Monsters Everywhere

(“Puddles won’t bite him.”)

“I can’t ride on Tuesday morning till after the trash man comes. His truck makes such a racket.”

“My horse has to take the day off. Our neighbor is mowing with the tractor.”

“Those darn kids on their bicycles! They keep riding by and distracting my horse.” Have you heard this sort of comment from a friend or perhaps even uttered such a complaint yourself? If so, you are missing out on schooling opportunities.

I am not suggesting that you should enroll your horse in a mounted patrol desensitization course. Most dressage horses need not be willing to stand in circles of flames or leg yield into crowds of protesters. And I admit that here and there you’ll find a horse so hair triggered that he needs to be kept wrapped in his private cocoon.

But let’s be real. Incremental, non-threatening exposure to lots of situations promotes familiarity and over time extinguishes your horse’s fear response. Take the word of Mr. Pollyanna here: “Turn an inconvenience into an opportunity.”

A thunderstorm overnight should not be an excuse not to ride. It’s a chance for your horse to learn that puddles won’t bite him. Chain sawing happening next-door? He doesn’t have to go face-to-face with the scary workers, but how about working him a few hundred meters away or even walking him around the field nearby until he gets bored. If your horse is too wired or you are really cautious, take him out on the lunge line or lead him in-hand with a pocketful of treats and the chain over his nose.

So much of horse behavior stems from their prior experience. I know horses off the track who wouldn’t bat an eye at a rumbling tractor or a crackling loudspeaker but were scared to death the first time they saw a toddler walking towards them. At the racetrack tiny humans (and I don’t mean jockeys) aren’t something they would have run into.

In a similar vein I knew a horse who was comfortable on the trail and in the fields but had never encountered a yellow line down the center of a paved road. It took a lot longer then you’d expect for him to decide it was safe to step over.

You may say to yourself, “I just want to ride and not bother with this stuff,” but if you invest the time in acclimating him to your surroundings—even peculiar ones—life will be much easier for both of you.