First, I want to say I love horses. I have for as long as I can remember. I dream, think, and talk about them all the time. My poor family has recommended I attend HA – Horse Anonymous. I am a full-fledged horse addict. Secondly, I firmly believe horses “talk” and communicate through body language, facial expressions, and their reactions to stimulus. To the trained eye it is clear when a horse is in pain or when they don’t feel good. You can tell a horse is agitated or relaxed. You can see they are excited when bringing a carrot because they are vocalize. All this is part of joy of being involved with horses. Even still, I guard myself from falling into the trap that overcomes many well-meaning horse owners and professionals. A horse’s “back story” can prevent us from doing what is best for our furry companions.
Imagine there is a horse owner…let’s call her Sue. Sue goes to purchase her dream horse. The horse is the perfect size, shape, color, temperament and passes the vet check with flying colors. It’s love at first sight. Sue can’t write the check and load the horse fast enough. On the way out, the seller tells Sue that she feels she must disclose one thing about Mr. Dreamy Horsey Pants; Mr. Dreamy was recently on a trail ride and had a bad experience with a mail truck flying down the road at an ungodly speed. Ever since, he is terrified of the mail truck but other than that is a perfect gentleman. So Sue decides, she can live with the mail truck phobia and takes him home. Now Sue loves Mr. Dreamy very much! She loves him so much she doesn’t want him to ever have to stress about the silly mail truck so she arranges for Mr. Dreamy to never see one again. Then months later, Sue is riding her bestie, Mr. Dreamy, and he shy’s from a mailbox. Sue promptly removes the mailbox for her lovey so he doesn’t have to “remember that terrible incident with the mail truck”. Sue avoids going anywhere a mailbox might be. Next, Mr. Dreamy is just having a day because it’s windy and spokes at some paper on the bulletin board. He sees it every day but today the paper is flapping in a new way. Sue assumes he is remembering the “Monster Mail Truck”. Sue bans all paper from the barn. Then all grain bags, mail people, and then anything that stresses Mr. Dreamy. Sue unintentionally feeds Mr. Dreamy fears new and old and he becomes increasingly insecure and hard to handle.
I realize this is a silly example but think about it, have you ever read too much into a behavior? Have you let your horse live with a fear instead of helping him overcome it? Has one fear turned into several? Are you tempted to rescue your horse rather than equip him?
Rescuing and avoiding affirms to the horse that he is right and it IS scary. Horses are binary, yes and no- pressure and release. Rescuing releases at the wrong time and cements the wrong answer in your horses thought process. Don’t get me wrong I know horses have some experiences they don’t just bounce from. A horse bitten by a dog is not going to feel warm and fuzzy around dogs. Severely abused horses are in a category of their own. Nonetheless, it’s our job to set them up for success to overcome fears.
What fear does your horse have that you’d like to overcome?