Friday, October 7, 2011

Scary Objects and Spooky Horses

I received an e-mail from Leslie who wrote ”I have a 8 year old Arabian gelding who is just a pleasure to ride. I am working with him so I can ride in the ACTHA rides. Sometimes I’ll work him on an obstacle such as a tarp, walking over it and picking it up and rubbing it on him and he’ll be fine with it. Then a few days later, he’ll act as though he is seeing it for the first time and be really spooky about it. Do you have any ideas?”

Hi Leslie. This is actually pretty common for a horse to seem bomb proof on one obstacle, then react totally different to the same object a few days later. Something else can be different about the tarp or what’s next to it or the place it’s located. Or it could that your horse was spooked by something else,…..then as a result all things are spooky for awhile until he gets his confidence back. Another possibility is a change in you that the horse detects or perceives.

I recently put a horse of mine through an obstacles course at a strange (to him) location. On objects he has seen time and time again, he was spooked. I think the majority of the problem was with me trying to go too fast and not giving him time to think about the object. I was, in effect, both not acknowledging his anxiety over the obstacles or object, and creating more anxiety for my horse with my impatience.

I think the key is to put him in situations where he can be successful; do so with patience remembering that he is not spooking to misbehave,…he is spooking because he is scared. Let him be scared and let him figure it out. I see too many people ride up to something scary and when the horse balks they start kicking him or jerking his head back around and all this does is create more anxiety and give the horse a better reason to be afraid. I know, because I have done this…..and did so again recently.

With a horse, remember that repetition is the mother of mastering all tasks. I continually expose my horse to the same obstacles. I don’t assume that because he has seen it once, he’ll always be sacked out on it and won’t spook. It is as much training for me, allowing him the time he needs to figure it out. The below video is a couple objects that I am sacking my horse out on: a yellow slicker and a bag full of tin cans. Just because I can drape the slicker over his head and drag the sack of cans today, doesn’t mean that he’ll be great about it next week. I'll continue to give him problems to solve and develop that curious and brave horse.

1 comment:

  1. I went out this am to feed my two mares in there stalls/runs and it was raining, I wore a dark windbreaker and hood, they both acted like I was bear! I spoke and petted but they both acted to fidgety for me. How best to work it out with them?