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Teach How To Spook

Don Jessop

Have you got a spooky horse? If you do, I can help you fix it, but not in the way you may think. You see, most trainers talk all about desensitizing horses, so they don't spook. I do that too, don't get me wrong, but it's not my main focus with spooky horses. The main focus is, simply put, making the horse better at spooking, because taking the spook out completely isn't really possible.

Here it is in a nutshell... I teach my horse how to spook in place rather than jump out of their skin. The idea that you can dissolve spookiness to zero isn't based on reality. There will always be some little leftover surprisability in the horse. There is some in me too, after all. Regardless of my age you can still come up behind me and stab my ribs creating a reaction. So rather than try to make the horse never spook, let's teach them how to spook in an appropriate manner.

There's a lot to cover here so let's jump in.

First, what I'm about to teach you is not the same as flooding or desensitization. It's more about positioning. Imagine a rectangle on the ground marking the size of your horse. If you ask your horse to stand in that rectangle then have someone else or even yourself, if you're clever enough to multitask, add some stimulus like leaving a flag or opening an umbrella from different places around your horse, then you can play a game I call box training. In its simplest form, it works like this... if the horse moves out of the box, immediately put him back and reward him. Don't rest anywhere but in the box.

What the horse learns is to respond, not to the umbrella, but to the leader asking him to stand. Now imagine how much better that horse will be with challenges on the trail. A deer jumping out or a bicycle rider coming up from behind will all trigger the same response. "Stand your ground." Or... "spook in place." Don't jump sideways or forward or backwards, just because something new happens.

Trainers that focus on flooding or desensitization have to tackle every single object, you can get a horse used to the umbrella with flooding but then you have to start over with plastic bags and so on. Box training teaches the horse, not to be calm, but instead, to be smart. Eventually, they become calmer, just through repetition, but in the beginning, the goals is smart position training.

To be clear, there is a time a place for all techniques as long a they are humane and ethical. I'm not reinventing the wheel here, just simply describing a method for which your horse can learn to spook in place, we might call it startle, rather than jump out of their skin, which instinct often dictates. A smart horse like this is one any novice can enjoy. So, I encourage you to try it today.

Draw a box in the sand, ask your horse to stand in it, then add the scary stimulus and work to correct his position when he fails. It doesn't take long, and you'll soon notice how his brain kicks in and supports your goals. You'll see how he pays attention to you under pressure rather than some random bothersome noise or sight.
I think you'll find the value my friends.
Thank you for reading. See you all again soon. Don Jessop

Don Jessop - Blog Welcome

Hi! I'm Don Jessop

With Mastery Horsemanship

I write to inspire, educate and encourage you on your horse and personal journey.

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Don Jessop


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