This post originally was a reply to the Wild Games sticky, but I think the topic is very important and deserves its own thread. Please add your experiences in dealing with scared, traumatized or in other ways sceptical horses.
For helpful videos about dealing with a very scared horse, also check out this thread: Traumatized mare Gloria & Josepha First contact
I do not have a horse that is scared of humans myself, but I had the priviledge to meet Josepha's Don Jamie (ex-bullfighting horse) around the time when he made a major change in his trust towards humans. You can read more about him in his diary
Josepha can probably tell you more about how she helped him, but I will stick to what I did with him because that's what I know best. In my interaction with horses in general and with scared horses in particular, I focus on doing as much as possible by asking the horse to move towards me, and not so much (or almost nothing in the case of scared horses) by asking the horse to move away from me. That is, when I want the horse to move, I don't push with my body language but only draw. For example, for asking the horse to move his frontquarters, I slowly step away and move my hips into the direction of the movement, making room for the horse to follow. In the Encouraging politeness thread
there is more info about that and the video in there shows it as well (although Summy is the total opposite of a scared horse, so there is quite some asking for movements away from me as well, just ignore that
). The same goes for moving sideways towards me or asking the hindquarters towards me: I only do this by stepping away and making room for the horse, not by pushing.
Besides the inviting body language, there are several other things I do with scared horses. First, I want the horse to become the initiator of our interaction, so I reward every initiative. If I have asked something and he offers something different, I reward that as well. I intentionally use longer waiting times, periods in which I ask nothing at all but just watch and make it possible for the horse to be active on his own.
Second, it seems to me that for some scared horses (or the ones I know at least) it is not very productive to be overly careful in my moves. Of course being careful is not a bad thing at all, but I try not to tiptoe around them as much as I do with pushy horses (whom I want to show that they can be very attentive and careful with me as well). This is because I want the scared horses to be relaxed and act normally when interacting with me, so I try to be an example.
At the same time, I avoid abrupt moves and only include running into our interaction once I feel the horse has become more confident. Once this has happened, I invite him to "chase me". I have put this in inverted commas because although I know others, for example Josepha, act as if they were scared and fleeing from the horse (with great success!), I somehow don't see that fit into my own interaction with them, so for me it's more a running with me than a real chasing.
Speaking of doing what feels right, that for me is perhaps one of the most important things when interacting with scared horses, although of course it holds for interacting with any horse: To me it seems important to be absolutely authentic and open with them. I try to hold a genuinely prosocial, compassionate attitude towards them but within that, I don't analyse every single thing I do but act according to my feelings. Given that I have the goal of helping them to be confident partners, this attitude or goal state in itself automatically dictates my actions, better than if I tried to intentionally have an effect on the horse. The latter would, at least in my case, carry the risk of me becoming too manipulative and adopting a therapist/patient mindset, which I find not very productive in establishing an equal, trusting relationship. To put it in a nutshell, for me scared horses are not victims but partners, although very special ones.
Besides dealing with horses who are scared of humans, of course there also are contexts in which the horse is not scared of the human himself but of an object or situation. Some posts in this sticky will discuss this aspect of dealing with scared horses as well, but here we already have a collection of relevant links:Dealing with an emotionally VERY sensitive horseOvercoming fear of halterTreats in anxious situationsBeing a leader
...and a few single posts:Being a cougar-eater Being attentive
, Leigh quoting Sue, Sep 08, 2008, 5th postOn the freedom of getting out of it