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My Join-Up® Experience

Anyone else screw up the first time royally? Any advice?

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I take all of the blame for my first JoinUp not going very well. I know it isn't my horses fault. However, I am looking for advice on how to do better next time. The biggest thing is my horse kept stopping and I had a hard time keeping him going. A little history: he was an Amish workhorse (Percheron) for probably 15 years of his life. He has a ton of physical and mental scars and was basically completely withdrawn when he came to the rescue. They had him for about 2 years and he slowly came out of his shell, but he still has a long way to go. I adopted him about 6 months ago and have been working on bonding more than anything, but I am trying this program to hopefully gain his trust and respect. His biggest thing is to just shutdown. He just grounds down and won't move (and at 1800lbs+ I can't get him to move if he doesn't want to). Sometimes it takes me an hour to get him in from the pasture, because he just decides to stop. I don't want to force or use a whip or anything, since that was his life before. So back to the lesson today. I got him to move out, but he kept stopping and no matter how large I made myself, or even the leadline hitting him when I threw it out (which I know it isn't supposed to, but usually they move out of the way! He just sat there and let it tap him). He just stood, face to the rail, but not moving. I have lunged horses (although not him) and believe I understand where to place your energy to drive them on versus to stop them, and he just wouldn't move out. After a little bit I ended up having to go up to him and drag his head along the rail and tap him on the butt a few times to get him going in a circle (still, only at a walk, nothing intimidates him to move faster - guess that's what happens when people beat you into submission for 15 years - You just ground down to stand there and take whatever is coming :(). Once I did get him going, I got the first two gestures fairly quickly - ear on me and smaller circle (although I think that might have been him being lazy). But I never got a head drop or licking and chewing. I know you aren't supposed to keep them going to exhaustion, so after about 20 minutes of him walking without the other gestures, I tried a Join Up anyways. He did take one step towards me then stopped. I walked up to him, patted his forehead, and called it a day. I will be trying again, but any advice? Even when we are riding or anything, when he gets scared (say, a deer jumps out) he immediately stops and puts on the breaks until he feels safe again. So how do I make a horse go who puts on the brakes anytime I attempt to be seen as a predator? Anyone else ever have this problem? 
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Hi & welcome to the Uni. Firstly, study the Join up lessons, over & over again. I see you have yet to achieve any accreditations so I'm assuming you are fairly new to Montys methods. This horse will be a challenge. My suggestion would be firstly to make sure you work in a safe place where, if he does take off he can't get totally loose so somewhere with good, safe fencing. At least initially you need a second person. You get a garden cane & tape some plastic bags to one end so they can billow & crackle. You'll probably need about 5 large carrier bags. I'd leave him loose & shake the bags up & down behind him. If he just stands then bounce the bags gently on his back. The most motivational for my lot is swishing the plastic left & right behind their hocks. If he goes forwards greatly then let him go unless he's really panicking- in which case you put the plastic out in front of him, swishing it & repeatedly change his direction until he calms down. If all else fails you have one person using the plastic & a second one at his head to give further encouragement to move forwards. You say you patted his forehead - DONT. Horses like to be rubbed on their heads & scratched & rubbed on their bodies. That'll be new for this guy I think & that may be a way to start his learning curve. Good luck & keep us posted on your experiences. Cheers, Jo.
vicci - UK (North Wales)
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This is a really interesting situation. I want to offer a different perspective to Jo. I must make it clear that I am not in any way disagreeing with Jo and her thoughts are solid and experienced but there are always many ways of looking at things. In terms of making him go forward etc. the method Jo shares is great, however, let's explore a couple of other things.

First of all, you have done a great thing rescuing this horse from what sounds like a very tough background and I am glad he has found you. I think this may be one of those rare cases where "doing Join Up" is not the way forward. You have had him for 6 months 

You have a horse that has been trained to pull things, very heavy things I should imagine! And he has been told in no uncertain terms (in his past life) not to go forward at a fast pace (imagine if he was too fast when pulling a plough), to stop stock still when required. In addition, your comment "Even when we are riding or anything, when he gets scared (say, a deer jumps out) he immediately stops and puts on the breaks until he feels safe again" is inaccurate - horses who are afraid do not stand otherwise they get eaten, they run. I suspect your horse was taught that if anything crossed its path it was to stay put. I, of course, don't know this as a fact and I guess we never will, I can only judge from what we know of horse behaviour. So, is he "shutdown" or is rock solid and safe but needs "permission" to break out of his conditioned responses (that have been built up through fear and pain over many years). 

