Tarps, Puddles and Other Scary Horse Eating Things

Man in cowboy hat holding a rope. There is a lasso around a horse in front of him. The horse is looking back at the man.

So you want to introduce something spooky to your horse. It may be a new environment or a new object, or maybe it isn’t anything new at all but that darned puddle that he is always worried about. Helping horses gain confidence with new and potentially scary experiences starts with the rider’s ability to assert themselves in a calm and patient leadership role. Horses are herd animals, and in the wild they would look to the lead mare for direction. When your horse sees that you, his leader, is okay with something, he is more inclined to relax and be okay with it himself. Whether you are introducing your horse to a saddle for the first time or that puddle you cross every time you walk to the barn, it is important to let him check it out. If he is weary about something, he might blow out of his nose and try to avoid it but it is important to stay quiet and keep bringing him back to whatever it is that he finds spooky. It may take only a few seconds up to many minutes for him to allow you to lead him up to it but persistence and patience are key. Because horses are naturally curious animals this works to your advantage. More often than not his fear will turn into curiosity. Let him look at and sniff the object.

Let’s say we are introducing a colt to a saddle for the first time. The best setting for this would be the round pen if the colt is familiar with working in one. Set your saddle in the middle and have him canter around on both leads until he has gotten all of his bucks out and he is listening to your commands. When you’re both ready, you can bring him into the middle with you, giving him treat and a face rub. Then introduce him to the saddle in stages. First on the ground, where he can stand next to it with you, calmly sniffing it, and then with you holding it. There is no reason why his first lesson with the saddle can’t finish with him walking calming around the pen with it on his back. Just remember if ever he gets overly anxious, take a step back until he is calm and listening again before progressing again. This method will work for introducing a lot of new things to your horse. Ropes, blankets, tarps…

Time and repetition, exposing your horse to as many new objects and experiences as possible, will make for a confident happy horse. It is possible for even the spookiest of horses to learn to become “bombproof”. And yes, bombproof is a learned behavior  only a special few are actually born that way. The great thing about this is that every horse has the ability to be confident and reliable with new experiences and in new environments. Until next week!

  • http://www.facebook.com/heather.schmidt.184 Heather Schmidt

    I hope to read more advice, I just got my first horse (at 41 ) so I want to learn all I can. Thank you I just learned, something helpful

    • Michelle

      Hi Heather! So happy to hear you are now the proud owner of your first horse! Every thursdays I will usually be posting something training related. Also, if there is anything in particular you would like to learn more about, I am open to suggestions on topics for my posts. There is so much to know when it comes to horses that I have found it challenging to narrow down topics on training! I would also love to hear more about your new horse. How old? What breed? Mare, gelding? What discipline do you plan on pursuing and what level of training does your horse already have?

      Take care!

  • Diana

    I am almost a half century old and am trying to put some hours on a paint so that my niece can show him in 4h. He is a very spooky boy, and not very trustworthy due to abuse in his past. I can do just great on him most of the time. Any tips on getting him to trust my little Jasmine?? Thanks,and happy trails to ya!

    • Michelle

      Hi Diana! Sorry for the late reply. How old is your niece? And how confident is she around your gelding? If he can sense her nervousness around him, he will likely mirror these kinds of emotions and be nervous himself. Because horses are so sensitive, being calm even when they are spooking is the best thing you can do. I would suggest Jasmine work with him under your supervision, and I think lunging would be a good place to start. This will encourage him to listen and take cues from her and it will also boost her confidence in working with him. In the instances where he is spooking on the ground, going back to basic leading lessons is your best bet. Make sure he is respectful of people’s space and responsive to being asked to move forward, backward and sideways. Next time he spooks, take his attention off of what is scaring him and ask him to listen to you — move him in circles, stop him, move him forward — anything to get his mind off of the scary bush. He may still be reactive to the things that scare him but the blowups won’t be as dramatic.

  • http://andrewhy.de/ Andrew Hyde

    It is amazing to me what a horse will find as ‘new’ vs. ‘no big deal.’ Donkey? No problem! Left out lunchpail? WHAT IS THAT!!!???