Follow Your Horse's Fears
Horses are prey animals. Their number one defense mechanism is their ability to run away.
When they're threatened or unsure of a situation, their instincts tell them to move their feet.
With Richard Winters
Here are a couple questions that I hope to answer in this article. 1) How can you transform your horse's fear
and apprehension into curiosity? 2) How can you convert that curiosity into confidence? You, as the leader, need to be able to show your horse how to follow his fear.
More often than not, horses are startled and afraid of moving objects. From your horse's perspective, that
moving object is a threat that needs to be avoided. Your horse feels the need to keep his feet moving and keep
a safe distance between himself and the threat. What are some threats that your horse might encounter? It could be a big rubber ball, a four-wheeler, a tractor, possibly a bicyclist or even a cow.
Here is a practical game you can play to help your horse gain more confidence with a scary moving object.
Get a big rubber ball (Many horse enthusiasts are using these with their horses.) and have someone on the
ground that can control and roll the ball across the arena. Ride your horse toward the ball while it is moving
away. Let your horse begin to think that the ball is yielding away from him. Don't try to overly force your horse
up to the ball. Continue to have your assistant roll the ball away as your horse steps closer. Little by little you'll
begin to narrow the distance between your horse and the ball. Now, as your horse feels less threatened you
will begin to see his apprehension turn into curiosity. It won't be long before you'll be able to ride up close to the retreating ball and your horse will reach out and touch it with his nose.
This technique allows you to capitalize on your horse's curiosity rather than forcing him into a scary situation. Horses are natural followers. This game will build his confidence rather than shatter it.
Is your horse scared of bike riders? You can do the same thing. Have your volunteer cyclist pedal around in
the safe open area and begin to play follow the leader. Now your horse has the opportunity to digest and comprehend this scary contraption in a positive learning environment.
This is also how all of my cow horses are introduced to cattle in the first two or three sessions. I will put one
cow in the arena and allow my horse to follow it. I won't try to drive the cow in any specific direction. Rather,
I will simply track right in behind the cow and follow wherever it goes. Now, this thing that my horse was
afraid of is actually moving away from him. My horse is realizing that the cow is the one that is apprehensive
and yielding away. Even horses that initially appear to be petrified of cattle will begin to get curious and even confident playing this game.
In each of these scenarios, it is important that you as the leader ride with focus. Look where you want to go.
Push your hands forward and guide your horse one rein at a time. Don't hang and pull on the reins. You and
your horse should have your attention on that "thing" you are following. There should be no whirling around in
circles trying to get away. If that is happening, you have forced too much on your horse and you have not
ridden with enough focus and direction. When I play this game I imagine there is a string tied from that scary
object back to my horse's nose. No whirling around allowed. My horse and I are going to look where we want to go. That's what riding with focus is all about.
It is also important to have your horse properly warmed up before starting any following games. That means
you have trotted and loped your horse sufficiently to have removed the silly behaviors that a fresh horse can
have hidden under the surface. Following a cow around the arena at different speeds can be emotionally
charged in itself. You want to make sure that you have properly prepared your horse physically and mentally for the task at hand.
Creating scenarios where you can Follow Your Horse's Fears will help your horse be the brave partner you
want him to be.
Cheryl and Richard Winters
Richard Winters Horsemanship
115 Columbia Hill Court
Reno, NV 89508
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