Horses who have learned to view human contact with terror are relatively easy to reach with a patient, consistent, and confident approach. It takes time, but teaching these over-reactive mounts to calm down and gain courage is certainly doable if the handler offers assurance through kind, safe, and steady guidance.
The biggest issue with these horses is not the initial concern, but the escalated craziness that occurs as they anticipate the punishment for their fear. The best course of action when they blow, and then really blow, is to do nothing. Merely wait out the ordeal with a steady, patient, but insistent attitude that makes it clear you are not going to attack them for their fear but will not proceed until the tantrum ends.
Generally, a willing attitude to proceed calmly and quietly ensues. Initial work off their backs is key for these characters, as you won't gain their trust while mounted until after you have been able to convince them that they need not explode when handled from the ground.
Be careful and watchful, though, because you can easily be caught in a bad and dangerous position if you aren't ready for, and mindful of, their likely next move. Once you learn to read your horse, predicting his or her blow becomes relatively easy, albeit not foolproof.
Horse sense with scared equines:
- Be calm, patient and nonreactive.
- Recognize their fear is more about anticipated human conduct than environmental issues that prompt the initial response.
- Slow down the lesson demands and ensure they are comfortable and confident with a single request prior to proceeding to the next.
- Never punish them for being afraid instead, stand your ground and reassure them you are a competent and trustworthy leader by being steady through their tantrums.
- Lavish them with praise for tackling a challenge.
- Be unflappable. If you are afraid of your horse or concerned about introducing them to new tasks, get someone else to help you through the initial process. Scared horses can become dangerous to their handler and themselves if they sense a nervous human.
- Make groundwork the training stage to set the foundation for any riding accomplishments. These critters need to trust you first, and this is best done with body language and quiet and confident handling.
- Try to ensure early turning exercises involve only a single handler/rider. Scared horses have lost trust in humans and adding other people to the mix increases their anxiety. It's best to build their confidence with a single person they can learn to depend on, appreciate, and please.
- Always try to find ways to address learning exercises with reward vs. discipline.
- Keep lessons as short as possible and focus on a single issue and an easy win.
- Adapt your approach to the horse's needs by listening to find comfortable activities for communication and rapport.
- Enjoy even the smallest achievement and know that appreciating and rewarding this will provide huge dividends in the future.
Taken from an excerpt of Chapter Three of "Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners" by Nanette Levin
About Nanette Levin
Nanette Levin publishes the "Horse Sense and Cents" series and has been horsing around for over forty years. Check out her blog: www.HorseSenseAndCents.com or visit www.HalcyonAcres.com for horse training tips.