Mistake #3: Taking the Scary Object Away When the Horse Moves His Feet
Timing, meaning when you release the pressure is critical when training horses, especially when desensitizing. When you’re desensitizing your horse, never take the object/ pressure away until the horse stands still and shows a sign of relaxing. If you take the object away while the horse is moving his feet and using the reactive side of his brain, you’ll teach him to be scared of the object. Instead of him relaxing and standing still, he’ll think the answer to getting away from the object is to run. Using the Approach and Retreat Method, you’ll teach the horse that if he stands still and relaxes, the scary object will go away.
Remember that your horse is a prey animal with the natural desire to run from anything that scares him. You have to constantly reinforce to the horse that the answer is not to run from danger, but to stand still and relax. In fact, you’ll prove to him that when he does stand still and show a sign of relaxing, the object will go away. You want the horse to think that the only way he can feel safe is to stand still and relax.
Mistake #4: Ignoring the Spooky Object
When your horse spooks at an object or refuses to cross an obstacle, don’t just ignore it and move on. Deal with the object and teach your horse not to fear it. As a trainer, you should constantly be expanding your horse’s comfort zone. Your horse’s comfort zone is made up of the environment and objects he’s familiar and comfortable with. When you first start working with a horse, his comfort zone will be very small because he won’t have been exposed to very many objects or situations. The more you work with him and introduce new objects to him, the larger his comfort zone will become.
For example, let’s say you’re at a horse show and are riding around the arena during warm-up, and your horse spooks at a sign on the fence. Rather than ignoring his behavior and letting it get worse (ruining your chances of doing well in your class), teach him that the sign is nothing to fear. You’ll do that by moving his feet forwards, backwards, left and right in front of the sign. When a horse gets scared of an object under saddle, I love to do rollbacks in front of the object because it quickly gets him using the thinking side of his brain. You’ll use the horse’s fear of the object to get him to turn and roll back over his hocks, and each time he turns and rolls back, the closer he’ll get to the object. Horses can only think about one thing at a time. So your horse will either be thinking about the sign, or he’ll be thinking about moving his feet and paying attention to you. The more you make him move his feet, the more attention and respect you’ll get from him. Eventually, the horse will realize that doing rollbacks is much harder than actually going by the sign, and he’ll stop spooking and instead listen to you.