By nature, all horses have their fears, phobias and those things that just make them anxious. Sometimes horse behavior is ignored or misinterpreted as something else but good horse ownership requires approaching a fearful horse with technique and trying to resolve it.
It’s easier to understand the reason for your horse’s phobia or fear if you recently adopted a horse that has documented abuse. However, in all cases, it is the responsibility of the horse owner or trainer to identify the cause of the behaviors, by first ruling out what’s not causing them then establish and addressing them.
What’s especially dangerous for horses, is reaching the conclusion that the behavior is rebellious and causing them further harm or trauma by using unnecessary punishment and flood to remove it.
What to Do If Your Horse is Fearful
Ask questions about your horse to be able to understand and monitor your horse’s body language better, then check to ensure the feared stimulus is not due to a medical condition or physical pain. You’d need to consult a vet doctor to verify, but it is very important. Bear in mind that the vet check will have to be thorough involving scans and x-rays or additional help from dentists or saddle fitters.
Make a proper assessment of your management, the environment of your facilities and your horse’s routine. With a few changes, you might be able to reduce anxiety or fear. Making your horse less fearful will take a lot of trial and error with socializing strategies and other training.
If your horse has special needs, get more information about the available treatments or tools. You may have to seek guidance from a professional who understands horse behaviors better, especially one who’s dealt with abused horses or horses dealing with phobias and anxiety.
Tools for Resolving Your Horse’s Fears
Sometimes all it takes is learning some basic skills like targeting, precision, and positive reinforcement. Prior to this, however, you would need to establish a hierarchy of horse’s fears.
Knowing how each of the horse’s fears rank, from the least to the most fear-inducing triggers is crucial. It will help you in the next steps of building a plan to modify behavior, counter-condition your horse or strategically desensitize them.
Creating a system to strategically desensitize your horse requires exposing them gradually to smaller or less intimidating versions of his fears in such a way that you don’t immediately trigger a fearful response or other unwanted behavior. A smaller, less threatening dose of the fear stimulus can be effective in treating the issue and making your horse more acquainted or comfortable with it. Start by keeping it at a safe distance away from the horse and gradually bring it closer (shorter distance) or increase its size or speed, whichever applies.
Movements and objects can seem threatening to your horse, so change the context of those particular things that scare them. Have the situations repeated in altered positions that mimic the fear stimulus but aren’t as threatening. For example, expose your horse to a bike in movement, perhaps by having someone guiding it/riding it away from the horse. If the horse shows no fear you will then get the bike to travel parallel to the horse, then toward the horse, and finally around the horse.
At the end of the day, good horse ownership requires learning all there is to know about your horse. Their favorite foods, activities and general preferences. Be sensitive to their feelings and use non-verbal gestures to figure out how to relax your horse when they get agitated. Offer your trust in a way that spells positive energy only, so you can lead your horse into trusting you, too.
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