Saturday, July 4, 2009

Bomb Proofing

Lets face it, no Horse is really bomb proof. But maybe grenade proof will suffice. Some horses have a temperament that is more conducive to being calm under pressure than others. These, so called, easier horses can lead us to believe that all horses should act the same and learn as quickly. But that is simply not true. There are some horses with a nervousness that is very difficult to mitigate. But I do not believe that it is impossible.

So a few quick words on Bomb Proofing:

There are two categories of things that may spook your horse:

  1. Normal things to which your horse will inevitably be exposed.
  2. Abnormal things which you could never predict.

Let us first cover the things to which you horse will inevitably be exposed. These include Saddles, saddle pads, blankets, bridles, whips, ropes, etc. Be aware that all these things and many more are things to which your horse will be exposed need to be processed by your horse.But it is not enough to bring them forth and let your horse sniff it. That's a good start but the real work is just beginning.

A good example is the horse blanket. The horse should not flinch if the blanket falls off him, if it flaps in his face, if it falls off the rack in front of the horse. When these things happen, and they inevitably will, the horse should not spook and hurt himself or anyone else. He should also not pull back and he should still respond to the lead rope.

In this following video, you can see me really working a blanket around a BLM Mustang. He is somewhat concerned but he is getting more and more calm about it. When the blanket will be on him I do not want to be concerned that if it slips off him, or blows around his head, that he will not come unglued.

It is important that the horse is completely inured to these everyday objects. The list of these objects is limited and easily taken into consideration for everyday sessions of Bomb Proofing. In your sessions, make sure that they are truly proofed. Not just exposed. In the video you will see me really slapping the horse with the blanket. Nature will not be gentle when it blows a stray blanket off the rack or when it falls off the horse so neither am I. I start small but I do not consider the job done until I can apply the object more forcefully than Nature can apply it.

The second list of objects are those things which you cannot predict. There is no way that you will be able to predict what these things will be and when they will jump out to attack your horse. But what you can do is teach the horse how to react to frightful objects. This process will take a long time but it will be well worth the effort. For those who follow the John Lyons school of horsemanship, you will recognize this as spooking in place.

The process is fairly simple. Take a whip or any scary object and bring it quickly to your horse. Your horse can flinch all he wants, but as long as he does not move, immediately take the object away. This shows the horse that if he does not move, the object will leave him alone. If he moves his feet and tries to avoid it, keep the object near him or on him until he stops moving. As soon as he stops moving, then remove it. This teaches him that if he tries to avoid the object or to run away, it will follow him until he stands still. And then it will leave him alone.

It is normal for people to remove an object that frightens a horse as soon as the horse starts dancing around. Unfortunately, what this teaches the horse is that if he dances, jigs, rears, or jumps around, you will remove the frightening object. This is the opposite of what you want your horse to understand.

But if you keep the object near the horse until the horse STOPS moving, he will learn the appropriate response to a frightening object. This gives the horse a tool for managing his fear in a way that will be much safer and more enjoyable.

Bear in mind that nothing is fool proof, as no horse is truly bomb proof. Additionally, no horse will be able to resist bolting in the face of overwhelming fear. But this exercise will definitely reduce the amount of dangerous spooking and reactions that your horse will exhibit from time to time on the trail.


Kathleen said...

Good advice! And very true - no horse is bomb proof. I remember riding a run-away well trained 29 year old mare who was spooked when another horse spooked and started bucking all over the place. You never know what is around the corner!

(ps - everything turned out fine with our unscheduled rodeo...)

Linda - Nickers and Ink said...

Excellent advice.

Isn't it funny how a horse may prove bombproof to a certain potential spooker (such as a plastic bag), only to shy away from the very same object on another occasion?

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Everything's inTACK said...

Great post! My horse tends to spook easily which tends to be dangerous for the both of us. I will definately be trying out some of the techniques you've explained above on my horse.

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