“Horses are scared only of two things: things that move and things that don’t move”.
If you have a spooky dressage horse, this old adage may ring specifically true. Talo is indeed a spooky dressage horse, but during the past year we’ve been working on that and he has improved immensely. We are trail riding most days, discovering new places and I take advantage of every opportunity to desensitize him. A dead helium balloon flying around? Great, let’s become friends with it. A rag on the floor freaking you out? Let’s get closer and see that it doesn’t bite. A hose looks just like a snake? Let’s investigate! Talo is learning to be more relaxed, but that doesn’t mean he’ll ever be a bomb-proof horse.
Today (Saturday) we went hacking outside. It all went rather well, Talo was behaving nicely, eating grass and listening to me when I needed his attention. Towards the end of the ride, he spotted a guy and his dog, hundreds of meters away. He was very excited but handled it well, up until the point the dog started barking. Talo actually loves dogs, but this one was far away and therefore a dangerous monster out to get him. Talo did a 180 and cantered back up the path. I stopped him, and we discussed listening to my commands for a few minutes. And then I decided it was enough and we can go home.
Talo knows the way home well, and whenever we get on the road to the stables, he usually relaxes a great deal, because he knows we’re on our way back to the food and his stall and his peace and quiet. This time, though, something weird has happened – he FROZE. He point-blank refused to go down the path he knows so well. He looked at a certain spot and went completely stiff, and then TURNED AROUND and started walking very fast AWAY from the stables. Nothing like that has ever happened to me with him. I mean, sure, he refused going to certain new places from time to time, but turning away from the way home? That was new and bizarre, to say the least.
I learned along the way to trust Talo’s senses and instincts. Sure, he can freak out over a pizza box, but when he senses something is out there, he’s usually right. I may not be able to see it, but it’s there. Still, I couldn’t see anything or hear anything. No cars, no dogs, no suspicious people. Not even a sassy-looking crow. I tried getting him back on track, but he was scared. He collected himself like a grand-prix horse and just stood there, super tense and scared. It was a very dramatic response, so I knew he’s sensing something out there. After a few failed attempts, I was beginning to think I may need to dismount and walk him the rest of the way. I was fine with that, since it wasn’t far away. Still, I gave it another shot, and though Talo was still scared, he braced himself and went in like a champ. I guess the need to get home won, eventually. And lo and behold, as we passed one of the bushes, something rustled inside it. Even I could hear and see it clearly. I didn’t see what kind of animal it was (most likely a fox or a porcupine), but I realized Talo was right – there WAS something in the bushes and he had every right to be scared. We passed the scary point, and got back in the stables in one piece.
I was VERY proud of him. It was a scary moment, but he dealt with his fear and listened to me, and he didn’t do anything particularly dangerous. He was just scared – and he had a very good reason to be.
Horses can be super silly sometimes, but you really need to learn to trust their instincts. When they tell you there’s something in the bush, there usually is.