With the owners permission, I want to share Peggys story with you…
Peggy is a stunning piebald cob, with a beautiful with a flowing mane and impressive feathers. Although Peggy looks like a traditional placid, easy going cob, things arent always as they seem...
(This photo was not taken on the first session!)
I first met Peggy in May after being contacted by her owner who had concerns about Peggys worsening behaviour in the year since being purchased, and these behaviours had been exasperated by a clipping experience just a few weeks before I was first contacted. This behaviour was resulting in anxiety from both horse and human, especially after Peggys lovely owner had sustained injuries as a result of Peggys behaviour. Peggys owner is the nicest, kindest human a horse could wish for, and refused to take onboard the advice she had been given from other people including “she just taking advantage of you, tell her off, give her a whack” etc. At some point in Peggys past, we fear this is exactly what has happened to her, and her behaviour certainly reflects that…
At best, Peggys behaviour could be described as defensive/threatening, but at worst, it could be described as dangerous. She would exhibit behaviours ranging from severe grumpiness, biting, kicking, striking out, and rearing – and after meeting her for the first time and seeing all the behaviours in close proximity, it was clear to me that she MEANT it. According to her owner, Peggy is lovely to ride, so the main issues are groundwork related and involve normal everyday activities.
Peggy was difficult/grumpy to groom, wouldn’t allow her front legs to be touched or brushed (but her hind legs were ok to touch), she could be difficult to catch, at times she was unhappy to have headcollar put on unless she was in the mood for it (even in stable), she wouldn’t allow clippers near her without sedative, unwilling to have scissors near her…the list goes on. When it came to her instincts of ‘fight or flight’, Peggy would choose fight everytime. Veterinary advice had been sought prior to my first visit, but the Vet was unable to thoroughly examine due to her behaviour.
So to cut a long story short, during my first session, I saw all of Peggys behaviours. Every single one. She showed me her anger, her anxiety, her fear and her distrust of humans, and then we started working together in a calm but sensitive way. It was clear to me that these issues had existed for a LONG time, long before her current human had purchased her, so we knew there was a long journey ahead of us if we were to help Peggy become a happier, less fearful horse.
In the first session, using the Dually halter, we worked on touching the front legs and I left Peggys human with homework, which she diligently continued with!
By our second session, Peggy would allow her legs to be touched, so then we worked on allowing them to be brushed.
In the next few sessions, we continued making progress with desensitizing the rest of her body, introducing scissors to trim her facial hair (which was a HUGE deal for Peggy who seemed particularly fond of her beard), and in our most recent session, we reintroduced clippers.
We knew that clippers were a HUGE problem for Peggy, and a clipping issue is what triggered a major change in Peggys behaviour before I was asked to get involved earlier this year. However, due to the previous desensitizing work we have done with her, the clippers were received pretty well! After using the trimmers to run across her body on both sides, we introduced my clippers.
Despite the clippers being MUCH noisier than the trimmers, we made much more progress than I anticipated, and by the end of the session, we were able to rub the clippers on her body.
To some people, this might not seem like an achievement, but to all of us who know Peggy, this is a HUGE achievement!! Understandably, we saw some fear, some anxiety and some initial reluctance from Peggy, but we didn’t see ANY aggression or threatening behaviour, and perhaps this is the biggest progress of all. She is learning to trust us and we are in no hurry to rush this learning!
Obviously, this is a ‘work in progress’ and we havent clipped any hair off yet, but we are doing the right thing by Peggy – praising her when she is calm, standing still, and finishing the sessions on a good note – maintaining calmness at ALL times.
Although we have come such a long way in the past 6 months, and Peggys behaviour is drastically better – less fearful, more trusting – we know we still have a long way to go with her. Massive credit should go to Peggys human who kept up with the ‘homework’ inbetween sessions, and followed the advice I gave. Peggy is a very lucky horse, who has a human who wants to help her without resorting to violence, or searching for a 'quick fix'. Instead, we are working towards a long term solution to benefit both horse and human. Peggys' owner is now able to bring in other equine professionals (such as Vets, equine massage therapists, etc) to continue working with Peggy.
Some feedback from Peggys Owner recently – “Today was fantastic! To actually see the noisy clippers on Peggy, (and knowing how she can react) was just amazing...much more than I had hoped for...and seeing that today, I know we will get to the point where some of Pegs hair is removed. I can't thankyou enough for what you are doing for Peggy and I...it is so good to have a happier relaxed Peggy on a daily basis, and I feel we are starting to have a real rapport. We are so lucky to have you down here....it is great to see the difference you are making - showing us how to proceed.....it is fascinating! I can’t thank you enough! She really is a different mare to how she was...various people who know her have said the same! Peggy is definitely happier and more relaxed, which is purely down to the work, guidance and teaching you have done for us so far.” SM, Cornwall.
Peggys human is so impressed with the techniques we have used and the results that have followed, she has recently been to a Monty Roberts/Kelly Marks demo, and has booked herself onto the IH 5 Day Foundation Course next year!