I went to a lesson today with Cheyenne, since I have missed taking my horse to lessons for the past month after moving to a new stable. There are areas that I need to work on with Cheyenne and one of them is her fear of new things.
Don’t get me wrong about Cheyenne, she is a very good horse and is very brave. She is still a prey animal and needs that instinct to keep her alive. I am, as a human partner, trying to win her loyalty over to being more trusting of my instincts toward her safety, as well as her confidence and courage to look at things at a new level with me as her trusty alpha. If I give her a need to stay courageous with me then we will be courageous and trusting of each other. However, if there is a time to run, I will let her know.
Well, this is one area that I would love to get through with her. But since my instructor tells me that I did really well getting a mini to start to trust me, then I can do the same with Cheyenne, who loves to be with me even more than the minis. I am working really hard to get the minis to trust me as well as enjoy being with me.
So here we are with Cheyenne at the scary doorway of an indoor arena, where she can look out and see sheep, goats, and small cattle. That’s downright scary to a horse who has not seen much of these creatures. What my instructor and I were doing today was allowing her to look out the door and when she lowered her head, lick and chew, or any positive movement in a relaxing manner, we would then ask her to back up, then have her approach again and usually they approach a little closer.
In her approach the second time, she would move up a horse length closer than the last time. That was a huge step for horses in gaining their trust. She would then look at what was going on and check it out. We would stand a rope length away, allowing her to look on her own timeline. When she would show that she was ready to go to a new level she would do as I described above, head drop, softening in the eye, rub her leg with her head, etc.
One big thing that shows that she is really over the scary object or scene is when she decides to leave on her own and look at me with ears up and two eyes squarely on me as if to say, “Okay, what now?” So then I would praise her up and down and give her a treat and move on to new things to see.
One of the things that I have to remember is that I have to stand at a distance from her so that she doesn’t trample me or boss me around to the point where I can get hurt. It is about safety for horse and handler as well as a well-established relationship with the horse first.
One thing we worked on is having her see a big plastic steer in a realistic size. This item always frightens horses, I am told. At first it really made Cheyenne nervous. But it is interesting to see how far she gets with the approach and retreat exercise on this full-sized plastic steer. We at first had her approach and retreat at the rear and then after that toward the face of the fake steer. Cheyenne wanted to make it hard by doing things other than what I was asking her to do. In this phase, it can get ugly because a horse can refuse to do what we ask but if we keep asking then they eventually get the job done. She did go on to touch the nose three times. There was one time she pinned her ears and tried to dominate the object. Interesting, but not too surprising since she is an alpha.
So now my job with Cheyenne — and Gypsy could benefit too — is to get them out and seeing things and getting acquainted with new surroundings with me. I love to have this kind of a relationship with both my horses. I will keep you informed about what I am learning.