Our thought for the day is brought to you by the letter ‘S’…SPOOK!
Imagine you’re feeling anxious or you’ve had a fright. Would your tension and adrenaline dissipate more quickly if you were reprimanded or reassured?
Now take that thought into your training, sometimes the fear of being reprimanded might overshadow the fear of whatever it is that set off the anxiety or spook, but it’s doubtful that the anxiety has disappeared, it has merely been suppressed.
I find that touch can bring back awareness and focus, particularly if this response can be additionally conditioned beforehand. Just a gentle reminder that ‘hey, I’m still here to support and guide you, you’re not on your own’ or even just acknowledgement that ‘yes, I see the scary thing too but I’m still here for you and I’ll do my best to keep you safe’.
Scratching the wither has been scientifically proven to induce behaviours and parameters associated with relaxation, possibly due to imitating mutual grooming so this may be a useful tool for your toolbox!
The more our partnership makes it through a ‘scary’ situation, no matter how fleeting, big or small, the more trust grows that you are a place of safety, security and consistency, in turn the reactions become smaller and more manageable for both horse and rider.
I often refer to a term I coined some years ago, the ‘acceptable spook’, for me this means the horse is awake and aware, has a fright or spook but this spook is usually relatively static and does not escalate into other behaviours. If my horses are capable of this degree of self-regulation, I know I have sufficiently equipped them with the tools necessary to cope in their dynamic world. If they respond positively to my touch, I know I have instilled trust in our relationship.
So next time your horse spooks, try a touch of the hand rather than the whip and watch your relationship blossom!
CADENCE HORSE TRAINING
Striving to maintain an encouraging and inclusive culture among fellow equestrians. We're passionate about all things equine including behaviour, biomechanics, training and horsemanship!