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Case Study of the Week; Ben

Updated: Jun 14, 2018

Jenni Nellist Animal Behaviourist Horses Translated Blog Thelwell Print Difficulty Catching

Ben, an Exmoor gelding

Presenting Problem: Difficult to catch, bolting when led.

Medical issues: Sweet itch, hot branded.

History: Ben is a moorland bred Exmoor pony and was rounded up and separated from his mother and hot branded, both on the same day. He has always been difficult to handle, previously people resorted to cornering him. His present owner spent time using approach and retreat techniques using natural horsemanship methods and has had some success. But it would be better if he was happier; and he is still not perfect to catch and he bolts.

Assessment: Ben is scared of people. He strongly associates them with being trapped, with pain and with separation from his mum. Although his owner has taught him how to behave to get release of pressure, and distance from people, which has helped his confidence, the fear is still prominent and resurfaces in panic such as when being led through gateways and lanes. Being caught is a precursor to that, and warns him of the pending panic.

Treatment: To further breakdown, into even smaller steps, all the tasks that frighten Ben. Still applying the same principles of approach and retreat, as these increase Ben’s sense of confidence in the situations. As each small step is accomplished and Ben can remain calm, he is also rewarded with food and scratches (via clicker training) to counter condition his emotional response to people – from fear, to enjoyment.

Outcome: I worked with Ben’s owner on a weekly basis for several weeks to the point that he was putting his head into the head collar, was able to lead safely, and have his feet handled for hoof care. Once this had been accomplished his owner expanded her use of clicker training to teach Ben horse agility.

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