Success Stories – Remy
IH Member Christina Wyman and her journey with troubled horse Remy.
It’s has taken a long time but it has been so worth it!
As a teenager, I was absolutely horse mad. It wasn’t until 25 years later that my passion for horses was reignited and I began riding again. The riding school also turned out to be a dealer’s yard; I remember the first time I saw Remy on the ‘seller’s row’; he was a powerful, majestic creature. This 17hh grey gelding was everything I thought I wanted in a horse (it turned out to be love at first bite).
I had lessons on him for about a month before the idea of buying him as a school master to ‘learn on’ was mentioned. My lessons were such fun and he knew his job: I wanted him for general pleasure riding, hacking and jumping. I didn’t think for a second that he would turn out to be so aggressive and dangerous in the stable. I unknowingly through my own ignorance bought a horse in September 2014 that turned out to have serious behavioural problems.
I kept him on part livery; grooms were constantly changing and there were some very questionable interpretations of ‘horsemanship’ seen on a daily basis. On the third day of having him, I went into his stable to change his rug; he grabbed my arm and sank his teeth in, pulling me off my feet. It was absolute agony and I ended up at A&E with a crushed arm. Everyone told me to ‘swap him for something else’ but believing that he could not be that bad, I kept him anyway.
A few weeks on, I was dreading the daily drive to the yard, worried about what the grooms would say he had done that day. I worried constantly about him running off, biting, launching at and attacking people. The grooms were too scared to change his rugs or turn him out, very quickly he became known as ‘Jaws’.
I felt alone; everyone was so quick to say how awful he was and offer advice. ‘Put a chain round his nose that will stop him running off’, ‘give him a smack to teach him a lesson’, ‘you will never change him, he can’t be fixed’, ‘you’re a fool if you think you can rescue him’ were just some of the comments made. As the story unfolded before me, I questioned what I was doing wrong. Why was this horse so aggressive and defensive, what had happened to him to make him so mean?
I soon found out that this horse could feel my uncertainty in every breath, and that I would have to ‘fake some confidence’ until I could grow a pair! I am not saying that I was a total novice but I certainly had no experience in dealing with problem horses.
I moved him across to the DIY yard in the hope that with one handler I could begin to address his behaviour. I put up a metal stable grill for when I wasn’t around and asked everyone to ignore him and not tell him off. Ignoring his threatening behaviour worked; people kept their distance and just left him alone. He had an enormous personal space bubble and genuinely felt threatened by people entering his space. I used a lot advance and retreat, rewarding him when he was calm and respectful by leaving him alone and slowly he began to respond to soft praise. Gradually his behaviour improved and he seemed comfortable when I was around him.
I also contacted my vet about his behaviour and he confirmed through having him scoped that he had ulcers. He received treatment, a tailored diet with as a much turnout as possible, at last we seemed to be getting somewhere!!!
The other issue I had was him running off whilst being led, this was made worse by my field being the furthest from the yard. He would explode in seconds if something worried him or he could see other horses coming in. He was extremely adapt at this; pulling into any pressure, setting his shoulder against me and bolting off. I began to bring him in using a chifney as this was the only thing that would make him listen. As the days got shorter, I had to rely on freelance grooms that soon refused to bring him in, saying he was dangerous.
I started looking into his history but did not get very far. He was 13 years old; I was his ninth owner and he had developed a deep mistrust of people. To him sadly I was a stranger too and just one in a long line of unreliable humans. We made progress with building a bond of trust in the stable and he was great once tacked up and doing his job. Sadly, just as things were improving he tore his suspensory ligament in December 2015 and had to be box rested for 6 months. The following 2 years were plagued by recurring injury and periods of box rest. But I was determined to build a bond with this horse and prove people wrong about him.
We needed professional help to make progress, but I wanted a trainer that would teach me the skills to manage his behaviour myself without using force or fear. I found the Intelligent Horsemanship website whilst researching horse behaviour, its ethos and approaches fitted well with the way I wanted to help my horse. I bought Kelly’s books Perfect Manners and Perfect Partners and began trying out ideas. I learnt so much from these books but felt I needed to see these approaches in action, so I booked myself on the Perfect Manners course in July 2017. This was a massive turning point in both our lives. I learnt so much over those 2 days, I felt empowered that I could actually make a difference. It also brought to the surface all the emotions, fear and uncertainty that I had about whether or not I could change this horse. I met Kelly, Sandra and Rosie that weekend and they opened my eyes to a new world of horsemanship. I felt enlightened by their approach and I was desperate for them to meet my horse, so I booked myself on the Problem Solving Workshop in September 2017. I wrote to Sandra explaining in more detail about his issues; I was so pleased that they actually agreed to let me take him!
