A Healthy Dose of Scare Treatment

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Most of us now understand how important it is to introduce horses to potentially scary objects in a controlled and safe way so that we can hopefully desensitise them to these objects and not give them a new fear of these things! Yesterday I decided to do some of this with Scottie.

I’m not really sure what made me decide to do this, but we have lots of ‘scary’ things in our school to make jumps with so I thought I would take advantage of these and do some work with Scottie with them. Now don’t get me wrong, Scottie generally a spooky horse. And even when he doesn’t like something, he is fairly reasonable about it. He will try to go round it. But if you are telling him to go over/past it he can take a bit of convincing. This process usually involves lots of stopping, snorting, tentative steps forwards and quick steps backwards and the occasional attempt to turn round and walk off. But once he has committed to going over/past whatever the object is, it usually happens quite quickly, with him jumping over/through/past the scary thing.

Don’t get me wrong, this reaction is fine as he returns to walk almost immediately and has less of a reaction each time. And a lot of the time he does want to do what you are asking him to do, he just lacks the bravery to do it straight away. But I would still prefer to be on the ground pushing him forwards than on top of him. Purely because I trust him not to run into me but I don’t trust myself to stay on a particularly big, uncomfortable movement!

I also thought that since we are having a bit of an argument about loading at the moment. I’m not 100% sure what has caused this issue as once he is on and tied up, he is absolutely fine. I know he has been in some lorries recently he wasn’t too happy in, but he still loaded easily into these lorries when he was going into them regularly, and even now, once we are on, we are fine. It’s almost like he stands at the bottom unsure as to if he wants to go on or not until someone stands behind him and says go. Then he generally walks on fairly easily. So I thought he could probably do with doing a bit more ground work and ask him to have to think a bit more and trust what I’m asking him to do won’t kill him.

So I set up 3 things for us to attempt in the school and grabbed my lunge line.

The first obstacle was some fake grass mats laid down next to the fence, a bit shorter than a length of a pole and 1-2 feet wide. We walked over one of these not too long ago, so I didn’t expect this to be much of a challenge for us and we got over this fairly easily. We jumped it on the first few attempts before calming down to step over it and eventually walk on it. Interestingly, we found this more stressful on the left rein as when we switched onto the left rein it was more drama than when we started on the right rein. But we were able to walk over it fairly calmly.

Next we had a little tunnel for him to walk through, with one side being the green bottom of a child’s slide and the other side being a nice scary wooden filler. This time I wanted to start on our left rein, since it had been more dramatic than the right rein on the last obstacle. But almost instantly Scottie decided he couldn’t cope with it on that rein and turned himself round and considered doing it the other way. Since he was showing interest in actually doing it on this rein, I didn’t make him change and slowly pushed him in to getting closer and closer until he jumped through the gap. As with the grass, after this each time through was less dramatic until we were walking calmly through. We then switched reins and managed to get through on the other rein, with a bit of drama and him needing to follow me the first time. His right rein is obviously his more cooperative rein!

Finally we had the tarpauling. This was more challenging and took a bit of changing to find the shape he would even consider going near. I think I had it too narrow to start with. But eventually he started to really think about what I was asking him to do and slowly got closer until once again jumping it. However, as with the others, we got to the point where we could walk over it, even stepping on it without a fuss. There’s a video below.

I think Scottie needs to be doing more things where he has to think for himself, especially has it doesn’t really take much ‘force’ to encourage him past something scary. All it took yesterday was a few clicks to encourage him forwards, a wave of the lunge line when he backed away from the object and putting myself in his run out zone (he would sooner not go forwards than run out into me!) I’m hoping that by doing stuff like this, we can get rid of the ‘force’ needed to back up what I’m asking. So that hopefully we can go back to walking straight onto a trailer/lorry, rather than standing at the bottom umming and ahhing about whether he wants to go on or not until someone is stood behind him.

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