Kleintjie’s story, part 2: The work begins

In part 1 of Kleintjie’s story, we covered how he had been traumatised by an incident in his career in the racing industry and how he came to work with Tamsin, through a friend of his owner, Julia. Tamsin takes up the story…

I first met Kleitjie when Julia’s friend Kez brought him to me while Julia was pregnant and could not ride him. When Julia first handed Kleintjie over to Kez and she first started riding him, she realised he had a lot of issues. She found it incredibly difficult to tack him up and mount him because he wouldn’t stand still. When she could successfully do this, she found that she couldn’t ride him out alone and that he was prone to explosive incidents. She realised something needed to be done, and she approached me to see if I could not only help him but teach her too.

Early days

A quiet and calm Kleintjie waits to be saddled. A very far cry from his early days.

Kez and I came to an arrangement where I was showing her some of the basics of groundwork and training techniques – effectively teaching her how to teach him. Kez was, and still is, a very eager student, and once a week she would bring Kleintjie around and I would show her what to do. I would give her homework, which she would go and practice each week and then we’d meet up and go over it and move onto the next lesson.

I could tell from the moment Kez brought Kleintjie to me that he was an incredibly anxious horse. He could not stand still, and it was a huge problem. He was so wound up and tense that trying to get a saddle on him was near impossible, so that was one of the first things we started to address with him.

At this point there was a bit of a break, because Kez went overseas and Julia came back and took the reins again so to speak. At this point I hadn’t had much to do with Julia, as I had been working with Kleintjie and Kez only. A few months went by and Julia approached me to do some more work with Kleintjie, having seen the vast improvement in him during her absence. Now the work began in earnest.

I began by going over to the yard where he was stabled, and just working with his restlessness and anxiety, teaching him to stand still and relax while he was being tacked up. Just being taken out of the paddock, away from his friends caused him terrible stress (see our post on separation anxiety), but I soon came to realise that he had massive apprehension and tension around anything to do with riding – tacking up being the first part, possibly due to his experiences in the racing stables.

Facing his fears

Kleintjie was very dependant on the company of humans and other horses because he lacked the confidence to stand alone.

Initially he would not allow me near the right side of his body. Why? We can only guess. Just getting him to a point where he would allow me or anyone to even be on the right side of him took hard work over a couple of weeks. Getting him to relax before we even started working took quite a bit of effort as well and I was pretty strict about getting that right and building a solid foundation. This work involved a lot of desensitising with stressors and teaching him to control his emotions and tolerate distress.

Now that work was steadily underway, Julia told me she was very happy with the progress being made, and that she was beginning to notice the differences in her horse too. He still had a long way to go at that point, but she was now really beginning to see the benefits.

Another of the things I noticed about Kleintjie very early on was that he lacked confidence. He liked to use people as a ‘crutch’ and would be all over anyone who held him, lacking the self-assurance to stand on his own without a person or another horse present. Another of his early lessons, once he could stand still, was how to be in his own space and to stand his own ground, and to respect the personal space of people handling him. This was the beginning of the confidence-building he (and so many traumatised horses) so sorely needed.

Once we had made some progress, he could stand still in his own space and was a little more confident, I decided it was time to try and take him for a ride down by the river on his own, which no-one had tried to do yet. It was then that I saw the full extent of him, and the hard work that lay ahead.

More coming in part 3…

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