Anyone who rides has inevitably encountered the equine version of the ‘Bogeyman’
Whether its the shadowy corner of the indoor, the flapping plastic bag in the wind, or the wild animal running past the outdoor ring, horses can get scared pretty easily. Even the bravest of equines fall victim to the shadowy creatures of their fears inevitably, but there are some great ways to avoid falling on your butt when they turn tail and run. Here are some things to keep in mind when the evil creatures of the shadows descend upon your horse (or when you horse thinks they are):
- Think before you smack. Whacking a horse with a crop before actually assessing the problem could escalate the situation. If your forward motion has stopped abruptly, try signalling with your legs before using the crop. Similarly, try clicking your tongue and coaxing before getting more insistent. If your horse does pull a dirty stop and tries to spin with you, then use caution with the stick. In any case, think before you add more “scary noises” to an already tense situation.
- Don’t beat a scared horse. If your horse is already terrified, one sufficient corrective whack (or two) theoretically should be enough to correct the problem. However if your horse is still pinwheeling around in horror of the dreaded flowerbox bogeyman, make your artificial aids count. Rather than beating your horse blindly (which is both abusive and ineffective) use a combination of clicks, urging leg, and corrective whacks where needed (try to keep it under 2 whacks if you can, anymore and it loses its corrective value). If you get into a habit of beating your horse, you could begin to form detrimental habits.
- When in doubt, go in reverse. If you can’t get your horse to go head-first into a situation, try going backwards. With the exception of jumps and ditches, backing up into corners or “scary spots” can sometimes trick a horse into thinking the bogeyman has gone away. Similarly, if you back a horse through a corner a few times, eventually you will be able to safely establish that the bogeyman won’t be returning soon.
- If your friends are scary, have them say hello.If you horse suddenly gets the impression that your friend wearing a strange hat or billowy dress is terrifying, try having them say hello. Knowing the thing in the billowy dress is human and not a horse-eating monster will make it considerably easier to deal with the spooking problem. When I rode in college, part of how I got my horse adjusted to the sports practice fields nearby, is that if anyone from a sports team came near where Crackers and I were practicing, I’d call out “hello” so that they would be prompted to talk. This made my horse realize they weren’t going to eat him, and made him much more friendly towards even the most padded lacrosse player.
- Don’t overcorrect in the same corner all the time. One big no-no, is if your horse has a problem with a certain corner, try to avoid throwing a big stink in the same corner every day. If your horse spooks and wheels around in horror, calmly re-approach the corner at a slower gait. If you are trotting, sit the trot; if you are cantering, sit the canter. Don’t make it a war. One thing I noticed many, many years ago when riding a friend’s horse, was that when we entered a certain corner, the horse would become nervous and scared. After watching my friend school him a few time, I realized that that was the corner that she would wail on him with a crop most often. After telling her about this error, we managed to correct this mistake so that her horse could enter the corner more calmly, and with more confidence.
Well I hope this was helpful to anyone battling the bogeyman with their horse at the moment. Have a great day!