Equine Learning Disabilities

Visten was a blessing to us at Red Horse Ranch and also to thousands of other folks who have come to know him.


When he arrived it was apparent that he wasn't like other horses. His early months of neglect and abuse had taken a large toll on him. As the months passed, he adjusted better than we had initially expected.


Training him has not been easy; we have had a lot of challenges. In seeking helpful ways to enhance his education I discovered that IF there were others that specialized in what I thought to be equine learning disabilities, it was extremely difficult to find them. 


We were certain that if Visten in fact did have learning disabilities, he was probably one of many others. In over 55 years of life with horses, I have only met a handful of horses that I thought to be out of the range of normal mental capacity. Where did these horses end up? Every single one of them that I had encountered had eventually become rescue horses or had seriously injured a human.


Would our sweet Visten have the potential to hurt a human? Probably not but then again we did not train him on a time line or with the main stream style of training horses. He had an "enriched environment" and all the time he needed for his education and his emotional growth.


In adding Equine Learning Disabilities to our web sites, I do not make any diagnostic claims for Visten or any other animal. I will only convey what I have found in my own experience and will share the experience of other equine professionals who may have had similar situations with equines or other species.


Special thanks to my gracious friends at FOSH for never tiring of hearing about Visten and my dear friends, Mary Stewart and Kristi Unsell who never tire of helping with and loving Visten. Of course I am eternally grateful to Allen for teaching me about Enlightened Trick Horse Training. It has saved Visten's life.


Sue De Laurentis

Rehabilitating an Abused Tennessee Walking Horse
Eve Alexander of the Examiner interviews Sue De Laurentis about the Visten Project.
Eve Alexander-Examiner Article.doc
Microsoft Word Document 132.5 KB

What may have led to Visten's differences or variances? We can not be certain why he is  different than other horses but here's what we do know-


*He was confined to a small stall for the first 11 months of his life with no exercise.

*He was mal-nourished.

*He was not socialized with either humans or other horses.


We do not know if he was with his dam for a sufficient amount of time to bond or get proper nourishment.


The person who rescued him said that he had been beaten around the head and was treated in an extremely rough manner when loaded into the trailer. It was clear that he was not even halter trained and was not used to being handled.



Here's the behavior that seemed normal for Visten-


*He was extremely head-shy and would turn his head completely around backwards in an effort to avoid any kind of contact on the left side. It was not as apparent on his left side.


*He had very poor coordination. He swayed from side to side so violently when he walked that often his head would swing to the side and hit his handler...no matter how carefully one tried to stay out of reach.


*He could not tell where his front feet were at and could bump lightly into an object such as the wall or a tree and literally fall over.


*His knees sometimes buckled and he would fall down.


*His legs were severely twisted and his knees bent when he walked more to the outside of his leg rather than straight ahead.


*When he walks, his back legs cross over the center line beneath his body.


*During handling or training sessions he stares into space or at a faraway object for  periods of time that range from about 30 seconds to several minutes. During these times, he is non responsive to food treats, stroking or any other type of stimulation. When he checks back in, he is happy to continue with either the last task or a new one.


*He seems to understand requests made of him but often seems unable to comply phyically. When he understands and is able to perform a task he often becomes obsessive with the behavior.


*Can not tolerate loud noises or any type of stimulation or noises near his head or neck although stroking and grooming do not bother him.


*Exercises that excite him or increase his heart rate put him in a mode that is non productive to learning.


*Sometimes fidgets excessively with his mouth and tongue.


*A voracious appetite that doesn't result in proportionate weight gain.


On the positive side, he is very loving, kind and tries very hard to please and understand concepts. He responds well to positive reinforcement and food treats expedite his good responses.


He (has always) come when called even when he is far out in the pasture and follows more like a dog than a horse. He responds much better to "heeling" than to being on a lead.    







Visten's legs upon arrival
Visten's legs upon arrival
Visten loves to learn
Visten loves to learn