Birthday: July 5, 2011
Claire fostered Valiente from A.R.C.H. rescue . Valiente was taken from his mother and imported into Spain from Holland when he was only two months old.
Once in Spain he was shut in a small, dark stable where he could not even turn around or lie down and he was starved. As he grew, his legs and back were deformed, his hooves were horrifically overgrown and he had almost no hair on his body.
When he was two, he was brought to ARCH Horse Rescue along with three-year-old Hope, another Welsh pony, who is almost blind – caused, we understand, by being shut in a dark stable. Hope was his inseparable companion.
Due to his harsh treatment, it was impossible to approach Valiente; despite being almost unable to stand he could still bite and kick. For a small weak pony, he was strong enough to inflict some serious damage on vets, farriers and carers. You didn’t turn your back on him or get too close. If he was feeling very bad, even feeding him was hazardous.
His hooves needed to be cut back gradually. He had to be sedated continually for his treatment and that caused more stress. But slowly his feet began to resemble a normal pony’s feet, his hair began to grow and his body gained muscle.
However, despite his improved physical state, he remained emotionally traumatized. After almost two years the staff at ARCH still risked life and limb handling him and it was a major event to get a head collar on him. Applying cream for the flies or anti itch cream was virtually impossible.
Claire had read about Valiente and had been to visit him. Valiente’s fear and mental anguish was clear. Valiente was so fearful that he really was dangerous. Claire knew that for the next stage of Valiente’s rehabilitation to work, positive reinforcement techniques would be the best approach and that this would probably be his last chance.
Claire fostered Valiente and Hope together. Once they were under her care, she observed Valiente's mental state during those first few months. He often looked settled and happy but then, with no prior warning he would charge the fence or chase you, ready to strike with his teeth and hooves. He had learned the hard way that attack was his first line of defence and this is how he could get people to leave him alone. He needed space and time to decompress. Claire realised it was very important to introduce him to a life with more choice and control in his environment.
Being part of the small herd of himself, Hope and Segura was the first and vital part of his therapy. The herd had free access to stables, yard and paddock so Claire was able to look after Valiente without the need to go in with him or catch him. Her main interaction at this stage was to walk by the fence and drop alfalfa nuts when he was happy to approach without charging.
She noticed changes in his body as he started to relax. Segura became an auntie to them both, guiding them through their first year in this new sanctuary. Valiente’s new calm role model showed him they could be calm and relaxed around human beings.
Valiente would watch close by as Claire worked on positive training with Hope and Segura. He became intrigued and eventually ventured toward the fence to inspect the target they were working on. Using positive reinforcement, she reintroduced the head collar, just asking him to touch it with his nose as a target. It was during this time that Valiente’s personality started to show through. He was clever and very good at solving problems. Under the layers of stress and fear was a sensitive and brave pony with a huge heart – he was such a survivor!
Giving him his choices back was giving him back his life. We still work in protected contact for training Valiente, meaning keeping a fence between. This way he is always in control and making the decision to engage. He can walk away at any time and we are not setting him up to fail. We are keeping both Valiente and ourselves safe. This approach has enabled us to train him to stand at a target and place his hooves on a block to be trimmed – this turned out to be one of his favourite activities! We have also trained him to stand at the target whilst we administer an oral sedative or medications in case we ever need to have a vet treat him.
However, we can now safely go into the field with him and are slowly working towards being able to be closer without a barrier between us. We don’t mind either way, as we can do everything we need from behind the fence. But he seems to want to play more and interact with us more freely and we are following his lead on this.
Valiente has recently taken up playing fetch over the fence, which is fun for him and helps us with his physical therapy too. He has become so much more trusting and forgiving and even welcomes new people to interact with him and even stroke him.
We knew this would a long road but when we look back, we realise how much ground we have already covered. This has been done at Valiente’s pace, only asking him to participate when he wants to. This is been the key to unlocking him from his constant cycle of fear and gently disengaging his RAGE system. He is a pony, with freedom to roam, socialise, forage, play and trust. Everyone who comes loves him and respects how brave he has been in learning to trust people.
Here we are working with Valiente in protective contact.
Rachel is helping by giving him the treats whilst I click for the right moment.
We were establishing the position for him to stand in so that I could get to trim his front feet with the nippers.
Here we are a couple of days later working on our own together.
Valiente is offering his foot in the correct position in a relaxed but engaged way.
I am rewarding him for the relaxation as well as for the behaviour.
It is so important that he stays calm and happy.
Valiente and I doing a demonstration on the Hoof Trimming for Horse Owners Course.
Amazing that this little guy is showing the world how Reward Based Training is helping him.
Time for the back feet!
Spending so much time on his front feet meant that transferring the behaviour to Valiente's hind feet wasn't a huge task.
In the beginning Rachel establishes his position at the cone as his stationary target to give him focus.
I placed the block in front of his hind feet and asked him to pick up a foot. We had already worked on just lifting back feet.
I then guided his foot to the block and once his hoof touched the block clicked and we rewarded a lot!
Hey presto! Working on our own again later on in the year.
It is now possible for me to trim all of Valiente's feet by myself.
This process has been so rewarding for me too. Being able to trim his feet safely and both of us are relaxed and happy is tremendous. In the past his fear based aggression would take over so he had become quite dangerous.
Valiente is such a thoughtful, considered little guy he is so great at problem solving.
Positive Horse Training Spain
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Cacin, Spain 18129
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