So I put him in the corral with a calf with our trainer there. He broke his leg trying to jump out the of pen.
yeah, that's called "flooding"- you force the animal to "face its fears". Occasionally it works, but most often the animal freaks out and gets even more afraid and/or injures itself and others.
Desensitizing a scared animal requires you keep the animal below its "freakout" threshold while exposing it to the scary thing, and then gradually, oh so gradually, try to raise the threshold of comfort.
Trying to ride this horse past the cows and through the bikes is "flooding", and I suspect no matter how many times you do it, the horse will be afraid, and possibly get more and more afraid- fear and anticipation of fear begets greater fear.
So you'll have to try some other, more gradual approach. With the bikes, getting someone to ride a bike far away from the horse at first, and then gradually getting closer, can be easily done.
I'm not sure how the area appears vis a vis the cows, but perhaps you could hand-graze the horse where it can sort of see the cows but isn't too close, and slowly, oh so slowly, move closer?
Chasing the scary object can often help horses learn to control their fears about something, so having your friend ride along with you following at various speeds would be a good exercise to try.
"Chasing" being the operative word here - I will give you some advice being a carriage driver and also a cyclist...and having done the below with local riders whose horses exhibit fear of either my carriage or my bike:
1. Have your friend STAY IN FRONT OF your horse, park the bike standing next to it. You handwalk your horse up to the bike to say "hello". Have a horse cookie on the bike seat and let the horse find it. Keep feeding horse cookies as your horse sniffs the bike.
2. You walk your horse back and away about 10-12 feet, and mount up. Face the bike and your friend who are standing about 10-12 feet in front of you. Have your friend start handwalking her bike away from you about 1 second BEFORE you ask your horse to move forward. Verbally tell your horse to start "chasing the bike". You want your horse to herd that bike (both of you at a walk) so that the horse feels alpha - rather like a sheepdog herding sheep.
3. At about 6 paces stop your horse. Call to your friend to stop walking her bike. You want the bike to continue moving away from the horse even after your mare stops. It can only be a foot or so more distance that the bike rolls after the horse stops, but YOUR HORSE MUST STOP FIRST. The idea you are trying to instill is that the bike will continue "running away" even when the horse stops chasing it. VERY IMPORTANT to the horse's mindset. Pat your horse and tell her she's a good girl. Then ask her in a smiling voice if she wants to chase the bike again. Make it a game that has you feeling good and her hearing that confidence in your voice.
4. Have your friend start walking her bike again. Give your horse a loud cluck, and say "chase that bike!" and start walking your horse after it (chasing it again) a second later.
Do Step 3 again. Then 4. Rinse and repeat 3 and 4 about 5 times, or until your horse starts to drop her head, ears relax, or her back lose tension. Then call it a day. Pat her and loudly annouce "Good girl! You showed that bike a thing or two, didn't you!"
Dismount. Tell your friend to slowly walk her bike forward while you handwalk your mare faster to catch up to the retreating bike, until the mare's nose is about a foot or so away from the bike. Stop your horse, have your friend stop her bike, then put a horse cookie on the bike seat and make sure your horse sees it. If she walks forward to get the cookie from the seat give LOTS of praise. Feed more cookies.
End your lesson by having your friend walk away first with the bike back to the barn. Then you follow with the mare. Park the bike in front of the mare where you unsaddle, and put a cookie or two on the seat. Let the mare figure out she can exact a cookie toll from the bike.
Next day do the same thing. Exactly. Your goal will be a relaxed horse herding a walked bike before you take the next step of a relaxed horse herding a ridden bike. Always, always, always have the bike running away from the horse for the initial lessons until your horse is 100% dead calm with the bike in close proximity.
We do lessons like this all the time teaching prospective driving ponies about the carriage (just substitute cart for bike), and it works really well as a permanent lesson that builds horse confidence. By the time we're done, they can have a huge coach and 4-in-hand thunder past at a ground shaking trot, or an entire peloton of cycles whipping past at 20+ mph, and those ponies won't even flick an ear because it is all ho-hum to them.
Just like teaching a horse anything else, repetition done slowly and gently, and taking your cues from the body language of the horse to know when to go to the next step, is critical. I've desensitized a number of my neighbor's horses to my bike, and made lots of new friends in the process. Individual cyclists are generally pretty careful around flightly horses or when they see a rider, and many are more than happy to stop and let your horse recover if they see their presence is possibly the cause of your problem. Just be aware that their being on the road isn't a safe place for them to stand for long unless they can get off on a shoulder.
Always carry a pocketful of horse cookies with you, too, to give to the cyclists. Before long your horse will be making a beeline and trying to mooch off of every cyclist they see. (Ask me how I know this - especially with one pony in particular that figured out EVERYONE he met, including the massive VDOT trucks doing road work, carried horse cookies just for him! )
Let us know how you make out.
Last edited by gothedistance; Mar. 28, 2013 at 04:29 PM.
I ride Fairhill with many bikers. Most are very polite...some not so much. I found that walking towards the bike coming at me worked well. If the rider stopped (a rule at FH) I encouraged them to ride on towards me. Mare got used to them. Even got hit once coming around a corner. Didn't faze her. She got so used to bikes that my friend caught a tow uphill holding onto her saddle pad! (I know not too smart) As far as cows, she lived in a pasture with them when I bought her. My OTTB lived in a pasture next to them. No problem.
I also agree with the chasing thing. I know a foxhunter who chases deer with all his new horses. They can jump out at his horses with no problem.
As far as the bikers rushing at you on the road. I agree with getting a pro to help you. As for the bikers themselves...how would they like it if a semi blew them off the road. You can't fix stupid.
When your friends come over to help maybe do some bike stuff around the farm before actually going out on the road. I always reccommend hunter pass to train horses to trail ride with others maybe this could be utilized to help your horse get over bikes a bit. Ride with bikers and you single file in a line. Have your horse in front. Have the last biker move over and pass you slowly then get in front of you and keep moving. 2nd biker the same. Then you pass the bikes and keep playing "leapfrog" with increase of speed of bikes passing your horse. As far as the cow issue, maybe see if you can get one of the natural horsemanship trainers to take your horse to a team penning or maybe the farmer where the cows are located would let you work your horse in the field(with trainer riding).