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Step 8: "Are We There Yet?"

Driving & Dragging

Back to Step 7: Trailering    Next to Step 9: Despooking

Editor's note: This article is part of a multi-lesson training series.

It always bears repeating that horses are flight animals. They're even more likely to flee when scary objects and sounds come up from behind. Before you work on an overall de-spooking program with your horse, it helps them to gain confidence working on dragging and "pushing" objects. As prey animals, they submit to their environment rather than control it. This means that they don't wait around to find out what happened when something scary moves or makes a loud sound. Predators are the opposite and are tuned in to sudden movement and the smallest sounds as something to focus upon because it could be their next lunch.

Knowing that horses are especially frightened by things behind them, it's best to start training them to push or "drive" an object forward. This keeps the scary object in their eyesight. True cow horses pick this up fast, but any horse can learn it. A horse gains confidence when he learns that by moving towards something with his body, he can push it away.

Assuming you've already desensitized your horse to a lunge whip, start by leading your horse forward while smacking the ground ahead of you with the whip. Exaggerate the sound and movement of the whip hitting the ground. If your horse refuses to come forward or pulls back, try to dig in your own heels and keep the whip moving until he stops. When he stops, you stop moving the whip. Gradually build up to where he can tolerate walking forward with as much commotion going on as possible. As he becomes OK with the moving whip, try something scarier, like a plastic bag, balloon, or umbrella. Then, move on to bigger objects, such as a child's wagon or bike.

Once your horse is confident he can drive something away, tie a rope to the object and start pulling it toward your horse while you hold him by the lead and stand next to him. Pull it towards him slowly, and if he shows signs of blowing and nervousness, stop the object, reassure him, and then move him toward it again as you push it away. It may help to have another person pull a rope to pull the object away from you and your horse. When he's confident with all this, repeat everything while mounted. Your horse may actually find it's a fun game to play with these objects — many do.

Now, when you trail ride your horse or even ride him around unfamiliar show grounds, he should have a new confidence in himself and you. You'll also feel more confident and your horse will sense that confidence. You've worked with him to experience many scary objects and situations at home in the span of a short time; the equivalent of years of normal riding and having scary situations occur randomly when you're both unprepared for them. This exercise prepares you with the basics for a successful Step 12 when you'll work on a general "despooking" of your horse.

Back to Step 7: Trailering    Next to Step 9: Despooking

Jennifer Goddard has been training horses of various breeds for over 20 years using her natural horsemanship methods. She has also ridden and shown in multiple disciplines and is owner of Levaland Farm, a 30 stall horse farm in Massachusetts. Jennifer has a degree in Finance and Entrepreneurial Studies from Babson College, and is also President of Equine Business Solutions, a business specializing in the starting and running of equine businesses.

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