Horse's name: Dropi
Breed: Icelandic Horse
Age: 7 years
History: Dropi has definitely been mistreated (probably whipped and allegedly chased with four-wheelers). We have achieved Join-Up before in an indoor arena and a round pen, but can't get it in the field. (I've worked with several other Icelandics at the same farm that haven't been mistreated as he was, and don't have these issues with any of them.) Any suggestions would be very welcome!
We are having some issues that I would love some feedback on. When I first started working with Dropi a few months ago, he was labeled "difficult to catch," "spooky," "chronic bolter," et cetera. (Turns out he's not very "spooky" at all--just afraid of humans making sudden movements. Not surprising!) I think I overdid Join-Up with him in the beginning because he started blasting away right after joining up, so I stopped doing it for quite a while. This may also have had something to do with his teeth, which I think were bothering him a lot (had to really nag the owner to get them done, and didn't use a bit on him till they were done last week). After his teeth were taken care of, I saw an overwhelming improvement in his Join-Up [in the round pen] and overall demeanor. However, though he has let me catch him for months now, and is even turned out a very large area now with several other horses because he is no longer "difficult to catch," I simply cannot get him to Join-Up with me in the field. He will (usually) walk off to face away from me, then stand still and allow me to come up to his left side with my eyes lowered and body language passive, but he will never, ever, ever come up to me.
On some days, when I go to release him back into the corral, he blasts away from me as soon as he thinks he is free from the halter. On other days, he stands still nicely and I give him a rub and walk off. I haven't yet been able to figure out a pattern to this. Since his bolting "habit" has greatly improved with the use of the Dually on the long-lines in the round pen, I have been able to hang onto the thirty-foot line and bring him back to me when he tries to bolt before the Dually is off, thereby trying to show him that blasting away does not get him a release in pressure. (This happens very infrequently, though. On a day like any other, as far as I could see, he tried to blast away twice, and was pulled back twice, before I was finally able to remove the halter and leave him standing still.)
Today, however, I took the halter off (gently as always, not letting lines fall or showing him "snakes") and then he blasted away. We had just had a very good, relaxed session in which I'd brushed him, tacked him up, and gently long-lined him for about fifteen minutes (he has some slight lameness). He was really very relaxed, so I don't know why he was so determined to run off all of a sudden after the Dually came off. I did not want to leave on that note, having "let" him blast away from me, so I decided to attempt Join-Up once again. For the next thirty minutes or so, I sent him away when he went away and became passive when he looked back at me. I would get close, but then as soon as I raised my closed hand to rub him (the same way I do all the time when I catch him!), he would blast away yet again! I thought maybe it had something to do with the way he was able to stop when I was far enough away since there was so much open space, so I did my best to keep him moving. This created no noticeable improvement. When I was finally able to touch him, it was only because he put himself in a smaller enclosed space (a run-in shed), and instead of Follow-Up I got yet another blasting away. What is going on??
Overall, he is so much more relaxed since having his teeth done; only now am I realizing how much pain he was in. No wonder he was reticent to Join-Up; all his focus was consumed by pain! He does SO much more licking and chewing, sighing, snorting, etc. He enjoys being brushed now, and it no longer takes the force of a freight train to slow him down. All of these things are wonderful, and I'm so pleased with him, but why on earth can't we achieve Join-Up in the field?? Is this simply something that will never change due to his history of abuse? I would love to let him "catch" me, but so far it seems this may never happen.
First off, good job for rescuing him from abuse! It's awesome to see people helping the helpless.
As for the not coming to you in the field; give it time. My mare wouldn't walk up to me either, but I started just going out to the field just to pet her and say hi, no halter, no ropes. When she realized she enjoyed my company and wanted to be with me the second time I went to visit, she followed. After a while of this, she started to come to the gate when her name is called. Watch Monty's videos on the Uni about catching horses, they are extremely helpful.
Trust-building and ensuring the horse has a good time with you is key to him wanting to be with you.
As for the bolting off as soon as he is released, I don't really see how this is much of an issue. Maybe he is just relieved to be back home where he can graze, and wants to run joyously. Maybe it's just a personality quirk, or maybe he's just feeling good.
Are you under-working him? If he still has excess energy when you release him, that may be why.
Especially since you said sometimes he stands for you, I don't really see how this is much of a problem.
All the best!
I'm wondering if you've over used join-up, Monty says to only do join up with a horse 4 to 6 times. Anymore than that and they begin to resent it. I agree with Nadine instead of trying to join up in the field just go out and sit and spend time with him, not trying to catch him. Let him see that spending time with you doesn't mean that he has to perform or be caught. He will eventually catch you by not feeling threatened or forced.