've had time (not many, i need to make up some time working as my daughter has been ill) the stables or school have been busy and I've been mentally incapable of organising a specific time with the owner - the anticipation made me dread it. So I've been spending time with her just in the field, where it all began - just chilling, giving scratches on her itchy winter coat spots and whispering to her - it's been lovely. When ive had time at home I've been looking up the trust technique and whilst I can't afford the main course, did buy the basic introduction videos and practicing non thinking. I took this into the field today and we had 15 mins of pure relaxing nothing together. I think this is what drew her to me and me to her - no expectation, no stress. Every time I went to leave she followed me, put her head down to my hip height (her ear practically up my nose) and we just stood. This is what I love to do!
So I know this probably sounds lame to most horse owners but if this is what I need to practise all winter, getting into the non thinking, trust earning no expectation mindset, I think I can build on it to get a better start and consciously move on to other things at our rate.
I did feel bad that she isn't doing anything outside of the field but she has done that for the last 2 years at least (happily, she has good field mates and her owner obviously maintains her physically) and she does genuinely seem to enjoy just standing with me.
Now I'm just going to look behind the sofa for spare change for the full trust technique course!
Thanks again everybody and sorry for the long time responding... climbing out from under the grey cloud as we speak!
 

Huggy

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Nov 11, 2018
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Thank you all so much for your time in responding - I do appreciate it and apologise for not writing back sooner - I didn't realise until I started coming out of it quite how depressed I'd become. I will try to respond individually when I get time.
So I decided to start from scratch again - the idea was to get her I to a stable and groom her. Unfortunately every day that I've had time (not many, i need to make up some time working as my daughter has been ill) the stables or school have been busy and I've been mentally incapable of organising a specific time with the owner - the anticipation made me dread it. So I've been spending time with her just in the field, where it all began - just chilling, giving scratches on her itchy winter coat spots and whispering to her - it's been lovely. When ive had time at home I've been looking up the trust technique and whilst I can't afford the main course, did buy the basic introduction videos and practicing non thinking. I took this into the field today and we had 15 mins of pure relaxing nothing together. I think this is what drew her to me and me to her - no expectation, no stress. Every time I went to leave she followed me, put her head down to my hip height (her ear practically up my nose) and we just stood. This is what I love to do!
So I know this probably sounds lame to most horse owners but if this is what I need to practise all winter, getting into the non thinking, trust earning no expectation mindset, I think I can build on it to get a better start and consciously move on to other things at our rate.
I did feel bad that she isn't doing anything outside of the field but she has done that for the last 2 years at least (happily, she has good field mates and her owner obviously maintains her physically) and she does genuinely seem to enjoy just standing with me.
Now I'm just going to look behind the sofa for spare change for the full trust technique course!
Thanks again everybody and sorry for the long time responding... climbing out from under the grey cloud as we speak!
Not lame at all - if only every owner took the time!
 
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Jane&Ziggy

Jane&Sid these days!
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My husband suffers from treatment-resistant depression and I know how that grey cloud can overwhelm you. It's great that there is something you can do with your horse friend which gives both of you pleasure. Have at it, say I. It will build a stronger bond. You can do more when, literally, you feel like it.
 
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Jessey

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Just being in the moment with them is a fabulous experience, I bring out my camp chair and just sit and relax with my mob, we all enjoy it.
 
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newforest

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A horse that comes to you and chooses to spend time with you over another horse is priceless.

The non thinking, no pressure, no stress, just being is something we could probably all benefit from.

I have heard of the trust technique, but that's about it.
Perhaps you could share a bit more about that?
From what I saw they showed someone with a horse laying down, with them. From personal experience that's the time mine does not want me nearby. And you certainly don't try and touch her!!
If I sit down however, then she will join me.
 
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