It's generally accepted that we have two key reactions in a horse; fight or flight.
But, what does this mean for you and your horse?
Can we use his natural instincts to enhance rather than destroy your partnership?
As with everything, there's a spectrum of horse behaviour; some have a tendency towards FIGHT, others towards FLIGHT, and some horses will employ one reaction in one situation, and the opposite, when presented with a different set of circumstances.
We've got some examples below - and some reminders of the value of having a Click & Connect Neck Strap in bold!
"He saw that yesterday - why is he scared of it today?!"
"He spooked at the flowerpot every day for a year - now I've moved it and he's spooking because it isn't there!"
"We've just been past that object on one rein with no problem - why is he suddenly scared of it from the other direction?"
I don't believe horses think up these things - snoozing in their stable thinking, next time I go on a ride, I'm going to spook at the postbox - that'll make my rider laugh ... or not!
While we find our horses have tendencies - some are more fearful of noise, of weather, of natural objects, of man-made objects, of things that move, of things that stay still, of things up high, of things on the ground, of things from in front, from the side or from behind - trying to puzzle the horse out is part of what makes riding, and horse owning, so addictive.
It's in the moment and every day gives us opportunities to turn these frightening things into partnership-forming bonds.
The get out here is that we don't always get our timing or actions right.
We don't have much up our sleeve as a rider - we really can only change direction, change speed, or change our own energy level.
At most basic level, we want the horse to focus on us, the rider, trust us far more than he's scared of the spook.
For some horses that's us giving him a nudge and daring him past the spook. Or using a firm voice to take his attention away from the spook and onto us for a treat. Sometimes those backfire. The horse wasn't ready or able to be dared - he'll get cross with us for asking him to do so - don't we realise he's terrified ... and worse-case-scenario, he'd be better off without us! Had we placated and soothed, he'd have trusted us and gone by.
Sometimes you'll placate and soothe and the horse gets more anxious. Why? Well, he now thinks, "Golly this must be really scary - even mum thinks it's scary! Whereas a quick, "Come on" and he would've be inspired by your confidence.
That said, I always prefer to go for the pat then push option. I'd rather he thought I was scared, then realised I wasn't, than he thought eek, that thing ahead is scary, now my rider is being scary and a bully too.. I've nowhere to go!I
And, as I get to know my horse, and he me, so I think he'll trust me quicker, fear less and those situations where you wonder if you'll get yourself or your horse home will become things of the past.
Be clear; Be positive; Be kind and Believe.
But what kind of behaviour might my horse demonstrate if he's in Fight vs Flight mode, and what tricks can you employ to help us build our partnership in these situations.
Note one of our favourite quotes from our clients are from one who said, "The Click & Connect Neck Strap has been a gamechanger for me and my spooky horse", and another who said, "My horse is a saint, but I won't ride without my Click & Connect Neck Strap as we all know, anything can happen!"
For the horse that has a tendency towards fight, he'll actually try to defend or attack a situation. Fight traits might be to buck, kick, bite, rear. He want's to stop, stick around and fight.
If he's in FIGHT mode, you actually want to vere him towards FLIGHT mode. Because he's feeling like a fighter, your 14.2hh might feel 18.2hh as he grows to defend himself.
This is great - it gives you the cue he's gearing up for attack.
For you to join your horse on this enterprise, it may mean donning your brave pants too.
While patience is a virtue, taking the lead often gives the 'FIGHT' horse confidence to get the job sorted.
Left alone, he might use what he considers the best tactic in the situation - his rear may be to try to protect you, and himself!
However, it's rare this behaviour is appreciated.
Rather than reprimand him for his behaviour, consider how to get him from his defensive stance, into an attacking stance;
The key thing is, you join him in his 'fight' and then take the lead.
For the horse that has a tendency towards flight, he'll want to run away and get you out of a fearful or uncertain situation as quickly as possible. The focus word here is away. As a result, the flight horse is often associated with spinning, turning, as well as bolting. He might also be quite bargy and rude - even mowing you down as he tries to get out of the situation. He'll not like to feel trapped so must always feel he has the option to move away. If you do want to encourage him past the object, he might fear this as trapping him and his best option then is to get rid of you (buck you off!) so he CAN run away.
Horses in flight mode often react very quickly and the trick here is to try and buy time to work out the situation and keep his focus on you and away from his fear.
Initially don't try and vere your flight horse into fight mode - it's unlikely making you hold a tarantula is going to cure you of arachnophobia in one go.
The important thing to learn is why the horse has reacted as it has and how you, and he, can stay together and form a partnership.
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