Overreaction and desensitisation. Your young horse is going to have moments when they will overreact to the smallest things. And that’s ok! They are unfamiliar with so many things and everything is super scary lol. So how do we get our horses to relax around something they are scared of? Well firstly we have to ensure that you have good groundwork established so that your horse will understand the cues and aids that you are giving them. Next we want to slowly introduce the scary item. Let’s use a saddle cloth for the first time. So I would get the saddle cloth and slowly bring it up to them watching for the signs that they are comfortable with it and continually tell them how good they are whilst they are checking it out. If they get a fright if it gets too close that’s ok, just try to keep it in eye sight but further away from them so the pressure is off them but they can still see it. This way they learn that it doesn’t go away fully with that type of behaviour. I continue doing this until they can sniff it (I tend to try and use a saddle cloth that has already been used on another horse so it doesn’t smell scary but smells like another horse). Once they can sniff it and see that it’s not too bad (lol) I then slowly take it back towards their shoulder and gently stroke their shoulder with it once. If they stay still the saddle cloth releases pressure and they get a big reward. If they move away the saddle cloth stays in eyesight but further away until you have control of them again and then you do it again and again until they stay still so they can get the reward. Each horse is different as to how much you can do. If they are super calm you can continue slowly increasing how much you rub them with it and also to increasing it to going over all of their body until you can place it on their back. Making sure that there is lots and lots of reward and positive reinforcement occurring. If you have a very sensitive and flighty horse you will be looking at doing less and building their confidence up with small wins. If they are overreactive when you first touch them on the shoulder then once you can do that with them and they are happy for that to happen then quit there. Do not go past this point until the horse is completely accepting of the situation and is relaxed and confident with what you are doing. And you continue down the same path as above for the quiet horse but your work is going to be a bit slower as we have to allow the horse the time to learn and gain confidence with what you are doing. Don’t become cranky at your horse for learning a little slower with a task, they are all different like us. We learn different things at different rates so we have to be accepting of this fact with our horses.
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