A Therapy Horse
I am buying a pony, and the therapy place that is buying the barn love her to death and want to use as a therapy horse, I dont mind, it will give her something to do. She is already kid broke, and is super sweet. How do I go by making her bomb proof enough to be ready in June for the therapy lessons? They are already going to be doing there own things to help her get ready but I want her to be prepared!
It's been so long since your post, I'm not sure this will help you. But I'll post anyways just in case it can. We bought an untrained pony and had to train her ourselves.
I think the thing that helped our pony the most was simply taking her for walks in residential areas. No rider, just walk her on a lead line. Watch close for any sign of nervousness. If she acts nervous, pause and let her sniff and look. If she stays nervous, retreat but return to the area or try to find the same kind of situation the next walk. Each walk ask her to get a little closer based on her level of nervousness. Don't push them to the point that they feel the need to bolt. Take it very slowly and watch them closely. For our pony, we stood still for erect ears and blowing, then asked her to go forwards a step or two, let her pause and look some more until she relaxed a little, then a couple more steps, stop and let her look etc. If her feet acted nervous then we retreated a few steps. We didn't push too much each time and it didn't take many days until she'd just walk right past and ignore it. The number of things that made her nervous got less and less. I wouldn't do this with any horse your not big enough, strong enough etc to handle if they seriously spook. I did this with a little pony and the first walk was just out to the driveway to stand a ways from the road until several cars had gone by. They didn't seem to make her too nervous so we got closer to the road and closer until she was standing right next to it as the cars passed. It took 3 walks if I remember right before she was standing right next to the road.
They get exposed to so much in walks like these and our pony just loves them. It took little time before nothing seems to phase her any more. She learned how to open gate latches and I think it was because she missed her walks when we stopped doing this daily...lol. For us and her, handling any fear in baby steps worked wonderful. She learned to stop, stand still, look and listen, then follow my lead for how to respond instead of bolting.
Our pony started to spook when she heard feed bags rustle after she got bit by a rattlesnake. In this she would bolt. Baby steps with this was to take an empty feed bag and just leave it loose in her pen with her and her goats. Its a large enough pen for her to run in...she could get away from the bag enough not to panic when the breeze would rustle it or the goats inspected it. When her response to that improved, we put a little treat for the goats in it so they rustled it around and dragged it all over getting the feed out. We did that until she seemed relaxed when they played with it. Then we stuffed it with hay so it took a long time for the goats to empty it. Then we reduced her hay a little bit. In the end she gave up being afraid of the sound and would go over and check the bag for hay and treats but this one took her a long time. I think the sound reminded her of the snake as it didn't used to scare her.
I'm not a trainer...but these things worked for us.
We got a new therapy pony over the summer and it took forever to train him. He's very smart and gets bored easily, and was also quite spooky and hated sidewalkers. He has just recently gotten into the program.
I'm glad you're working with your horse before he even goes to the therapeutic barn. If someone had laid some groundwork with our guy, it would have been so much easier.
One of the biggest things you can do is mock therapy lessons. You could put a surcingle on him because a lot of therapy barns have their horses tacked with 'handles', surcingles with - you guessed it - a handle. Have someone on his back who will do all sorts of things - wiggle, make a lot of noise, rocking back and forth, etc. like a kid going for therapy would. Have two people sidewalking closely, even holding onto the person on your horse. Make sure you or another confident leader is leading in case your horse isn't thrilled by this :) Eventually, you can work up to doing other stuff around him like having other people toss a ball around or burst into applause near him while you're doing your therapy session. Above all, make sure he is thinking instead of reacting.
Also, any problem areas you know your pony has - things flapping in the wind, things rolling in front of her, etc, should be worked on.
Hope I helped!
I would agree with the above! I have worked with children and adults in Therapeutic Riding and Hippotherapy. Before I would bring out a new game, toy or item to interact with the client I was working with, I would give it to the barn manager prior to the session (a day early if possible) to have her be sure it wouldn't bother or spook the horse. The barn manager at most sites (if they have a site manager) should work with the horses with a variety of toys, equipment to make sure they are OK with it. Also, I used a surcingle (1 handle, 2 handle or 0 handle) for every session. I primarily used a 5 star saddle pad (1" thick) adapted with a sewn on 3" piece of webbing which then held a "D" ring on each side. This supported the English leathers and peacock stirrups for the patient to use. (I couldn't attach the leathers to the surcingle as it was way too far forward for correct leg position.)
I hope all is going well!
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