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Walking Past a Scary Object

Horse frightened by a new object Horses are generally quite suspicious about anything new — it's basic to their nature and has proven a successful survival mechanism. New riders are often baffled and sometimes frustrated by their horse's reluctance to approach or go by an unfamiliar object. The horse clearly becomes upset and efforts to push him on are met with a fight because the horse is truly afraid. This especially happens on the trail, but can occur anywhere, including on the farm or even in the barn or arena. However, there is an effective way for you to deal with such situations and to get your horse desensitized to non-dangerous objects that he encounters for the first time.

The key is not to rush him and to let him check out the "scary" object and then walk past it himself. If you try to push him, he'll almost certainly balk and give you trouble. He may back up, buck, rear, or even turn around and gallop away with you trying to stop him. He's not trying to give you a hard time — he's actually afraid for both you and himself. So, it's truly unfair to him for you to keep pushing him into that scary situation. Let him look at and smell the object. Horses are naturally curious and when he realizes that the object is not moving, he'll feel safer and take a step nearer to get a closer look. This may take several minutes as he "sneaks up" on the object, but it's worth it.

After a few minutes of this, he'll be right up close to the object and will smell it directly. Once he's convinced it doesn't pose a threat, he'll be bored and will want to move on. The same object may again give him concern on the return trip because he's seeing it from a different perspective. Give him time again to check it out and he'll do the same thing. From then on, he should ignore it in the future and just walk on past it. If not, any subsequent checks will be much quicker because he'll remember it from before.

There is one thing that may cause him to start the process all over again, and that's if the object gets moved and is in a different place. To your horse, the object moved by itself and requires another inspection — just deal with it in the same way. After a few times of this, the object will be so familiar that it can be moved without causing him a concern in the future.

It's important that you not get mad at your horse with all this. After all, he's not trying to cause you trouble — he's genuinely afraid of the object — it's the horse's general attitude as a prey animal and it is this approach that has allowed them to survive through the millennia.

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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