Rocky is a horse at Diettrich Farm that has been here for over ten years. When he arrived, he was terrified to be alone without other horses or be in a stall. He would literally crawl over a fence or break a stall apart to get close to other horses. This makes it almost impossible to take him on a trail ride or even tie him up to put on a saddle.
How do you help a horse build their confidence to be alone or be in a closed environment (like a stall). Many would say just do it until they get used to it. My approach was different. It’s not about the stall or not being with other horses. It’s about confidence in themselves and the human. Many horses have been forced into doing things and never felt safe with humans because they were forced.
I started out really slow. Showing him things that he was afraid of but never making him do something. I wanted to make it his idea. I had a tarp in the arena for him to walk over. At first he would not even come close. So, we just worked around it. I would circle him on a lunge line and ask him to stop, change directions and back up. He got really good at that. Then I would ask him to look at the tarp. He could do that. Then I would ask him to get closer to the tarp. At first he couldn’t even do that but after a while he came closer. This went on a couple of times a week about 45 minutes for each session.
After about a year, we were playing with the tarp and he had gotten really good about putting a foot on the tarp. Well on this day he walked up to the tarp and walked over it like he had been doing it all his life. Since that day he has never hesitated going on the tarp and he has slept in a stall ever since. So you ask what the heck, how did that work. What happens when we don’t force and we help to make it their idea they develop confidence in themselves and then in us because we are not “making” them do it. That is a big joke anyway.
I am 5’2 and I am going to have a hard time “making” any 1000-pound animal do anything. The great news about the confidence in themselves and I is the trickle-down effect is magic. Now when he gets worried he always stops and checks in with himself and the human. We aren’t the problem anymore…..