Benny was covered in fecal matter from head to toe that had to shed out due to the raw flesh that could not be groomed (see pic below). He had been born with contracted flexor tendons which could have been repaired when he was still a youngster, but it didn't happen so now his back feet are very upright with rotated coffin bones and hooves like stumps. He had herpes lesions on the outside of his mouth his first two years with me and continues to limp on his left shoulder in what the veterinarians call a functional deformity due to the overgrown hoof that was hack sawed off. Needless to say Benny was a real messed up horse both physically and emotionally.
benny the autistic horse
Benny, a beautiful Palomino Paint horse, had been locked in a stall for two years that I know of. By the time I got him I was his third owner in six months and his fifth new environment. Benny had Stringhalt so bad that his rear hind legs would literally collapse beneath him as he scrambled to keep himself upright. When he was rescued his front left hoof was overgrown to the point that it was curled and it had to be hack sawed off (see pic below).
Symptoms: any type of pressure whether training or discipline causes Benny's behavior to escalate which I call a melt down. Over-anxious, over-excitable that no amount of training or discipline can reach Benny. He wants to be touched, then doesn't want to be touched, then wants to be touched then doesn't want to be touched and has to roll to comfort himself. Too much touch can cause a meltdown of behavior seeking escape, needing to roll, complete hysteria. Leading him can cause hysteria and need to escape. He is highly intelligent and tuned in but does not want to be groomed, pet or touched, yet he seeks being scratched but must move away within a few scratches due to overload of his nervous system and will roll. He doesn't like a lot of noise as that throws him into melt down hysteria behavior of escape. He hears me coming outside and will whinny and by the time I get to the barn he is standing outside in front of his stall door stretched out demonstrating to me that he is peeing outside. This behavior is a result of usingEmotional Training that I developed to teach Benny to stop peeing in his stall after 5 years of peeing in his stall. He is so intelligent that he recognizes he can get "good feeling" from me if he pees whether he needs to or not he goes into position every time I come out to the barn - he is amazing!!
I have coined the phrase "Orphan Syndrome" since Benny does not understand normal herd and horse behavior being locked in a stall for so long and possibly never having herd contact. During a clinic a woman with a PhD in child psychology concurred that the phrase "Orphan Syndrome" is actually a "real" phrase which identifies children from China who have been tethered in their cribs for two plus year’s not receiving eye contact or touch. The PhD psychologist agreed with me that Benny's behavior is that of an "Orphan Syndrome" child and added that he has Autistic behaviors which were confirmed by another woman at the same clinic who specializes in autistic children for a local school district. What an amazing opportunity to have both these women at my clinic at the same time.
From my trainer’s point of view, horses are fairly predictable and quickly learn within the first couple of sessions that dangerous behavior doesn’t pan out, so they are willing to learn appropriate behavior to get along with me as their herd leader. It is simple herd leadership. But Benny could not grasp the language or understand herd communication. I tried every method I knew. I explored, researched and applied other methods, along with seeking the opinions of fellow trainers, but nothing worked.
Most of the other trainers I consulted advised me to hit him or have him euthanized. Euthanized! Because he doesn’t conform to the ideals we expect? Maybe my expectations were not correct for Benny. But I was not going to give up. I felt challenged to communicate with Benny in a way that would make him a safer horse, thereby allowing me to give him the quality of life he deserved.
As a trainer I have used every method in the "book" and outside the "book" and have come to accept Benny for who he is. simply play with him since normal horse behavior is beyond his understanding and I never feel in danger while keeping myself at a safe distance when we play "I'm gonna gitcha". Benny loves the trail, loves to swim and eat blackberries. He is typically the lead horse on a trail ride, but moves with small quick steps since he cannot make a full stride due to his deformities. I would not trade a day with Benny -- he has been a remarkable teacher.
Benny's story is featured in this 4th edition
Benny is a Beloved Horse series star