I hope you enjoyed my article in the July/August issue of Horse-Canada called “Make fly spray application a breeze” about using clicker training principles to help you get your horse comfortable being sprayed, and maybe even enjoy it!
Luckily, the bugs here aren’t too bad yet…I probably shouldn’t have said that!
Below is a video to go with the article, showing how I worked with my pony Flash and fly spray. He wasn’t terribly afraid, but just a bit leery; not totally comfortable with it.
You can see in the video where at one point I do go over threshold and he looks a bit worried. See if you can find that moment.
It is ever so important to educate your eye to start to see the reaction before it gets way over threshold. Learn to read the subtle signs that are sometimes quite different for each horse. I have one gelding who gets worry lines above his eyes, another gets tight lips and another starts to nip at the lead, but they are all signs of over threshold stress starting to appear. Pay attention and learn your horse’s signals so that you can adjust your training to keep them feeling confident.
I am lucky enough to have a good friend and fellow TCTT coach, Jen Digate, who has done some fly spray clicker work too and she has graciously allowed me to post a link her video and article here for you to see.
Teaching horses to stand still by allowing flight response
How many times have you heard the phrase, “You better make him stand still!”?
It reflects a common belief system in the horse world; if your horse is afraid of something, the clippers, fly spray, a new blanket, he can only get used to it by being held in position, until he realizes it won’t hurt him, or that he cannot get away. Common equipment like stud chains and twitches are used to inflict severe localized pain in order to deter horses from moving when the stakes are high. It’s part and parcel of the way things have always been done.
Part of this impulse to make a horse stand still reflects a reasonable safety concern. Horses are large animals and when they are scared and unaware they can be dangerous. Teaching them to stand still makes them safer to be around. Wanting to hold them in position is often just a natural human response to control a volatile situation and make it feel safer.
Another part of the impulse to make a horse stand still is lack of empathy. Humans just aren’t flight animals. A horse’s many fears can seem unreasonable to us brave humans, so we dismiss their legitimate concerns and over-power them with force. They learn that whatever they are scared of is less worrisome than the human with a chain over their nose. They choose between two evils, so to speak.
There is a horse training book by Andrew McLean, The Truth About Horses, that clearly states that any “hyper-reactive flight response” (ie moving away, spooking or bolting) should be immediately “disallowed” by demanding a downward transition through the rein or lead with “as much force as necessary.” The theory is, if the horse is allowed to express his flight response, he will become increasingly conflicted and difficult to handle. When talking about getting a horse used to clippers or other scary stimuli, he states,” When dealing with nervous horses, care must be taken not to allow the horse to increase the distance between itself and it’s handler.” The horse must be made to stand still.