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Can an abused, neglected horse who spent two years confined in a stall be trained to "do his business" outdoors?
Benny, a beautiful Palomino Paint horse, had been locked in a stall for two years that I know of. By the time he came to me he had been in five different environments within six months, making me his third new owner. Benny had Stringhalt so bad that his rear hind legs would literally collapse beneath him as he scrambled to keep himself upright. When he was rescued his front left hoof was overgrown to the point that it was curled and had to be sawed off. Benny was covered in fecal matter from head to toe that had to shed out due to the raw flesh that could not be groomed. He had been born with contracted flexor tendons which could have been repaired when he was still a young colt, but it didn't happen so now his back feet are very upright with rotated coffin bones and hooves like stumps. He also had herpes lesions on the outside of his mouth his first two years with me and continues to limp on his left shoulder in what the veterinarians call a functional deformity due to the overgrown hoof that was sawed off. Needless to say, Benny was a real messed up horse both physically and emotionally.
At our barn we have a set-up of stalls with 100+ foot paddocks for the horses to freely roam in and outdoors 24/7. In the summer we have daily pasture turn-out, but in the winter due to our limited acreage and the rainy Pacific NW weather, pasture time is limited so the pasture does not turn into a mud pit. Each horse is side by side with a 6 foot no-climb equine fence and hot wire across the top between them to keep everyone safer. Each stall has a 4 foot gate as the stall door instead of a slider so the horses can hang their heads over to watch the activity in the arena and see one another, too. Our stall flooring has rubber mats on top of gravel. We put down bedding pellets just on the areas the horses urinate since they typically pick a localized area. The pellets breakdown under foot and are great at soaking up the urine and reducing the smell plus it is easy to scoop up the soaked areas and replace with half a bag or so a day for the heavy users. It’s a simple set-up that keeps our barn smelling sweet and everyone safe and happy.
Most horses urinate and take care of their business outside their stall if they have access to the outdoors, but there are a few boarders and horses in training who prefer to hang out in their stalls especially when there’s activity in the arena. Benny is one who enjoys hanging outside with his buddies safely biting at other horses through the fence, but when it’s time to pee he would walk into his stall, urinate in the same place every time and walk out. When a horse is here temporarily no big deal, that’s to be expected, but when it’s one of my own horses, maturity prevails and they go outside to do their business. I tried all sorts of methods to change Benny’s habit from locking him out of his stall during the day when it wasn’t raining, to “good boy” “bad boy” training and even had a few animal communicators work with him but to no avail. Peeing in his stall was deeply rooted in his psyche and no matter what I tried nothing could change this habit. Until . . .
My studies of late have been of the brain and body physiology of people and horses with the focus on emotions and communication. I have been particularly fascinated with studies about discoveries of brain cells found in our organs such as our heart and gut, not just in our brain. Science has been able to show that our brains transmit and receive “frequencies” likened to radio or TV waves while words carry an energetic vibration when spoken. So I thought if I have brain cells in my heart and gut making my body a powerful transmitter and my horses are emotional creatures why not try using emotion centered training to get Benny to stop peeing in his stall?
I started by standing in front of Benny’s stall while he was hanging out and I put my focus on the front of my body from heart to gut, spoke the words “good feeling” and recognized how that made my body feel. It felt like softness, relaxation, joy and love. Then I said “bad feeling” and noticed how my gut constricted, my heart ached a little and I felt sad and angry in my body. With a focused recognition of how my body feels when I express words I looked at Benny and said “good feeling” out loud while envisioning him standing outside in his paddock peeing. I repeated the words “good feeling” envisioning him peeing outside a couple more times. Then I envisioned Benny standing inside his stall peeing in his usual pee spot and said “bad feeling” with the focus on how my body felt. I tried to project my feelings into the picture in my mind imbuing the thought with my feeling. I repeated this a couple times, returned to expressing the “good feeling” words two more times and left him on “good feeling”. The next two days were nothing short of a miracle - Benny had not peed in his stall, the emotional training had worked!!! But on the third day he was back to peeing again so I realized I needed to repeat the “good feeling, bad feeling” thoughts and words every time I was out in the arena and to make sure when I saw Benny peeing outside I would send him “good feeling” through my voice and gut feelings.
For the next two weeks Benny had only a couple accidents peeing in his stall and the rest of the time he had peed outside. Every time my husband or I saw him peeing outside we’d say “good feeling Benny” sometimes clapping in joy expressing our good feeling to him. A month went by with only a couple more accidents, then two months with no accidents, three months and now nearly 6 months later Benny has not peed in his stall. Even in the wintery rainy weather Benny steps outside to pee. Sometimes it seems Benny will wait for me to get to his end of the arena at feeding time at which point he steps outside to pee - showing me he is doing it. I clap my hands and say “good feeling Benny” with such pride in him as he so wants to live in “good feeling”.
What an amazing accomplishment for him and what an enlightening source of power we have when we take the time to notice our feelings and use them for purposes of positive training. I’ve learned our horses so want to live in “good feeling” with us and happily do what we ask when there is “good feeling” imbued in the asking.
Professional trainer Missy Wryn developed Training the Whole Horse® on the foundation of Do No Harm creating SAFER trusting relationships with horses. Missy Wryn is the founder of Training the Whole Horse®, IRON FREE Riding, HorseMAREship and Sisters of the Saddle plus inventor of the ALL-IN-ONE Rope Halter Bitless Bridle. Check Missy’s schedule for appearances and lectures in your area at www.MissyWryn.com or call 503-630-3744.