The element of surprise is what makes spooks so devastating. Give yourself an edge by learning ahead of time what to expect when something worries your horse. It's not hard to do, because his limited mental inventory offers him just two possible responses-fight or flight-when he faces a scary new situation. The option he chooses more consistently puts him in one of two basic equine personality groups.
- ... reacts like a frightened deer to almost everything that happens and may need a lot of desensitization from the ground during training just to tolerate your aids from the saddle. Otherwise, he explodes away from your leg, yelping, "Oh, no! Don't touch me!"
- He'd rather quit than fight when the going gets tough. Typically, this kind of sensitive, easily discouraged soul wants to run away (spin, bolt, even run backward) in a blind panic from scary trail situations.
- ... reacts to such training demands as a tap of your stick behind your leg, to reinforce your aid, with pinned ears, a wringing tail, a buck, or a head twisting around to bite you. (Your best response? Instead of the "Oh, pretty please" that reassures the Flee-er, use your stick again-with more authority.)
- He says, "I hate this and you can't make me do it" - as opposed to, "I can't do it" - when the work gets hard. While this in-your-face attitude is a training challenge, it has its plus side. On the trail, the Fighter confronts frightening situations and tries to work them out, instead of running away as a first response.
This article first appeared in the March, 1997 issue of Practical Horseman magazine