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by Developer Services

Training Tip of the Week: Don’t ignore a 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.