A valuable lesson for new horse owners is the understanding that no horse has been exposed to every possible situation. Often, beginning riders have heard the term “bomb proof“. For our definition see the post June 15, 2012. There is no such thing as a completely “bomb proof” horse the way most new riders want to use the term. All horses have fears and no horse is without something that will scare it. The question is always “What”?
At the confidence building clinic we have been blogging about, emphasis was made to the attendees about our views on desensitizing horses. Our views differ from many in the horse business. While we feel it is important to expose a horse to as many different events, situations, and scenarios you can dream up, the more important task is creating a willingness in the horse to de-escalate from an event.
We use the phrase “back to calm” to describe leaving the state of excitement and returning to a state of calm and quiet. A horse that is taught to go to calm in seconds or moments is far safer and easier to handle than one that takes 30 minutes to an hour. Our horses are taught when the rider drops his hands to the horse’s neck to “go to calm”. It is practiced constantly during training and during trail riding. If something unexpected happens, the rider pulls the reins for whoa and then immediately drops his hands to the neck, i.e., the cue for “go to calm”. The horse is expected to settle at once into a quiet state, although still possibly tense. He should stand and wait for the rider to make the next decision. In this way, it is not the horse that decides what to do, but the rider. If done properly. it allows the rider to make the decision from the saddle instead of the ground and with a eye towards the safest action to be taken.
Here in the photo, the small swimming pool was filled with empty plastic water and drink bottles. The purpose was to ask the horse to step into the pool with noise and funny feeling underneath. Although the rider was to walk the horse across, the first test of the obstacle was to see if the horse would stand quietly in the situation, one probably never encountered before. It is a creative way to work on teaching a horse to go to calm. If the horse jumps or quickly steps out, you pull the reins, say whoa, and rest the hands on his neck. Once calm, you try again. In our perspective, it’s better than “turn and bolt”!