Wash Those Fears Away
"Prepare your horse for the possible, the probable and the inevitable." Pat Parelli
It is probable that at some point in your horse's life your vet will prescribe cold hosing of the legs as a therapy. How do you convince your prey animal that the hose and the water will not kill him?
Remember that everything we do with horses is simply some form of Game 1, 2 or 3 (Friendly, Porcupine, Driving). We want the hosing to be Friendly, but many horses perceive it as Driving.
The Driving Game uses rhythmic pressure, but the Friendly Game is rhythmic motion. Its purpose is to desensitize the horse and help him to become more tolerant and brave. Regardless of the stimulus, use the four R's of the Friendly Game- rhythm, relaxation, retreat and reapproach. Use retreat and reapproach with steady, predictable rhythm while keeping relaxation in your body. Smiling helps! You're going to start by simulating with the end of the 12-foot line, progressing to the hose and eventually using the hose with water running out of it.
With the lead rope over your arm or in your hand and your body relaxed, use rhythmic motion to approach, retreat and reapproach the hrose. Ideally, retreat before the horse moves. At first you may miss it, so use that information as your baseline for how far to go. Try again. Observe closely. Approach slowly and retreat quickly before the horse reacts! As you retreat in a timely way the horse will begin to relax. As it does, change the rhythm to approach-stay-retreat-pause-reapproach-stay-retreat.
Be sure you can rub the horse with the rope before using the hose and can rub with the hose before turning on the water. Once the water is flowing, it is highly likely that as you approach and retreat some drops will fall on the horse. If he moves now, keep the rhythm going (approach-retreat-reapproach-retreat) quickly until he slows down or stops. Then give him a big retreat and wait until he licks his lips. Fairly quickly the horse will move less and less, and he will stop more and more quickly. Before you know it, he will not move as you splash the water on. Retreat! Soon you will be able to pause with the water on the legs- at first for a moment or two, then for a second or two, then longer and longer. Your partner will progress from intolerance to tolerance to acceptance, and eventually, as he discovers the cooling, pain-relieving effects of the cold water, even to enjoyment. Your prior and proper preparation savvy will turn a potentially challening situation into just another great Parelli Friendly Game!
A note of caution!
Right Brained Introverts can look as if they are accepting while they are still intolerant because their reaction is to freeze in place vs. move. Watch for these subtle signs:
*Hard, staring eyes, no blinking- often with the head up and body tense; horse is frozen, likely to explode!
*"Airplane" position of the ears often accompanied with head tilted as if looking out the top of the eye.
*Starting block position (hind leg appears cocked but is actually braced wide under the body, as opposed to a relaxed cocked leg, which is relatively straight from the hip to tail)- the horse is half gone!
*Ribs arcing away, hindquarters arcing toward the stimulus or you.
*Not breathing or shallow breathing.
If you see any of these, slow down, retreat more quickly and wait longer before you reapproach- long enough for the horse to relax (signs of relaxation are licking, blowing, blinking, lowering the head, etc.). It may take several minutes or up to an hour and a half! As Pat says, with a smile, "I've never seen it take longer than two days."