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Is your horse closing himself off?
19 February 2020 

Is your horse closing himself off?

Some horses have difficulties opening themselves up to their owner. They don’t feel safe enough. Or they feel uncertain. Sometimes they have fear, fear of humans or fear of what is to come.

Some horses even shut down completely. They completely shut off from the outside world when they are in the company of people.

How come?

It sometimes happens that a horse walls himself off after an important horse friend died and he feels a big loss. Or when a mare loses her foal. Often this is only temporary.

I’ve also seen it with horses that have physical problems. They have pain or deficiencies (minerals/vitamins) that prevent them from having the energy to deal with others in an open way, so they become very passive and introverted. As soon as their physical problems are solved, they can open up again and show more interest.

However, what also occurs is that a horse shuts himself down after experiencing a traumatic event with humans or after he has been repeatedly trained in the wrong way. Think about training sessions where too much pressure and force is used . These horses can close themselves off because they feel less vulnerable this way.

That can go on for a very long time, sometimes years, or for a lifetime. Even if the trauma has been a long time ago. Even if there’s another owner or trainer by now.

Closing yourself off is a self-protection mechanism

The less you open up, the less you feel and the less you feel, the less you can get hurt. So a wall is being erected.

The horse still participates, but doesn’t feel much anymore. Shows no more emotions. Gives no opinion. The horse thus protects itself, it protects itself against unpleasant, hurting or traumatic experiences.

The transformation

Horsefulness Liberty Training and it’s 8 connection exercises arose from my work and experience with, among others, shut-down horses. Horses that completely closed themselves off. Horses that no longer allowed real contact with people.

That’s how I remember Blister. A somewhat skinny older gelding of about 20 years old. He closed himself off for years while dealing with people and it was extremely difficult to get heads or tails of him. It seemed like he was emotionless. His ears hung a little, as if he was napping. His eyes were a bit cloudy and often half closed.

After I had worked with him in liberty for about three weeks, I saw a small change one day. It was as if his eyes were a little more open, brighter too. Shortly thereafter he came to me for the first time and sniffed at my boots.

I remember that I did my best not to disturb this moment, to stay in the moment, to not think and analyze. Because I knew, if I were to do that too much, there was a chance that he would close himself off again and break the connection.

After this first real contact it went better and better. Every time I was with him I could see that he was opening himself up more and more and that his withdrawness was slowly coming off. After I had completed all the connection exercises with Blister, he had become much more open, more curious, more interested. He thought the Boomerang (connection exercise 8) was fantastic.

You can also help your horse to become more open.

I’m not saying that it will happen in 1, 2, 3. Certainly not if your horse really has  completely closed himself off. Then it may take some time to assure your horse that it’s ok to open up, that it’s safe.

But that doesn’t matter, it’s not about how quickly you see change, but thát you see change. And that you take the right steps, so that your horse becomes increasingly aware that it is safe to open up. That he has the desire to make contact, to be more vulnerable, to show himself as he really is.

Would you like me to help you with that?  That’s possible with the online Horsefulness Liberty Training Program.

Michelle Frank

Michelle Frank

on 21 February 2020

Karine's Horsefulness Liberty Program saved my relationship with my horse Grace. I bought Grace as an untouched, untrained 6 year old. Although unaccustomed to humans, she was kind, curious, and open. I brought her to a trainer that helped me put 90 days training on her, and in that short of a time, the sweet horse that entered that program had turned into a horse that alternated between bolting and fighting the bit and checking out and shutting down. The spark was gone from her eyes and the friendly face was replaced by puckered lips and wrinkled eyes. My trainers told me to work her through it, she was just "being a mare", but it didn't feel right. I had several vets examine her for ulcers or other health problems, but they said Grace was healthy. So I tried to ride her through the problems. She was terrible to catch, she would kick out when she could, she wouldn't stand to be brushed, she nipped when saddled. I hated riding her, and she hated having me around. We were both miserable. Not knowing what else to do, having tried several different trainers, several different vets, and several different online training programs, I decided to sell her. But first, as a last resort, I called the Holistic Veterinarian that cared for my small animals out to look at Grace one last time for health problems. The vet examined Grace all over, looked at me, and said "I have treated your animals for a long time. I wouldn't say this to many of my clients, but I know I can say this to you. The problem isn't Grace. The problem is you." As soon as she said it, I knew she was right. I trembled and wept, overflowing with remorse, regret, and repentance. But knowing it was my fault did not help me figure out how to repair the damage that I had inflicted. I searched the internet for answers, and thankfully came across Karine Vandenborre's article entitled entitled "Liberty Training: How to Improve the Relationship with Your Horse". I instantly connected to Karine's words. They rang true in my heart, and I devoured the other articles, ebooks, and videos on her website. The more I read, the more I watched, the more I knew that this was what I wanted and needed in my relationship with Grace. I enrolled in her Horsefulness Liberty Program. I was excited, nervous, and anxious and began the first connection exercise, bonding time. It was a testament to how much damage one can do to a relationship in such a short time. It took me about 7 months of bonding time to begin to develop a connection. The other connection exercises took time, too, and although it seemed to go painfully slow, and my traditional trainers scoffed and scolded me for my foolishness, I could feel the trust being rebuilt. I could feel Grace reaching out to me, I could feel her begin a dialogue, to express her opinion, to open up, to take down the walls she (and I) had built between us. They were high and thick walls, and it took time, but through Karine's Liberty Program, we tore them down together. Now, 4 years later, I wouldn't give up Grace for anything in the world. She is mine, and I am hers. She runs to me when she sees me enter her field, and I, in return, pine for her company if I don't get to spend quality time with her everyday. It has not only opened up her personality and character, it has deepened, strengthened, and intensified our connection. Far from being the horse that was either shut down or dangerous, she is open and willingly tells me her desires, knowing that I will listen with authenticity and love. Karine's program has revolutionized my relationship with Grace, extending beyond liberty work, into groundwork and riding, into all aspects of my horsemanship, not only with Grace, but with all the other horses I am blessed to share my life with. I am eternally grateful and thankful to be part of the Horsefulness Training Family.

Karine Vandenborre

Karine Vandenborre

on 18 April 2020

Wow Michelle, tears are running over my face, tears of happiness. Thank you so much for sharing your story. The way you describe the relationship you now have with your horse is so beautiful and touching! YOU did this, YOU and YOUR HORSE! And you can be very proud of it!

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