“BUT THIS STUFF IS SOOOO SCARY!”
Horses can be the silliest of creatures about the simplest of objects. Their hypersensitivity is what keeps them alive in the wild. If we want to become partners with our four legged friends, we have to help them overcome this tendency to be jumpy.
So let us say that you are at the very beginning of your relationship with your new horse. Perhaps she is afraid of your brand new, purple, sparkly, riding helmet. Certainly this is an object that your horse will need to see everyday. What do you do? I have included a video demonstrating the following approach and retreat response since so many of us learn better by watching!
Our first response as nurturing human beings, is to gently and gingerly approach our horses with whatever object they are afraid of. We kind of tend to want to “sneak” them into accepting it. What we fail to take into account is our horse’s marvelous ability to read our body language. When we “tippy toe” toward our horse with our scary object, our brain might be saying “Don’t worry” to our horse, but our body is saying “I know this is scary, I know this is scary.” This approach just amplifies your horse’s fear instead of helping her get over it quickly.
Whatever object your horse is afraid of, you should walk up to them like they are your 40 year old horse who has seen it a million times and could care less. In this way, your body language is projecting confidence in the safety of your questionable object.
So back to your purple, sparkly helmet. Hold your helmet in your hand and approach your horse slightly to the side of her muzzle with the helmet held out a bit from your body. If your horse stretches her muzzle to sniff it or touch it, tell her good girl and take the helmet away from her head. Let her think on this a second and then repeat. When she seems pretty calm about it being near her muzzle, hold her rope attached to her halter fairly short in your left hand. At a 45 degree angle to her shoulder, approach it with the helmet slightly held out and touch her shoulder. (remember NOT to “sneak” up). Should she jump or scoot away from it, use your left hand to keep bringing her head around and continue holding your helmet on her shoulder. AS SOON as she stands still, take the helmet away. Let her think on this a few seconds and then repeat this exercise until she no longer moves or flinches when you touch the helmet to her shoulder. Next move the helmet up and down her neck with the same rules applying. Keep progressing all along her body (leaving the rear for last) until you can touch her anywhere with your helmet with no moving or flinching. You may have to do this 3 or 4 days in a row but each day, she should be less and less reactive. Remember, that what you do to one side you must ALWAYS do to the other side. When you get finished will all this, then you can put your helmet on and use the approach and retreat system with your scary self! lol
Horses can be scared of simple items like grooming tools and jackets and you wearing gloves. This relaxed and confident approach to desensitizing will serve both you and your horse greatly in the years to come.
I am attaching this funny little “letter” from Fergus the Horse to Monty Roberts.http://www.montyroberts.com/la…/fergus-the-horse-asks-monty/