This weekend pushed us both totally out of our comfort zone and forced me to face my fears of dealing with his challenging behaviours. True to form, he tried to run off twice, demonstrating just how good he was at it!
The most amazing thing about this weekend was the expertise and support I received from everyone at IH and the other students on the course. I met a fantastic group of people that all helped me to formulate a plan.
At home we followed the groundwork plan meticulously. Most importantly, we both valued this time together and I was able to regulate my own emotions, use breathing and body language to communicate and keep him focused. I worked hard to show him an alternative way of dealing with his fear and capitalising on his natural curiosity to engage him with new objects and situations. We practised pole work, working with scary objects, backing up without resistance, leading and maintaining a respectful distance even when his adrenalin began to rise. The frequency of his running off decreased and his reactions to changes in his environment became less extreme. Most importantly, I stopped worrying about him running off and focused all my attention on encouraging him to synchronise and rely on me to take the lead.
It was time to test our relationship further so I we attended the Perfect Manners course together in June 2018. This was truly an amazing experience, a year on and I felt confident in my ability to handle him on the ground, he was no longer a bargy, flighty creature that took off when he felt frightened. I could take him quietly into the round pen and work with him without the fear of how he might react. The most incredible experience was when Sandra took me through a Join-Up with him, her guidance and encouragement made me believe that we could do it. It was such an emotional moment when he sought out the connection with me. The most amazing thing was how everyone at IH recognised the progress we had made; Remy was an absolute star that weekend and loved working with other students on the ground.
The most valuable lesson I have learnt through Intelligent Horsemanship is how be a confident leader that always provides sanctuary and guidance for my horse. To me the process of building a positive relationship and the progress made along the way is just as rewarding as the result itself.
Our horses are what we make them and you if you take on a horse with a chequered past, you must be prepared to get professional help if you are to give your horse the best chance of building a new life. We cannot undo what has shaped them earlier in their lives and it takes time to prove that you can be relied upon. Taking the lead has been vital to developing my horse’s trust and it’s even harder when they exhibit extreme and dangerous behaviour.
I have also learnt that through spending quality time with my horse I can listen and enjoy quiet communication on a whole new level. Softness, ‘being still’ in the moment are qualities that my horse needs. He can communicate extremely well and once this was reciprocated it took our relationship to a much deeper level. The clarity and timing of feedback and rewarding any ‘try’ from my horse, even a fleeting thought in his eye has been absolutely vital in encouraging him to think and enjoy learning new things. For us ground work has given us the time and space to work as a team, enjoying each other’s company and becoming true friends. I have learnt about the importance of understanding why horses behave the way they do and how to behave in order to not make the situation worse. Learning about horse psychology, behaviourism and communication was vital and has encouraged me to empathise with him.
My IH membership has led me in a new direction in terms of horsemanship and supported me at a time when I felt totally alone. The expertise they have shared has made a huge difference to my horse’s quality of life. They have helped me to achieve my goal of making an unhappy horse trust again and given me the confidence to deal with his behaviour with fairness and confidence.
A history of injury has led us to use groundwork more than I would ever have considered, but we still love to ride out together and explore. Through the continued guidance and support of everyone at IH I now feel that we can do anything together!
We still have more work to do and Remy is definitely an on-going project but I love every second I spend with him. I will be attending the 5 Day Foundation course in August with Remy and hope to work towards being an IH Recommended Trainer one day. I would really like to learn more about horse psychology and work gain more experience in dealing with ‘problem horses’.
I’m proud of how Remy looks to me for leadership and trusts me when he is frightened, and it’s rewarding that I can help others with their horses and have been successful in sharing how to deal with running off issues with other horse owners at our livery yard.
I am most proud of the transformation seen in my horse, it has taken a long time but it has been so worth it! It’s great that people who knew him in the early days recognise the change in him and he is now less wary of people in general. It is sad that I will never be able to jump, compete or do anything more than gentle hacking due to his injury but at least he is a happy boy.