Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How to handle Fear

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. :)


Far Beyond The Ridge said...

Hmmmm... I think i'll try to apply these to my own fears.
I usually just bull ahead and knock the fence down.

Shirley said...

When I was doing the ground work with Rio this last summer, it was interesting tat his initial fear of new things lasted less than a minute and his natural curiosity would take over. I remember auditing a Richard Shrake clinic and he measured a horse's intelligence by his level of curiosity. The more curiosity, the more intelligent and more they are inclined to think their way through things than to just react with fight-or-flight.

Story said...

This sounds very much like the way we dealt with a giant beam of light in the indoor yesterday. This method does work. Don't forget lots of praise when they succeed! Great post.

Mary S said...

Wonderful post! Lots of useful information that reminds me I've been too impatient and forceful (especially when perched on one side of a creek while a line of trail riders waits behind me). Thanks so much for sharing the knowledge you've gained.I will definitely put it to use.

Dom said...

Great post! I always say: you can't teach a horse not to be afraid, but you can teach him how to work through that fear.

cheyenne jones said...

Very good, loved the approach.

Kim said...

seems like that's a good way to overcome fear yourself too.

allhorsestuff said...

WOW girl, so many changes Here!!location,attitude and in general...a whole new outlook going on! Nice new digs and great clinics available.

Having the time to allow your horse to ponder and or investigate does not mean it will happen right now in one session. Mine is dreadfully afraid of some things and I kinda have to see how she feels about taking on the monster..some days she gives it no heed and is LORD of herself and it..some days she can't be bothered by having to think about somethings that are scary. When it counts luxery to not tackle something..she comes through. My confidence helps!

Love your poems, things look really good here! Hope your New Year is going smartly!

Grey Horse Matters said...

I agree. I think it's best to let the horse work through his fear and not force the issue.