overcoming urge to bolt during training

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overcoming urge to bolt during training

Post by Admin on Fri Feb 19, 2010 9:49 am

Dear trainers: I am learning from a Natural Horsemanship CD right now for my 3 year old filly. It is going really well. We needed it badly. She is pretty spooky. When I do my despooking with her, I have to tie her to an end post in my pasture because she bolts when she sees something unfamiliar and I can't hold her by hand. I move slowly and then step up the pressure after a while, but when I do each NEW thing, she pulls back and tries to take off. I can tell the despooking is helping in general because she is MUCH better than she was, but I am really worried about when I start her under saddle. I hate horses that bolt! Can this habit be turned around? I know about the one rein stop and will do that with her when the time comes, but if there is some way to maybe rewire her to not feel like she has to bolt, I want to try that. Will the despooking like this eventually win her over, or is it like, once a bolter always a bolter?

Thanks so much, Christie from Montana

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Re: overcoming urge to bolt during training

Post by Ed Dabney on Fri Feb 19, 2010 10:17 am

Please, never never tie a horse up to perform despooking! This is completely counter-productive and potentially dangerous to you and the horse. The horse is already afraid then tying her up will make her feel even more frightened, restricted and claustrophobic. In order to survive in the wild, the horse's instincts, as a prey animal, demand that she flee from anything that frightens her. Tying her and then introducing scary items to her, no matter how gradually, will only cause panic and teach her to be frightened of everything.

Before starting despooking sessions make sure you have taught her several control exercises on a lead rope. On the ground you should be able to back her up by wiggling the rope, move her hindquarters and shoulders independantly left and right with very light pressure from focusing on the body part you want to move, then pointing at it and then slowly swinging the end of your lead rope at it. You should be able to send her forward around you (lungeing) at walk and trot both directions. For a full description of our ground exercise program see our DVD, Six Keys to Harmony, at http://www.eddabney.com/video.htm When she is responding lightly to your requests for all these movements then you are ready to progress to despooking with a hope of being able to control her during the process.

When working on despooking be in a round pen or small paddock with good, safe fences. Have her on a halter and a 12 foot lead rope and allow her to move her feet in a circle around you. Keep tipping her nose back toward you so she stays bent around you. If she moves her nose away from you she can run away or drag you around the corral. Start your despooking with just a towel. It moves but doesn't make noise. Keep it small in your hand and use it to rub her like a brush. Bring it first to her withers then branch out to her neck, shoulder and top line. This is the place that a horse can most easily accept a new item touching them. This is the area where horses touch each other for mutual grooming. Don't go to the nose first. Horses are often frightened there by a new smell or something touching their sensitive muzzle.

Stand near her shoulder. If you are on her left side keep the lead rope fairly short and coming across your left palm and crook of your thumb with your hand open and rubbing her on the upper neck. This keeps your left elbow high to block her from biting you plus your open hand rubbing her neck is a reassuring touch for her and you will be able to feel when she tenses up. Your lead rope is in your left hand with very little slack between your hand and the halter so if she gets scared and starts to leave you can turn her nose back toward you and have her circle around you instead of bolting away. With your right hand you will be rubbing the scary item on her with slow easy rhythm and lots of retreat, taking it away when she is standing calmly accepting it. Use lots of approach and retreat with the scary items. When she is calm with it then slowly let the towel, bag, etc. become larger and move faster. Do all this on both sides of the horse. Do not flop it over to her other side unless you have already introduced it over there otherwise she may be frightened seeing it from her other eye and jump toward you.

Your goal in all despooking is that you never frighten her to the point that her feet move. Your job is to build her courage and to increase her trust in you, not to make her afraid. This means you must go extremely slow and small with lots of retreat when she is calmly accepting. If she becomes frightened and begins to move then you made a mistake by letting the item move too fast, be too loud or too big. If she does move away then you must keep the item in generally the same position it was in when she moved so she learns that moving away does not make the scary item disappear. Only standing calmly makes the scary item disappear. In all horse training the learning is in the release so if you take the scary item away when she moves then you have taught her to bolt.

Progress through numerous sessions of despooking gradually working up to scarier items - a small plastic bag, a larger plastic bag or feed bag, a slicker, a bag of cans, a tarp, a flag, aluminum foil, plastic jug with rocks, an umbrella, etc. With every item start over slowly with it bunched up small in your hand rubbing her with it first at the withers then gradually rub her all over with every item. The last areas you would approach would be the face, legs and belly. Gradually become faster and more casual with the item but use lots of retreat. Don't focus on the item. Stay focused on her, talking calmly to her and rubbing her on the neck with your lead rope hand. Use your imagination and try to introduce as many scary items to her as possible. You can't show her everything she might ever encounter but you can teach her how to trust you and how to handle her fears. For a full description of our despooking program see our DVD, Foundation Training, at http://www.eddabney.com/video.htm Please note - Never tie anything to the horse or saddle that you want to use for despooking because then if she gets away from you the scary thing is attached and chasing her. She might stop running after she goes through three fences, injurys herself and is totally traumatized.

It's our responsibility to properly prepare our horses to go out into the human world we've created for them. We must introduce our world to them in a way they can easily understand and gently accept.

Ed Dabney

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Re: overcoming urge to bolt during training

Post by Paul Williamson on Sat Feb 20, 2010 2:55 pm


Hi there,

Yes, she should mature into a calmer and braver adult but she will need your help. The most important thing is to appear confident and reassuring when dealing with her. If you feel yourself tense up in anticipation of what she might do when she sees this, hears that, or feel ... well, you get the idea - You need to be very calm around her and act as if there's nothing out of the ordinary going on, even when there is.

Having said that, I believe you are currently trying too hard. Yes, you are doing it for the best interest of the horse but if she is freaking out at every new thing you introduce to her, it's time to step back and let her get over the last object at her own pace. Desensitizing is a good thing but only when the horse is psychologically mature enough to take it in and draw the right conclusions. Going at a pace your horse cannot handle will make her even more nervous. You can just imagine her wonder what you are going to throw at her next - especially if she can sense you tensing up as well.

Try and build her confidence in you and herself by doing other things together, things that are not necessarily scary but pleasant too. And teach her simple cues to move forward and stop again. She will find a comfort zone in knowing what to do next in a scary situation and if she knows certain exercises she is very likely to find comfort in performing these even when a scary object is introduced. Every time she has gotten through a scary situation in one piece, she will feel stronger afterwards but she should not be pushed too hard or restrained.

Good luck with it all.

Best, Paul
Paul Williamson

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