Clicker Training Horses – My Horse is Afraid of…

Clicker Training Horses 

My Horse is Afraid of…

If you have a horse that has a powerful fear of something you are most definitely not alone.  It is so common for horses to be afraid of something, and often we just don’t know why.

There are as many documented ways to try to tackle fears with our horses as there are fears.  Many of them will not work, and worse will make the fear even greater.

When I tackle fear in horses I try to look at it from the horses point of view.  I try to think how I would feel if it were me with the fear and someone else was trying to teach me that there is nothing to be afraid of.  A recent book I was reading tackled this topic in relation to OCDs (obsessive compulsive disorders) and it was nice to read that studies showed I had definitely been taking the right approach (from the horses point of view).

The book looked at some studies were done on how efficacious various approaches were. The first approach was about the clinician being in control…..

If you are afraid of a spider and I tell you that in no more than an hour you will be holding the spider, and I will bring it to you, if you have a fear of spiders then you might be out of the room before I can get the sentence finished.  If you can accept that I will be determining the speed at which I will approach you with this spider then you might stay.  Then I start to walk towards you.  How do you feel ?

As time passes I keep taking steps towards you with no warning and without asking you how you feel.  I would be assessing you to see if you look like you are calming down and then take a step towards you when you look ok.  But what if your underlying emotions were not matching your cool exterior.  Or, what if you figured its best just to stand still and get this over and done with.  I might be changing your behaviour, but am I changing your emotions about spiders ?

Taking this approach is less likely to change your emotions, and in many people this approach can worsen the fear of the spider.  The interesting thing about the research that was done on this approach was that the studies only reported results on patients who completed the studies.  As such, the approach looked successful.  However they did not take in to account the number of people who refused to take part when they knew what was involved, and those who could not take any more part way through and refused to continue.

About 33% of those approached (who had OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)) to take part in “flooding” study refused to take part.  Approx. 66% started the study and approx 33% finished the study.  However, only the results on those completing 33% were reported and the approach of flooding deemed to be a great success.

Now if we flip things on their head and look the results of some other work that was done we see some very different results.  Some newer studies put the patient in control of the thing they feared.  In other words, the patient got to approach the spider on their terms !  The patient got to determine when they took each step in their recovery, they told the physician when they felt emotionally ready to move on.  They were empowered.  The results of these studies were quite different to the earlier flooding studies (once the refusals and drop outs were taken in to account in the results of the first studies) and this approach showed great results.  And, more importantly, the results of these newer studies lasted !

If we think about this with our horses, we very often try to take the first approach to get them to do something they are not so keen on.  Often we can be doing this inadvertently because we, for example, need to get to work.   If we have a time scale to stick to, or a goal to meet then often we can get hung up on that criterion and forget about what we really need to be working on…the emotions.  We get them past the scary thing today but tomorrow it might be worse because we flooded them the day before, we never gave them a chance to change their feelings about scary thing.

And if we got big and ugly when they got scared then they have even more reason to fear the scary thing, so we may well change their feelings about it….for the worse.

Instead of this, we could empower our horses to be in control of how and when they approach the scary thing.  The only rule is that we are going to approach it.  After that, they set the pace.  Not only will we get results, but we will get better results that will last because we didn’t just deal with the behaviour, we helped the horse change the underlying emotions.

Alexandra Kurland deals with fear in one of her DVDs.  For more information on the DVD follow the link.  If you have a horse who has fears and you would like some help with overcoming them, feel free to contact Amanda.

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2 Responses to Clicker Training Horses – My Horse is Afraid of…

  1. hi,
    can you tell me the name of the book you mentioned?


    • smaarthorses says:

      Hi Martina

      The book is called the Mind and Brain, and Neuroplasticity. Its a heavy going book with a solid basis in nueroscience, nueroanatomy and so on….as a physiologist I loved it.


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