Our question this week comes from Ducka Kelly. She asks, “How do I get my horse past the bulldozer that is blocking the trail that we wish to ride?” Great question, Ducka! We’re going take this in stride as any object or obstacle that the horse views as threating.
First, as we have in all responses to the previous questions, we want to look at it from the horse’s perspective. As the horse looks at the bulldozer he figures it as a threating obstacle that he could easily avoid by going the other way. To condition the horse to accept obstacles, we must first understand why he seems afraid. Mother nature gave the horse the good sense to avoid anything that didn’t grow out of the ground. His eyes are wired directly into a flight mode that does not require any support of the brain when confronted with unnatural obstacles. With this ability the horse has the fastest reaction time of any mammal on earth. His “avoid!” instinct kicks in without any thought on the topic.
So, understanding that, we have to work around the eye-to-flight mode. To make that happen we must move at a pace that allows the eye to communicate with the brain instead of allowing the flight response to automatically kick in. As we approach that “Big Green Horse-Eating Machine” on horseback, pay attention to the horse’s ears and attention. As soon as he notices the object and resists or tries to get out of dodge, stop and let him rest, relax, and digest what he sees and smells as you rub him. You may be a hundred feet from the object, but that’s a starting point. No problem.
Continue your effort to relax him until his attention leaves the object. At that point, turn and walk away a short distance. After covering some ground in the opposite direction of the scary object, return toward the machine and ask for one step further than before. The key is to keep his nose directly inline pointing toward the object. Make sure to direct your horse using independent rein control—that means lift either the left or right rein to keep his nose facing the object. Don’t use two reins, stop or back up your horse in this situation. Forward movement is the only movement allowed right now and using independent rein control, paired with leg pressure to drive him forward, will help your horse understand this concept. If you need to communicate with his hip, to keep him pointed at the monster for example, use your feet to control it to the left or right. Again, avoid using both reins in this instance.
When you’ve returned just beyond your last resting spot, stop again, rest, rub and relax. When he relaxes and averts his attention, turn and walk away again. We’ll continue this same process until we have gotten within a few feet of the object. Our goal is not to walk past the dozer, but encourage our horse to touch it with his nose.
When your horse reaches out and makes contact, turn around and leave. The whole idea of leaving and returning after each small bit of progress presses the reset button in the horse’s eye and brain, and he learns that things aren’t as they seem. It also builds curiosity. Horses are animals of habit and, in this situation, we are creating a positive habit. If your horse acts jiggy, overly nervous or flighty, you’re applying too much pressure in too short of a time. This entire process must be positive to have positive results. Remember, the picture he takes of the object and stores in his brain must have no negative connotation attached to it!
After we’ve approached the object a few times and are able to move along by it with little or no concern, we must approach from the opposite direction. Different direction means different object. The more you rest by it, the better it will be accepted. Practice touching the object with your hands, bumping it with your foot, move around on your horse. All the different types of stimulation will help the lesson be successful with your horse. Success means no issues from any direction!
Have a good ride!