What I see is a potentially amazing solid, reliable horse that needs his confidence and trust building and while ordinarily Join Up can help with this, I think in this case he needs a lot of what Bud describes as "spirit walking" (see Debbie's thread for a fantastic explanation of this). HOWEVER, I must for the sake of safety and balance offer a word of caution.

Horses who are truly "shutdown" can be very dangerous when they are finally released from this psychological trap, it's like they "wake up" and things can get a bit wild for a little while and they revert to their pre-shutdown state of fear etc. But this is short-lived if you stay calm and consistent. On the plus side; if he has had two years of kind treatment in the rescue centre I feel that is long enough for any worries to have erupted by now and I am guessing that the" horse you've got is the horse you've got".

There are people who would give tens of thousands of pounds for a horse who would stand still and not panic when a deer leaps in front of him !! Rather than starting from his problems, I think it would be good to start from his good points and help him to develop. Use the Dually like an expert, it's a great tool; this will teach him to keep moving from the front when you ask him to. When riding, if he stops for a valid reason, so be it, let him process and ask him to move on. 

Now, I don't know whether this will help and it may be that Jo's approach is the one that works - it doesn't matter; all that matters is what works for the INDIVIDUAL  horse i.e. the one you have with his personality and upbringing. 

It would be really good if you could keep us updated with his progress, I (and I'm sure others) could learn a lot from what you are doing and you clearly want the best for him.

Good luck

vicci - UK (North Wales)
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Apologies - I didn't finish the sentence "you have had him for 6 months" - ignore it, silly incomplete thought hahaah
Miriam (Holland&Germany)
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Hi slisjenn,
Another welcome to the forum and congratulations on taking in this gentle giant, who really deserves it to find a friend in life! Sometimes we have to take very small steps, only to discover that they add up to a big distance, when we look back. Let your horse tell you what he can handle and what might not be the right thing for him at this point in time.
Both advices above are very helpful, I'm sure you'll find them a great support.
What I'd like to add, is that we use Join-Up as a communication with the horse in his own language.... He's telling you that he needs time to process. Do whatever you can think of to build trust and let him express himself. Sometimes we don't even need Join-Up.
You'll want to reach his gentle soul, before you really do he'll drop back to what he found to be a mode to survive in a harsh world. Spend time with him, just be in his company and show him you mean no harm. He'll want to be part of your little herd of two, when he feels you're a safe place to be! Build up from there. Learn the language Equus, you've come to a place where we all learn and keep learning!  
Share your progress with us here and rest assured that there is no 'blame' for your struggle, he'll come around when he trusts you! He had a very hard start in life, now he's in a safe place with you!!
Keep the good work going,
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Thanks you guys! The more I thought about it, the more I think I incorrectly stated things. His shutting down and putting on the brakes are actually two different reactions, not the same thing. When he does what I call "shutting down" it is almost like what I have seen in PTSD - they go somewhere else. His eyes glaze over and I get the distinct feeling he forgets I'm there. He is seeing something in his head. Not going crazy or scared or anything, just literally appears that he checked out. No command or gesture or anything I do is seen. He did it a LOT more when I first got him. I just sit and wait for him to come back to me. After a few seconds to a minute, he will turn and look at me, and once he meets my eye I know it's ok to proceed. He then becomes responsive to what I am asking. There isn't anything I can do about this except love him and support him and give him space - I am already seeing a lot of progress with these episodes becoming fewer and farther between.

The stopping thing is different. He is still here, just putting on the brakes. My guess is it is what you guys were describing, a conditioned response to be still when threatened. I get his instinct *should* be to run when he gets scared, but literally he puts on the brakes with anything out of the ordinary. If I am walking him and someone he doesn't know is by the gate, brakes. If a tractor is in the distance, brakes (and swings his head to look at it, which is how I know that's what stopped him). If a dog starts barking and running towards him, brakes. We were even riding in the indoor one day and I had no idea they were working on the roof. Someone started nail-gunning on the roof - which freaked me the heck out! - and he just stopped. No flinch or drama. This stopping - although a much safer response than bolting - is what I was hoping to overcome with starting Monty's program. Not overcome, but help him work on his confidence so less things are scary (and cause him to stop). Right now our walk in from the pasture looks like this: hook the leadline, I begin walking forward but he stands still, constant tension on the halter, 5 minutes of pulling and he begins taking a step or two, relieve most of the tension and keep walking but he is way behind my shoulder and I'm still somewhat pulling him, dominant horse turns towards him, he stops, tension on the halter from me for another minute, he starts back up, a car pulls up in the parking lot, stops, tension on halter from me for another minute until he starts back up, person gets out of car, he stops and has to face the direction of the car before he will start back up again, someone comes out of the barn, stops and turns to look in the direction, etc. Our ground leading is constant stop and go (riding he is MUCH more confident with and doesn't stop for the little things nearly as much). I do give him the space to confront whatever it is and decide for himself it isn't a threat before pulling again, but now that I have been doing it for 6 months I feel like he isn't getting better at it. This is what lead me to Monty's videos. I was hoping JoinUp could help me help him gain confidence in me, so he feels safer. 

