Dealing with the sensitive horse
Does anyone else have a very sensitive horse? My horse is sweet and fairly level headed but he is SO sensitive, I mean one little thing and he doesn't forget it. Example; he stepped on a trot pole while lunging and it rolled underneath him, no harm done and I've got him to go over them 100s of times since but every time we start with poles he refusing initially until i can convince him to go over it then he's fine. But the next time same thing, he balks. He likes to hold on to bad experiences, and although he's not horrible about it I'm worried he's not learning the right things, or else I'm not doing a good job. Does anyone have any tips for building confidence?
Well, one thing I can think of is that maybe, since you know he's such a sensitive horse, you're being anticipatory. One thing I really try to do is push any sort of doubts about the horse I'm riding out of my head.
For example, I rode an four year old OTTB gelding a few summers ago. Some kids set up a slip and slide next to the arena - a big orange one - and while I was riding him he saw it and it surprised him and he started refusing (whirling) to get away from the side of the arena where it was located. A week later when I rode him again, the slip and slide was gone, but he would still act weird (shying randomly), though not as bad, on that side of the arena where the slip and slide used to be.
While I was riding I realized I would tense up and prepare for him to shy, and try to give him cues against shying before we even GOT to the problem side of the arena. As soon as I realized that, and started riding him like he was behaving perfectly, guess what? He started behaving perfectly and never had a problem with that side of the arena again.
I'm not saying don't be prepared. If your horse stops, you want to be able to stay on. I'm saying don't let your body language negatively influence your horse's behavior.
However, that's just a suggestion. It worked with that one horse, but it might not work with yours.
Good observation RomanticLyric.
Mandm I think as you work more and more with any sensitive horse you are going to realize that they aren't really sensitive to their surroundings, they are sensitive to you. A horse that is sensitive to surroundings is generally considered "spooky". You say the horse holds onto bad experiences, this is most likely a confidence thing on your part. Many horses seem to dwell on past experiences, but this is not true, they do not have the cognitive ability to do this for small things like "I stepped on a pole once so now I don't like poles". For stuff like "the last time I got in a small box I got badly injured" for trailering accident horses, yes there are bad memories, but for small everyday things they don't really remember, the handler however does.
It is likely at this point that you've coddled him over poles enough that you've taught him to balk before them. Not everything we train our horses to do is intentional. Now that you've taught him to balk, you need to un teach it by doing it right 10x more than you've done it wrong.
Good luck! And perhaps look into taking a few lessons with a good trainer in your area.
All good ideas, and had thought of this so asked a friend to try him (not telling her his problem with polls) and he did the same thing (this is all lunging btw). As I mentioned, i do encourage him until he goes over it then he will go over it again and again and again but next training session same thing, initially will refuse but then once he goes over it once he's fine. And i was expecting that once he went over without issue a few times it would be fine, that was my expectation not that he would refuse again. I know he is very sensitive to me and that I'm part of the problem so i try to be very quiet and precise, and am getting a coach soon. There are other things as well, like the mounting block and he is worse when other people try to get him up to it he just swings his butt, for me we go one step at a time and he will get close enough usually but sometimes he still sticks his butt out to get his back feet away from it. As I said it's not one issue and it's not just with me, i do make some progress with him but somethings just don't seem to move ahead. How do I help him build up his confidence?
This is the reason why your horse still balked at the pole the first time even though your friend was working with him and not you. It doesn't matter who is working with him when you've trained him that balking the first time is an acceptable response. He's not scared of it, if he was then he wouldn't go over it perfectly fine EVERY time except for the first time. So now you need to expect him to do it right - the first time.
My suggestion would be when you lunge him and ask him to go over the pole for the first time, the second he refuses, pop him on the butt with your whip. (I know I might get flamed for suggesting this, but really, in my opinion, it's the only way to unteach something that has been so heavily reinforced.) Same thing with mounting. My horse liked to do the exact same thing. I'd walk her up to the mounting block and she'd wiggle and move her butt out. Not because she was trying to avoid being mounted, but because she didn't know what I expected of her. As soon as I figured that out I walked her up to the mounting block, as soon as she shifted her body away from it, I took my crop and smacked her rump on the side that she was wiggling toward. I then made her turn a circle and come right back around to the mounting block and there was no wiggling.
