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Teach Your Horse to Love Scary Things – Body Language

Relaxed and Curious Behaviors

Body Language and Behavior: Exploring

horse_exploring• Relaxed body
• Soft mouth, eyes, and ears
• Sniffs ground
• Glances up at object
• Easy to look away from object
• Moves slowly to explore the environment

What to Do: Exploring

Follow your horse and let her move around the area.

Slowly and casually approach the scary object. Avoid marching directly up it; instead, take a less direct route and let your horse check out the object first.

Body Language and Behavior: Attentive

horse_attentive• Pays attention to object; gathers information
• Ears forward
• Eyes focused on object
• Attention is easily shifted away from the object

What to Do: Attentive

Perfect! This is the SAFE distance, and your horse shows “attention without tension.”

Slowly stop your horse and wait until she is no longer focused on the object.

Reward with a treat or scratch. Make a smooth, arching turn and casually move away from the object.

Too Aroused and Over Threshold Behaviors

Body Language and Behavior: Fixated

  • horse_fixatedModerate arousal
  • Tension in body and face
  • Intent focus on object
  • Air scents; breathes hard
  • Leans body toward object
  • Has a hard time shifting attention; may turn to flee

What to Do: Fixated

Caution!  Your horse could go either way at this point.

Turn your horse to face sideways or away from the object.  This will break the fixation and help her relax.

Use treats, scratch, and kind words of praise to create a positive association with the object, and casually move away.

Body Language and Behavior: Frozen/Fidgety

  • horse_frozen_fidgetyMouth closed, lips tight and pursed
  • Ears may flick forward and back
  • Braced; leans back or takes a few steps away
  • Makes short, quick foot movements
  • Won’t take treats or gobbles them
  • Unable to shift attention

What to Do: Frozen/Fidgety

Too close!  Move away from the object before your horse spins and bolts.

Move to the SAFE distance, and give your horse time to recover.  Do something easy and fun that involves scratches and treats.

When she calms down, you can try again but don’t get so close!

Body Language and Behavior: Flight/Fight

  • horse_flight_fightTakes action!
  • Moves to end of lead; pulls away from object
  • Backs quickly or swings in a wide arc away from object
  • Spins to bolt
  • May strike or rear if trapped

What to Do: Flight/Fight

Whoops!  Your horse is in flight mode.

The best you can do is to follow her without making a fuss, and move to the SAFE distance

When she calms down, you can try again but don’t get so close!


Courtesy of Robin Foster, PhD, CAAB, CHBC ©2014 Adaptive Animals, LLC