When things don’t work out like we planned for our horses due to injury, changes in our living situations or just finding that our horse isn’t suited to what we had planned for it, it is often necessary to retrain and/or rehome them. You’ll find many of these rehabilitated horses throughout the mounted police units across America. Many of these police mounts have been donated to them and have successfully integrated into their new careers. Both the Houston and the Austin Mounted Police Units in Texas incorporate Parelli Natural Horsemanship training for their officers and police mounts. They have had great success in bringing around previously unmanageable horses using the horse communication techniques taught within the Parelli Program.
With the increasing popularity of natural horsemanship and release of the Parelli Horseanality profiles several years ago, horse owners and trainers are learning new ways to communicate with their horses. Horses that before were thought to be “untrainable” are now leading successful happy lives as police mounts, dressage horses and trail mounts. By learning to understanding what motivates a particular horse’s behavior and applying the appropriate strategies for that horse’s personality type, the communication lines between horse and human open up and they can make positive changes in behavior.
I’m happy to bring you today’s guest article by Sergeant Leslie Wills. Leslie has been with the Houston Police Department since 1991 and with Mounted Patrol for 13 years. She is charged with training the police horses and mounted patrol officers; barn management and welfare of HPD’s horses; special event scheduling and sponsorship program.
Enjoy the article!
Overcoming Emotional Trauma – Rehab For Police Horses
By Leslie Wills, Sergeant Houston Police Department
Everyone sees our horses at Houston Police Department Mounted Patrol and thinks they are the bravest and most courageous horses they have ever seen and they all want their horse to be like our horses. The funny part about it is that the horses that are at our barn and are now super brave Police Horses, are their horses, or were their horses at one time. Over ninety-percent of the horses at The Houston Police Department Mounted Patrol were donated to us for one reason or another. Sometimes a child goes off to college and the parents are stuck with a horse and don’t know what to do with the horse, or the person simply has too many horses, or just does not have the time to spend with the horse that they know the horse deserves.
Sometimes though I get a call from an owner that is completely frustrated and scared of their horse and are at their wits end of what they are going to do. They have sent their horse to so-called trainers that say they can ‘fix’the horse, but the problem gets worse. They have invested large amounts of money trying to have what they perceive as a problem fixed and they feel more unsafe than ever before. So, they call me and ask if the Houston Police Department would be interested in their horse. I will do a phone interview and get some of the truth about the horse, but there are many facts that tend to get left out as they may be embarrassed to tell everything. After the phone interview I will go out to evaluate the horse. Many times during the evaluation the owner is amazed at how well their horse does with all the stimulus we provide like tarps, firecrackers, and flares. Most of the time the horse was never given the chance to just check things out on their own, but once they are given that opportunity they really start to open up.
The one horse in particular that I can say has truly blossomed here at Houston Mounted Patrol is my main guy, Nacho. When the owner asked us to come out and look at her horse, ‘Islero’, she was very scared and frustrated by him and really thought he was going to kill her. He was not aggressive or mean; he was just ‘crazy’ according to her. She truly loved ‘Islero’ and cared for him and wanted to find the best home for him. After talking with the owner, I knew I had to have him. I mean really, who doesn’t want a 5-year old Iberian Warmblood donated to them? Well, we went out and evaluated ‘Islero’ and he was an emotional basket case but I still had to have him.
The first thing I did when I got him back to Mounted Patrol was change his name from Islero to Nacho. Islero was much too serious for this guy, he is definitely a Nacho! And so we started playing and having fun and not being serious and the changes started happening. He started to gain confidence by being allowed to be curious without being criticized. He was not confined or constrained anymore and he began to offer so many things.
Before he came to me he was strapped down in every way possible and told “No” to everything. He was worried about making the wrong move and being punished for it, and he has the physical scars to show it. Fortunately for me he has a huge spirit and the so-called trainers were not able to break it and that is why they gave up on him.
Nacho and I have now been together a little over 5-years and I am still amazed with him and everything he offers me. He can do all kinds of tricks now on cue and enjoys interacting and showing off for people. Where he once would bolt and over react to stimulus he now investigates and plays. He is truly my partner on the beat. I keep him safe and he keeps me safe.
There are many other success stories I can talk about as I have dealt with and rehabbed many emotionally damaged horses, but I have to say that Parelli Natural Horsemanship is the true savior. Parelli opened the door for me and made me realize that it was okay to have fun with your horses and not use mechanical means to get them to submit, but use ‘Love, Language and Leadership’ to create a true partnership with our horses.
Do you have a horse that was previously considered “untrainable” or that had to change careers mid-stream? Share your story in the comment section below.