I know you said he's a sensitive horse, but my feelings are, that even sensitive horses like knowing what's expected of them. They like guidelines and rules. They like to know where they are in the hierarchy of your relationship, it gives them structure and makes them feel more safe and "confident." You need to "lay down the law." Sure, you could try over several sessions to encourage him to go over it with treats or something. But then, he's going over the pole on HIS terms, because he decided HE wants to, not because you TOLD him to.
This can lead to other problems. What if you're out on the trail and need to cross a log? You don't have several sessions to work with him on it or any treats to bribe him with. You need him to listen to you NOW, not later. Ideally your horse should do most anything you ask without much hesitation and that work starts in the arena, and starts with you telling him what to do and him responding on YOUR terms, not his.
You being more confident and giving him structure and rules will help him relax, become a little less "sensitive," I bet you.
Getting a coach is a good idea.
Thanks, I am a big believer in rules and structure! He's still fairly new to me and the place. I have tried the whip on the opposite side thing with him when mounting but it actually made him worse (more fearful). I just don't want to push him too hard too fast, so i think a coach will help with that. I agree he shouldnt have a problem with the poles though. Thanks for the advice. I think with him it will be finding that fine balance between being firm and being gentle, he's just much more sensitive to my firm side than pretty much all of the other horses i've worked with.
I do have to say though, to all the people who are saying you tought him to do that...
I find it completely false. I know that is the case with some horses, like when they just swerve to the side, becuase you let them do it once, that makes sense. But sometimes it is total fear.
I have been working on my arab with jumping. He jumped one once, knocked it over, and refuses to go over them the first 5 times, maybe the 6th...
But I even sent him to a trainer, just asking if she could train my horse over crossrails. Never mentioned his fear of them, because I didn't want her to anticipate it. She returned him back to me two weeks later, saying "I can't even get him over a cross rail." Now, this is the best trainer in my whole city (big city) and has trained numerous horses, and people for 20 years. First horse she couldn't train.
It can be utter fear, for it is with my horse. I have tried leading him, and just walking over it as though it wasn't there, he wouldn't go over it. I would acually make a line of poles across the arena, and open up the gate and shook a can of grain (he was on one side of the line, gate was on the other.) and beleive me, he loves grain. He didn't come. He flat out pinned his ears, and marched as far away from the poles as he can get.
Not to offend you guys, but reall, that isn't always the issue.
Sorry I didn't answer your question, maybe get him into really trusting you wtih different exersizes, then just add the pole into it, as though its always been there. If that doesn't work, it may be fear.
Okay, but your situation is not her situation. She doesn't have a horse that is refusing something five or six times. She has a horse that consistently refuses the first time and then will go over willingly every time after that.
That's not fear. That's a trained response.
Perhaps you can try Approach and retreat with the poles (to both posters, having crossrail/ground pole issues)...get them to a point where they are still comfortable, then back them away from the pole, until you are finally able to get them over it without them even thinking twice about it.
Often times, when a horse develops a reaction to something, EVEN a 'fearful' reaction it's because they know there is an expectation, but don't understand what that expectation is, so they freak out about something, rather than 'think about it'. A horse that knocks a pole over, and scares itself one time, begins to anticipate that each time, and yet what do we do? We keep expecting them to go over it...not that this is wrong, but sometimes we need to step back and refocus a bit ourselves, and help the horse become 'curious' with the object, rather than force him over it right away...approach and retreat helps with that, as you don't provoke the fearful instinct.
The biggest thing to remember with "high energy" horses is you energy extra important while dealing with them. You have to remain very casual throughout any situation that comes up. This way they don't feed off of your nervous energy.
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