A few posts back blogger CindyD spoke of her horse, the emotional baggage and his auto-response to situations he isn't mentally comfortable with. I have worked with horses like this before and have been able to turn them around. It's pretty simple to do, when you finally figure out what it is that, that particular horse needs.
When I was working at the big barns as I started out, I seemed to always end up with the horses nobody else could or wanted to handle. The mare someone or everyone considered a 'bitch',(Chelly and Khemoleeta come to mind). The horse who melted down or just flipped out (Scandalous). The barn sour, brain fried show horse who bucked (Firm Resolve or Fred). The mare who despised the trainer (Galaktyka or Alex) or the mare who routinely dropped her shoulder and bucked, unloading anyone who asked her to canter (Juliet). The stallion who charged the stall, aimed for you striking and kicking when you put him on or took him off the walker (Kontender), the stallion whose life was so mundane he didn't know how to be a horse (Dynasty or Dino) or the colt who just wouldn't lead for anyone but me (Shotton).
When Cindy spoke of trying to break thru with Trax and getting thru his emotional baggage, helping him to let go of it and move on, it brought back the memories of all of these horses. With each of them, their different personalities, genetic makeup and things they had been thru in life, the most common thread was that they needed a friend. They needed someone who understood them. Someone who accepted them as they were and respected them. Someone who had boundaries and yet made them feel comfortable being around them. Someone who gave them something to look forward to in their day. Someone they were actually happy to see and they knew would always treat them with fairness. They each wanted and needed to feel special.
Among all of the misfits I also had some normal horses to deal with. They were no different and simply put- wanted to feel special too! It kept them from becoming sour, falling apart or picking up the bad habits or quirks the other horses carried with them. With each horse, I had to earn their trust. This was easy with horses who weren't messed up or had baggage. With the horses who had a 'history' though, it came with time. Some of them picked up on it right away, others held back a bit before coming around. Once they figured it out- we made progress quickly. They knew what to expect and I knew what they would accept.
With Shelly and Khemo, I had a talk with them. Once I had a halter on them I talked to them in a normal voice and explained how things were going to work. I explained that they had either failed to prove they were a bitch or that their 'game' was up and we weren't going to play that way. Neither mare ever gave me an issue and if I seen anything heading the wrong way, I gently reminded them verbally that it wasn't a good idea so let it go. Scandalous & Shotton lacked confidence. One needed a constant, consistent reminder that they were ok and the other needed to know they had room to expand and grow. As long as there was steady contact or reassurance- they were good to go. Alex didn't suffer any fools. If you weren't fair with her, you lacked her approval and she wasn't putting up with your ignorance. The trainer wanted her to work For him not With him. She had the last word when she flipped over and used him to try to take a pay phone off the wall. She won that one!
Kontender was looking for a leader. If you weren't going to take control- he would. He was always testing your limits and the boundaries of his behavior. Once he was gelded (OH HAPPY DAY!) he was much more submissive and willing to get along with others. Dino needed something to look forward to. He needed to feel like he was a part of things. He wanted to see and do things. He wanted attention and mostly he wanted to PLAY!
That leaves us with Fred. He had been thru the wringer with trainers and grooms and had done enough- he didn't want to be a show horse anymore. Truth be told, I'm not sure he even wanted to be a horse anymore. He had bucked people off and just mentally shut down, was resistant and had emotionally 'left the building' like Elvis. He wasn't the easiest horse to reach, nor was he the hardest. He needed something or someone to live for just like Dino. Fred needed someone to love him for big, awesomely goofy- HIM. Fred needed a friend in life. He needed someone who not only Allowed but also encouraged him to be goofy.
In order to bring him around, I needed to give him something to look forward to, something to be happy about, something to live for. What turned Fred around the most is when I made things all about him. I could walk into the barn and call his name the silly way I did- Freeeeeaaaaahhhhd to hear him nicker in response and anticipation of what we were going to do today. He knew I was there and something was going to be fun. I was going to brush him and dote over him a bit, talk to him and tell him things. Life was going somewhere and he was going to be a part of it. He quickly started to perk up.
All of this goes hand in hand with the horses concept of Today. What are we going to do TODAY? Horses have very little idea about what is coming tomorrow, let alone, next week or next month. They have no idea you are planning to take them to a show or a clinic or when? They live in the moment and it's all about Today for them. The more you can make their time out of the stall His/Her "Special Time", the time you two get to 'play' together and have fun, the more progress you will see them make. When you 'celebrate' or praise the good things they do, when they get it right, it makes it easier for them to comprehend and feel the fun in what you are asking them to do. It isn't so much 'work' as much as it is about them enjoying what they are doing because they are pleasing you, if that makes sense. If learning is fun, they enjoy doing it.
Think about your body language when you are tacking up to go trail riding with a friend and how different it is when you are planning on doing arena work only. I'm sure your whole demeanor is different. One you are excited about, the other you probably aren't as much. Instead you might be dreading (a little) what is to come or may happen. We all do it, so don't worry about that... You're not alone in this. Kat doesn't so much care for arena work, so I don't make a habit of it with him because we both suffer the effects.
Talking to the horse, being silly and using a goofy voice when you say their name is all a way to get them excited about what is to come Today. We GET to spend time with them and they are special to us. They will feel that energy and they will react to it. You will get a lot more out of them and better responses. Positively.