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suggestions for building confidence in a nervous horse
My 5yo Standardbred has been having some confidence issues, such as reluctance to go when in a new environment (to the point of rearing and spinning) and becoming nervous and "figgity" when out of his usual routine(which I understand is normal, however put him in a trail class where he has to focus on potentially scary objects and my cues, he is perfectly level headed). Getting from the horse trailer/barn to the ring/destination seems to be the issue. He is much better when he is following another horse, it is when he is in the lead or by himself that he gets really nervous and doesn't want to go any farther. I try circling, backing, letting him just stand and look for a moment, lots of change of directions, but he stands his ground and wont go forward. we have this issue when leaving the ring too. This is a new behaviour in the last few months, we used to go out to the neighbours field for long rides just me and him with no issues at all, I felt more secure with him than I had with any other horse. Looking back I cant recall anything that has changed in his routine that would provoke this but obviously something has. I am looking for some suggestions to get his confidence back when it is just me and him. And for him to learn to trust me that I wont steer him into danger. All suggestions welcome:D
How is he when you're leading him? Is he still fearful or does he relax then? Sounds like he's getting worse rather than better, so good on you for recognizing that you need to change something up.
I can say that with my boy, he was getting much better about not being spooky, and then went through a phase where it was as if he was seeing what I would let him get away with rather than honest fear. We're pretty much past that and settling into 'reliable trail horse' mode most of the time now.
My horse will try to slow down when there is something scary/something he thinks he can pretend is scary, and if that works, then he'll stop and/or try to spook, spin, or run. So for us, the key is to keep him moving. Moving forwards. Backwards (in fear or disobedience) is NEVER an option as IMO it leads to very bad habits and potential rearing. So, when I feel him begin to want to slow, I squeeze him on. If he ignores that, I kick. If he ignores that, I either slap him on the rear or turn him a different direction (left, right, at an angle away from whatever he's so worried about) and kick him that direction. So long as the feet don't stop, he's listening to me (at least a little bit), and he's not going to pull his nonsense.
I am not much of the 'let the horses stop and sniff/look' camp. A) because my horse gets more rather than less tense when we do that and blows up and B) I think he should be listening to me when I tell him to ignore it and move on, not making up his own mind (as generally, he goes with the wrong answer). See the 'this is how we train a fearless trail horse' sticky- I think Cherie has it nailed.
He has lived his life around nearby horses which represent herd security to him. How I've helped a horse overcome this is to begin walking away and as soon as you feel/see his tension, return and walk him back. Take him back and forth, always going away until he's tense. What is happening to him is you are raising his stress level then as you return it's being lowered so it high then low, high then low. Gradually you will be able to get him farther away as he's learning he will return. Sometimes set a feed pan with a few treats so he has something to look forward to. He will begin to seek out the pan as it is gradually moved farther away. You may have to spend an hour each day for a few days or a week until you are well out of sight of the barn .
What's his diet like? My horse is bloody idiot if she is on grass and I have to supplement her with magnesium to keep her attention on me and not on the purple elephants hiding behind blades of grass.
He is on a grass round bale and gets 1/2 scoop of low starch feed 2x a day. He is a little better when I am leading. We did have some progress today, a few of us went on a trail ride and we were able to ride side-by-side up front instead of following but I still had to have my leg on him most of the time instead of him wanting to go on his own, but it is a baby step! Thanks for the great suggestions I will try them out.
Sounds like he has gotten buddy sour, horses are herd animals he needs to look to you as his leader when he goes away from his four legged herd. The easy way to solve the problem is make him work hard, put his feet to work lots of changes of directions, transitions, yield hindquarters, do the work where he wants to be near the herd and when he is needing air take him away to rest. Show him that being with the herd equals work and being away with you equals rest. While he is catching his air rub him, and do desensitizing, show him you are capable of being his leader and he needs to look to you for safety. Don't try and take him away and wait for him to balk, put him to work right where he is and wants to be. You have to show him you are worthy of being of his herd leader and the decisions you make will keep him safe. Be safe.
Try doing all you are doing but on Long Lines (ground driving). Make him leave the ring and WALK ON. Make him leave the other horses and WALK ON.
You have much more control on the ground if he rears or gets stupid on you. Ground driving he can be made to go forward and away from that which he does not want to leave. If he rears you will have a whip and you will drive him FORWARD and USE that whip to get what YOU want. The object is to not allow evasions to continue and to make evasions (such as rearing) unpleasant and NOT a way to get out of work.
Get him moving and keep him moving. You may have a few battles.
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