Get past the fear: training units that help horses to overcome their anxieties- Part 1
In the cold months of the winter it can be really difficult to ride and there are only few possibilities for variations. This is the perfect time for special training disciplines which help the horse to overcome his fears.
Horses have to deal with our new environment and with today´s over-stimulation. They are flight animals so that their natural behavior in a new and apparently dangerous situation simply is running away. Riders often cannot react quickly enough so that the panic-stricken running away or jumping to the side can mean a real danger for them. Special ground training can help and combines several positive elements with each other:
- The horse learns to stay calm and relaxed in new and unknown situations
- The intensive training on the ground has positive effects on the relationship between horse and rider (confidence, reliability)
- In the cold period of the year the special training on the ground can give a welcomed variety to the normal and sometimes boring ride on the paddock
- The horse trains concentration, discipline and patience.
There are several advantages if horses get in touch with new situations and objects through special ground training units. The rider has a direct influence on the horse and especially the body language of the rider can help to calm down the horse. It will always relax the situation if the rider stands still and calm in front of the horse and rays out confidence. In best case the animal adapts the body language and calms down his own panic-stricken behavior. Moreover, in comparison to training units in the saddle the training from the ground up is much safer because the rider cannot fall down the horse. However for reasons of your own safety you always have to pay great attention to the unpredictable behavior of the horse: in many cases they suddenly jump to side or run away and then completely do not care who or what is in their way.
General guidelines for a successful training from the ground up
Working against your fears can be a real trial of patience- not only for the horse but also for the rider. Riders need to be aware of that before starting the program because patience is absolutely necessary for a successful training.
Horses can react differently than expected and riders often have to receive a set-back: an exercise which already was successful the last time can possibly not work out at all the next time. In this case it is even more important that the rider reacts in a right way what means that he starts the exercise from the beginning on once again. Generally you should never try to force the horse to do something he is not ready for. The horse needs to decide on his own when he is ready for the new situation and when he is willing to work against his fear.
The period of the training can take quite long (several weeks). Especially the beginning of a new exercise requires a lot of patience and time because the horse needs to have enough time to get in contact with the new objects and situations. But even if you think that the horse already got used to a new object or situation he can suddenly react nervous and unpredictable again.
Then it is really important that the rider reacts correctly: if you praise the horse for running away or jumping to the side he will think that this is the way you wish him to behave. Consequently the next time the horse will remember this and just behave in the same way.
The same can happen if the rider talks in a calm voice: The horse interprets the soft sound as a sign that he behaves correctly. Instead the rider should speak in a clear and dominant voice and always use short and precise commands (e.g. “stand”, “stay”). During the whole training the rider needs to demonstrate confidence and reliability. If the horse refuses the training the rider needs to stay patient but at the same time clarify what he expects the horse to do. It is equally essential that the horse understands when he did a good job and you can show this through treats and a lot of vocal compliments. The right behavior of rider and horse during the training can have a lot of positive effects on the relationship, the trust and therefore the harmony between the two.
Waving barrier tape and flag
During a ride you can sometimes see a flag or a barrier tape waving out of a garden. Many horses react easily frightened and jump to the side or run away. This clearly endangers the rider. For the ground training you can simply build a curtain of barrier tapes: just take a rectangular wooden frame and fix some stripes of barrier tape on one side. The objective of the exercise is to ride through this curtain. Firstly the horse needs to have enough time to get in contact with and to sniff at the colorful tapes. This can take some time because the tapes always flutter in an unpredictable way. In some cases it can help to lay the curtain on the pasture: through this the horse can observe the rapidly movements in different weather situations and possibly becomes used to it more quickly. During the ground training the rider can slowly guide the horse through the curtain. For this the rider needs to stand in front of the horse and demonstrate than one can easily walk through the curtain without any danger. Horses often react most frightened when they can feel the tapes on their back what means when they are directly standing underneath the wooden frame. The only recipe for success for this exercise is nothing but patience.
Waving flags can cause great panic for horses. After the horse had enough time to sniff at the flag the rider can roll the flag und then slowly begin to carefully touch the back of the horse. After some time the flag gets unrolled and the contact intensified. In the end it should be possible to completely wrap the horse into the flag. In the next step the rider then starts to slowly wave the flag in front of the horse. This movement then becomes faster and faster. It is always important to intensify the training in little steps so that the horse carefully gets used to the new object and does not try to run away.
Wrap horse into lunge
This training especially intensifies the confidence and reliability between horse and rider. This is an important aspect in the fight against the fears because the horse learns to trust the rider in new and apparently dangerous situations instead of feeling helpless and trying to run away. Additionally this exercise helps to train discipline because the horse learns to stand still for some time (this can help e.g. when the rider wants to mount the horse). You simply just need a lunge (6m) and a spacious riding area. Firstly rider and horse stand in the middle of the paddock and the rider lightly twitches at the rope of the horse to get its complete concentration and attention. This concentration process can take really long and it only is successful if the horse concentrates on the rider for at least one minute. Then the rider immediately needs to praise the horse for this behavior. If the horse starts to chew this is a sign of well-being and therefore positive. During this exercise it is really important that the rider uses clear and short commandos and repeats them continuously (e.g. “Stay”, “Stand”). However the horse will only stand still if the rider in front of him does the same and does not become impatient and nervous. If the concentration exercise was successful several times (the horse completely paid attention to the rider for more than one minute) the rider can continue with the next step of the training unit. The horse continues to stand still and to concentrate on the rider while he slowly walks toward the animal. Then the rider slowly begins to wrap the lunge around the body of the horse. Some horses are really sensitive in the region of the stomach and possibly begin to step delicately (often these horses also show problems with the normal saddling). In this case the rider needs to start at the beginning of the exercise what means to create an atmosphere of complete concentration between himself and the horse. The whole training also intensifies the confidence between the horse and the rider because some horses do not like the lunge around their body.
General guideline: it is crucial to give treats and praise the horse.
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