It is spooktober and horses are known for spooking.
They can train us to live in fear of provoking their fear. They train people not to try to ride if it’s windy. They train us to need to be warned if someone is passing by the indoor arena door. They train us to fear plastic bags, loud vehicles, flapping things. We begin to hunt them out and stay away. To hurry a horse the other direction if we suspect a trigger may be coming.
Is it the horses that are afraid or the humans?
Are we teaching our horses to be afraid of these things?
If we run away, or quit and turn for home as soon as we ‘think’ they will be scared then we are never giving them the chance to see for themselves. Horses can get used to the most amazing things. Without the use of over stimulating, without crossing over threshold, without them inducing learned helplessness.
We can not reinforce fear by rewarding it, with treats, scratches, or love.
We can by running away and hiding from it, but not by offering support and understanding.
What if instead when faced with a daunting obstacle we stopped, took a deep breath, and found something else to occupy our minds. We can work on something familiar and comforting, we can offer scratches.
If the spook has already happened we can reassure them with a treat. If you are mounted, make sure you are back in a secure position than laugh, pat their neck, and click them for still being there with you. Because we work so much at liberty I can let my horses leave. Wait for them to come back, they usually come running from the few feet away they went, I give a click and reward for them daring to return and we continue on with lots of reassurance that I will protect them and reward them for their bravery.
Instead of spooking from things in expectation we can help prevent or calm the spook by displaying the behavior we want from our horses. By showing bravery and offering support we can help our horses to over come fear. By allowing them to have the experiences we can let them get use to them. We can end up with horses who accept the challenges we offer and who will brave the biggest of semis with us.