This one of the most common questions in the industry: how do I get my horse bombproof? First, I don’t like the term “bombproof.” It implies that a horse will never spook at anything, but horses will be horses, which is to say that horses are prey animals and no amount of training will change that. You can train your horse to be a beginner horse or a child’s pony, but even the best horse will still have a bad day where that leaf blowing across the lawn somehow transforms into a three-headed dragon. The difference between a beginner’s mount and a non-beginner-safe steed is the beginner’s mount should only spook momentarily before remembering all those hours of training. The spook from a beginner’s mount should – at worst – be a snort-and-take-a-bug-eyed-looky-loo before getting back to business.
So, now that we’ve established why I hate the word “bombproof,” let’s move on to the question at hand. How do you get your horse to be beginner safe?
A common method used in modern horse training is desensitizing. The theory behind the practice is to expose the horse to scary objects and teach him that the scary thing won’t go away until he ignores it.
This method can work if done right. However, it is slow and inefficient as a method for training a beginner safe horse because it involves introducing the horse to each scary object one at a time. It is impossible to introduce your horse to every single scary object he is ever going to come across in his lifetime.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t desensitize at all. Quite the opposite. Desensitizing is a good first step, but it’s just that, a first step, not a full-proof method of training a beginner safe horse. Desensitizing, when used as a first step, teaches a horse to think before reacting. That’s all it does. It is a good first step to teaching your horse how to learn.
The Next Step to a Beginner Safe Horse
Once you horse had learned how to think before reacting, it is time to move on to the next stage: ignore the scary objects. If your horse spooks at a scary object, don’t take him over and try to “introduce him to it.” This only reinforces the fact that the object is abnormal and something to be paid attention to. If you want your horse to ignore the object then you need to ignore the object.
When your horse spooks, simply push him forward faster. The faster your horse is moving his feet, the less time he has to find things to spook at. Many horses spook worse at a walk. Don’t let your horse dawdle. A bored horse will always spook. Make him work. Do leg yields, circles, figure eights, anything that involves moving faster and watching where his feet are going. Soon, he will be too busy keeping track of what you are asking to worry about leaf monsters and finding trolls around every corner.
Don’t Baby Your Horse
If your horse never sees things that rattle, clank, and bang at home, then he’ll surely spook at every little thing every from home. Don’t be one of those riders who never lets anyone mow the grass or use a chainsaw while they’re riding. So next time the hubby asks: “Honey, are you ok if I run the chainsaw while you ride?” Consider saying: “Yes, please!” Rather than saying: “Oh, no! You might spook the horse!”
Again, you can’t realistically expose your horse to everything. But if you are able to establish that you expect him to behave no matter what is going on and you will not stop the ride to deal with any funny business, you will be amazed at how quickly your horse stops spooking and becomes that star student you’ve always wanted him to be.
Photo by akfoto