I have a 4 1/2 Halfinger I rescued from Arizona. He is afraid of everything. He has a bolting problem because of his fear. I tried a tainer who took me for a fool and didn’t help the pony at all. Instead of teaching him they led him around on a quad. I am in the military and don’t have hours and hours each day. I know it will take me longer to get results, but that is ok. I know I have the patients to help him. I feel it is important that I learn how to train him. I am looking for any guidance to help with understanding fear.
-Stacie P. Fairfield, CA
Thanks for the email. These are some things to help you understand fear and what to look for. What your horse needs is to trust you as his leader and that you are going to keep him safe. Horses are herd animals, there is a pecking order in the herd, meaning that one horse is dominant over all of the other horses and then there is a number 2 horse that is dominant over all the others except the first one, ext. ext. The most dominant horse has the responsibility to protect and keep the herd safe. When horses see or hear something that they see as a potential threat they look to the herd leader to see if that horse is afraid. If the herd leader is afraid then they become terrified because if it upsets the herd leader then they think that they are going to die. Horses don’t just think that something could hurt them they think that they are going to ‘die’. But if a horse is afraid of something and they look to the herd leader and the herd leader says that they are not afraid of it, then the other horse is not going to be afraid either. That is because that horse trusts the other horse to keep him from dying. You get this trust by doing lots of ground work.
We also have to understand that we are predators and horses are prey animals. This means that in the wild horses know that we would eat them.
Horses are very sensitive to predator behavior, we have to try not to act like a predator and think more like our horses think. That way we can really help our horses understand that we are not going to hurt him.
Your horse does not have enough trust in people.
Horses need confidence, confidence in people, in surroundings, in themselves, and in you as a leader. We need to help build our horses confidence. How can you tell when your horse is unconfident? You can see it in his body. The signs that you will see is:
1. You will see in their eyes, their eyes will be wide open, you might see the whites of the eyes.
2. Their head will be high, when a horses head is high they can be on adrenaline.
3. Their body muscles will be tight, they will move their feet a lot or they will stand still like the are a frozen statue.
4. Their tail will be tight and clamped down to the bottom.
Those are just to name some of the main ones, there are a lot more.
So what about a horse that is confident, how can you tell? Well the signs that you will see in a confidant horse is:
1. The eyes will be soft and blinking, (if your horses eyes are blinking then his eyes are soft, if they are not blinking this is a sign that he is afraid).
2. His head will be low or even with the withers, neck muscles will be loose and soft.
3. Body muscles will be loose and soft.
4. Tail will be soft and just hanging there, not clamped down and not high over back.
Again these are just to name a few of the signs, there are more but you can just focus on those for now.
To build confidence in our horses we need to always make sure they are confident. Horses can’t learn when they are afraid. When a horse is switching from being afraid and unconfident the signs that you want to look for are:
1. Blinking of the eyes.
2. Licking of the lips. When a horse licks their lips many people
say that that means that the horse is thinking. What it really means is that the horse has gone from fear to relaxation and is now able to think. The horse has let go of his fear and relaxed by loosening up and licking his lips (sometimes I will stick my finger in a horse’s mouth that is very fearful, right where the bit would go, to get his mouth loosening up and then take my finger out. This helps the horse lose his tension and by loosening his tension he is now able to think. That is why people say that when a horse licks their lips it means they are
3. Head lowering; when a horse puts their head down they’re not as
able to get on adrenaline.
4. Blowing of the nose; blowing of the nose is a sign that your
horse is coming off adrenaline.
So when our horses are afraid we need to build confidence in them.
Your horse also needs a lot of desensitization. Desensitization is when you desensitize your horse to something scary or something that they don’t like. Things like ropes, bags, tarps, rubber mats, dogs, kids, umbrellas, bikes, trash cans, cows, hair clippers, blankets, saddles, and people, just to name a few. You can desensitize them to endless things. But when introducing your horse to something new most people want to let the horse smell it. Horses feel as if the scary thing is chasing them when we bring it up to there face and try to get them to smell it. The best place to introduce a new thing to your horse is his withers. That is the place where your horse will except things the best.
When you get your horse to get comfortable with you and you as a leader and he starts to except you desensitizing him with all kinds of things the better your horse is going to be for you no matter what you want to do with him, whether it be showing or trail.
Now as for his bolting I am not sure whether you are on the trail with him or in an arena. Some horses are afraid of things coming at there face and have no problem with things around their bottom, others can have things touch or be around their face but you put something behind them and that is when they are afraid. Your horse sounds like the kind that can’t stand anything around their bottom, those kinds of horses are the main horses that are going to bolt because of the fear of something behind them. I would get him really used to the lead rope being swung around and swung up and over and then pulled of your horse hindquarters and all around, this is going to help a lot. Then get him to where he will let all kinds of things around his bottom. But when doing this always remember to stay safe and out of your horses kick zones.
But what you need also need to teach him as well is an “emergency one rein stop”. Most when they want their horse to stop and their horse bolts off they pull back with 2 reins to stop the horse. This is what most people have all been told to do “kick to go and pull to stop”.
First off I never kick my horse, it is rude, but that is another article.
In a one rein stop you are pulling one rein around and getting your horse to bend their head around and then come to a stop. The reason why it is bad to pull on both reins when your horse bolts is because by pulling on 2 reins at the same time we actually give power to our horse’
s hindquarters to run off with us, because they can lean onto the bit and power through us. So by doing a one rein stop we are taking the power away by bending our horses head around and getting them to stop instead of giving power to them by using 2 reins.
So what a one rein stop is going to look like when your horse bolts off is, you will reach down one rein and then pull it out to the side and then back to your leg (right above your knee, do not go above your waist). The kind of bit that is meant to be used in a one rein stop is a snaffle bit (I like Myler’s comfort bit, Level 1, eggbutt) but you can use other bits besides a snaffle, but not as well. I would practice this in the arena with your horse for a few weeks so that your muscles will know how to do it and so that your horse will know that that means stop. For the first few time and when your horse bolts he will do a few very small circles before stopping, but as soon as he stops you will let go of the rein so that he knows that was what he was supposed to do.
Also if on the trail and your horse bolts off or you think that he is going to be afraid of something you want him to face what he is afraid of. If you can keep him facing what he is afraid of then he will not bolt off.
I also strongly recommend you attending one of my clinics so that everything that I have said will make total sense and you and your horse can be off to a wonderful relationship. If you would like to host a clinic in CA let me know and I will tell you about that. I am also going to be making videos of my ground work, desensitization, round penning, and riding work in the summer. Those will also help you a lot, so check back to the website often to see if we have new things up. I also can make you some short videos of things that you need some clarification on.
I think that you would also get a lot out of reading on my website the Q&A on “What do I do about a Barn Sour horse”. I don’t know if your horse is barn sour but no horse really is barn sour and I think you might get some more insight into your horse and what to help him with by reading that. My website is: www.chelsienaturalhorsemanship.com
I hope this has helped you and you can email me any time with more questions or comments.