I recently audited a Joe Wolter Colt Starting & Horsemanship clinic at Sullivan Farm Hanoverians. I love observing clinics and often leave with far more knowledge than I can possibly absorb. I feel if I can apply three - five new things from each clinic, I am lucky.
My observations and notes are my own, and it is entirely possible I have misconstrued some of Joe Wolter's teachings. I suggest going to his website and attending a clinic if he is ever in your area.
One thing I am off to buy right now is a small blue tarp. Now, I know Oberon has no fear of walking on one, in fact he seems to enjoy "killing" it. I have also walked by a huge barn door with one flapping sky high in the wind, having come loose from the bricks on the ground. I thought I was in for all sorts of "crazy", but Oberon didn't even blink an eye.
I have never rubbed one all over his body, nor have I had him drag one behind us with a rope.
But what IF he was afraid? How does one approach fear with a horse. We MUST remember to do it the horses way as it is about building the horses confidence.
Make sure it is a learning process NOT a forcing process.
1) Find the line in the sand where your horse is comfortable, a place that allows him to be comfortably curious. Let a horse be curious - DON'T hold them there. Curiosity comes AFTER fright.
2) Back up or turn the horse away from the line. Don't push him over. Retreat and face. The "line" will eventually get closer to the object. Take the horse away before he takes you away.
3) Redirect the energy. Trot away, walk toward the object, respect the new line drawn in the sand. If the horse tenses up, send off - we are battling self-preservation. So do something when the horses life (fear) comes up. Go back to # 2 as many times as necessary.
4) Repeat, stay calm. It may take days. Be patient, trust the horse. Make sure you don't tense up. Loosen reins so he can lower head and sniff. Again, any tensing by the horse, go back to #2 & #3.
I have seen riders force a horse to take on an object they are scared of. I confess, I have not always taken the appropriate time and respected the "safety line" but nudged Oberon closer instead of turning away when I could feel he didn't truly want to take forward steps. The worst thing I can do in a fear situation is not give him enough time.
I'll let you know how Oberon does being rubbed by and dragging the tarp. (I will have to be sure I have the arena to myself as I'm sure there are many boarders who would not appreciate this. :)