Equine Behavior Questions and Answers

The Question: How do I teach a pony to trust people?

I recently relocated with my horse to go to vet school. The owner of place where I bored/live asked if i would work with a pony of hers. This pony doesn't like to be touched or caught but once caught, she is very willing. I've made some great progress with this pony but when they trailer her off for the day she comes back just the way she was before. I really want to help this pony trust people more. Do you think it will ever make a difference if they keep doing what they are doing?

The Answer

Howdy,

I don't think the pony's problem is trust - at least not from what you have described. You say she is difficult to catch and touch but that once you catch her she's willing. If she's willing to work and be handled once caught, it sounds like her problem is being caught. If she had a problem with trust, then would not want to be touched or worked with once you had caught her.

So, you need to teach her to be caught. I discussed teaching horses to be caught in an article in EQUUS in August 2003 and I suggest you get a copy of the article (you can order back issues from EQUUS and read it.

Since the pony gets better as you work with her but then has a "relapse" after she has been trailered off the farm, it is a safe bet to say there is something about leaving the farm she does not like. How does she trailer? If she's not good at loading or trailering, then she may not want to be caught after a trip for fear she's going to go back in a trailer. If that's the case, work with her on her trailer loading and traveling skills so that trailering is a less stressful task for her. What do they do with her when they trailer her off the property - if they ride for hours on trail rides, at a show, etc. that may be what she fears. First, check her over for pain or stiffness after she's been gone. If she what she is doing is hurting her, it is no wonder she doesn't want to be caught! Of course, some horses and ponies just don't like to work at all, so she may be objecting to working when caught by refusing to be caught again. If that is the case, you need to catch her, pet or groom her, and let her go - over and over again. Teach her that she's not going to get worked with each time she's caught.

Good luck reforming the pony - and have fun!

The Equine Behaviorist


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