And I really don't mean he hasn't made any progress in those 6 months, just in leading. He used to walk away anytime I tried to catch him in the pasture and now he walks towards me. I figured out that unlike what I had always learned, looking straight in his eyes is actually how we communicate best (I tried for months to pick up his feet; on a whim out of desperation I locked gaze and pleaded "can you please pick up your foot?" and he actually nodded and shifted weight so when I bent over I could easily lift it). When he is in really stressful situations - like in the stock with a farrier - he literally holds my gaze for the entire hour and if I move to help he gets fidgety. I don't have to say a word or touch him, he just stares at me like judging if I am stressed or calm in a situation to see how he should be. Often when he stops from something super scary (like a hose lying on the ground) I hold his gaze and tell him I've got him and he moves forward again - never taking his eyes off me. And when he is having his shutdown episodes I know he's back because he will search out my eyes and lock on me. Eye contact is a huge communication tool for him. That said there are very few people he will look at (most he completely ignores) and if someone tries to just walk up while I have him on a rope and rub him, he moves away and turns his head so he isn't looking at them. He won't face back forward until they are out of his zone.

So I know our relationship is growing in other ways. But I don't feel any progress in this stop and go he constantly does. If JoinUp doesn't sound like the best thing for us at this moment, what is? I just got the Dually halter so when he stops he gets more tension but he isn't coming up off it very easily or quickly. I (and everyone at the rescue) is to blame for this. The only way he has been led around for the past 2.5 years is by pulling.  So he is very used to the uncomfortable sensation of tension and it doesn't seem to phase him - certainly not my 130lbs versus his 1800lbs - it seems like he doesn't even feel it. Walking him in from the pasture I literally lay my entire body weight on the lead rope to get him to move and even when he's walking, it is not up by my shoulder and he keeps stopping to look at everything and the kitchen sink so I keep pulling. 

I feel like the past 6 months have been bonding at his rate, and I am ready to start working on some of this stuff I have been letting slide. I am excited to look into Spirit Walking and if anyone has any more advice - especially now that I tried to clarify a bit on my original post - I am so open to it. My goal is for him to finally have an amazing and enjoyable life but in a way he isn't taking advantage of me (which is what I almost feel like the stop and go is moving towards). I want a partnership, not whips to get him to lead with me. If JoinUp isn't the best way to advance our relationship, what is?

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HI Silisjenn. I am pretty green at this, but I have two thoughts- since both seem to be in the rudimentary stages of success  for me.

1. Create a routine your horse can depend on. Show up at the same time every day, bring him to the barn or corral. Give him grain. Maybe at first don't expect much from him in return. Brush him, pick out his feet, turn him out.

2. Try to get some instant release- back and forth things happening. Picking up his feet- my filly wouldn't do this either. She would just plant em and no amount of pressure would make her lift for me. I started tapping on her fetlock- tap, tap tap tap, try to lift, tap tap tap tap, try to lift - it tool at least 10 minutes but finally she took the weight off her foot and I stopped tapping. Then I started again- another 5 minutes and she actually lifted her foot. I just brushed it with my palm and put it back down. Then loved and rubbed her and started with the next foot. I kept doing this day after day and now I just barely touch her fetlock and she lifts each leg for me. It feels like a huge success and it will for you too. (you just can't give up) I am starting to find the same thing with the Dually and moving her forward and backward. Even a hint of moving gets release. Try it- in the pasture when you are holding the tension on the line and he makes the slightest movement forward, release the tension and go rub his head and thank him...then do it over and over, I am guessing he will sonn be following you without stopping.

Good luck!


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I tend to agree with Debbie on this one, lots of fairness and rewarding him sounds like he will come around. I think this is when you will see the greatest change in him. Will be listening for your results slisjenn. Get after Monty's uni lessons they are all so helpful too!!!