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Crunching leaves a scary obstacle!

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  • Crunching leaves a scary obstacle!

    I live in the AZ desert and my horse by all accounts is unflappable or at least I thought.....until we walked on dried leaves! I was on a new trail, encountering the usual in AZ, rocks, cactus etc, and we came upon an area that looked like heaven to me....a few real trees with leaves! Not scrubby bushes but real trees. Well, the moment my horse took his first step on the crunching dried leaves he literally jumped like he was walking on fire! I waited a few minutes for him to calm down and tried again with a horse walking first ahead of him....same reaction. This was the first time I ever had to get off to maneuver around a scary thing and I was literally shaking like a leaf inside

    Soooo, my question is...what is the protocol for handling scary stuff on the trail and how can I better prep him for next time.

  • #2
    Had to chuckle at this:-) Your horse worries about crunchy leaves, mine would probably poop a frog if she bumped a cactus.
    I think you did the right thing under the circumstances. No since staying on when you are stressed and can safely dismount. I'd work with the horse on stepping on new surfaces at home; plastic tarps, a sheet of plywood, hard plastic like a kiddie pool. Help your horse learn to stop, look, sniff and walk on because he/she trusts You to never ride or lead into danger. Most horses, once they trust you crossing tarps and whatever you can round up around the barn, will transfer that trust to the trail.
    Temple Grandin says that because of the position and slow focus adjustment time for horse eyes, we should allow our horses to stop, lower their heads and focus for over a minute before asking them to step onto or into an obstacle especially changes of footing like water, and in your case, crunchy leaves.
    Take your time, be patient and good luck.

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    • #3
      I have a round-pen routine I do with a new horse. I get a blue, a black, and a white tarp (3), a couple of card board boxes flatten out, and some newspapers. I usually start with the three tarps, then when the horse can walk over those calmly I add the boxes and newspapers, they make different sounds when the horse walks over them. When they can handle all of those I usually don't have problems with them walking over stuff on the trails. I've also noticed it helps with horses who don't want to go through water.
      In memory of Apache, who loved to play. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjZAqeg7HyE

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      • #4
        So, if you led the horse back and forth over the leaves, what happened then? I would think it would be a very short-lived reaction at that point?

        I have found that telling my horse not to be an idiot is pretty darn effective.

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        • #5
          I'll hop off for something like that and just lead my horse around. Let him freak out behind me, but we're going to walk around on this until he gets over himself. Then I'm going to ride around on it until he's really bored.

          My Arab is pretty used to all the weird (in his mind) things I ask him to do at this point. There's not a whole lot he cares about 4 years into working with him. We started as an unbroke stud colt who never left his field in Kentucky. Anything he's afraid of, he's had to wear, work near, etc. He's just got to deal.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by candysgirl View Post
            I'll hop off for something like that and just lead my horse around. Let him freak out behind me, but we're going to walk around on this until he gets over himself. Then I'm going to ride around on it until he's really bored.

            My Arab is pretty used to all the weird (in his mind) things I ask him to do at this point. There's not a whole lot he cares about 4 years into working with him. We started as an unbroke stud colt who never left his field in Kentucky. Anything he's afraid of, he's had to wear, work near, etc. He's just got to deal.
            That's my method too, and they figure out quickly that it's less trouble to just pretend not to notice the weird stuff.

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            • Original Poster

              #7
              Originally posted by katyb View Post
              So, if you led the horse back and forth over the leaves, what happened then? I would think it would be a very short-lived reaction at that point?

              I have found that telling my horse not to be an idiot is pretty darn effective.
              I think I was honestly a bit at fault on this as I got scarred and jumped off. He snorted and freaked as we walked through the leaves but then regrouped for the rest of the ride. I just wanted to get the hell out of dodge so to speak

              P.S. I will out him as being an Arab. But I swear he is so sane and sensible that this incident really was a shock to me.

              Thanks for all your suggestions.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by katyb View Post
                That's my method too, and they figure out quickly that it's less trouble to just pretend not to notice the weird stuff.
                Exactly. He'll startle at things that pop out suddenly, but its limited to a small hop sideways. We do have a fair amount of la la la, pretending not to see that while just kind of skittering past it quickly, but he's definitely realized that spooking and acting like a fool just earns him a WHOLE lot of work. His QH buddy hasn't quite learned this yet and he stands there with this "oh you should stop that now...." look on his face when his buddy acts like a fool.

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                • #9
                  I have dismounted for a scary object, especially when I am by myself. However, then they need to work until they are bored. Usually walking back and forth thru the scary place with me leading them or having to circle or back etc. They usually figure out pretty quickly that it is a whole lot easier to just go where they are asked.

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                  • #10
                    Having a drill that you go through with scary situations helps both you and the horse cope. Don't think too specifically about it what the scary thing is - though walking over strange surfaces would be a good idea , a "scary object" like a flag, a hula hoop, some aluminum cans in a feed bag, or just a plain old plastic bag could work just as well as long as they create at least a little bit of "wow, this is new" response. You are not trying to scare the horse out of his wits, just to help him go from the reacting side of his brain to engaging his curiousity.

                    I usually put the scary thing out in front of the horse, on the ground. If it is moving away from them, they generally will drop their nose and follow it. Once they have touched it a few times, I put it behind me but level with their shoulder and then do approach and retreat with it. Once they have gone through this drill with different things, it becomes a recognizable routine to them, and when you are on the trail, it gives both of you a familiar pattern to follow when addressing a strange situation - and you know your horse well enough to feel when to slow things down and when to apply a little pressure.

                    Or you can use a riding exercise that the horse knows well. For example, one day the sun was shining down by the river and the pods on the Scotch Broom were all popping open. This really set off my friend's horse - who was very experienced on the trail - but none of the green horses. My theory about that is that he knew this was not normal, whereas to the others this was just another noise. Anyway, he was fritzing out, but she had nowhere to go, with horses in front and behind, and there was at least two hundred yards of this Scotch Broom to pass through, so she had him do shoulder-in. It didn't alleviate his concern entirely, but it engaged his feet in a pattern that overrode his emotions enough to keep them manageable.
                    Publisher, http://www.endurance-101.com
                    Blog: http://blog.seattlepi.com/horsebytes/

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                    • #11
                      Had to laugh!

                      Here back east; we are used to the "dried leaves crunch" issue! But in our case it's not the horses feet making noise but the gigantic feet of the forest dweller called Sasquatch or better known as.............wait for it!.............squirrels!!!
                      Even a well made trail horse will pause and look sometimes to see what's making that noise!!
                      Always makes me laugh and I talk to my horses all the time so I find I can reassure them by telling them...."oh for heavens sake!" or something involving "oh good grief!".
                      I think repetition at doing something new is always good with pats & verbal reassurance. It's desentization to new things. Works for me!! Sometimes I think when we hop off or react in an alarmed way; we are reinforcing their thought that they SHOULD be scared of it. Like "well if mom's scared of it; then I should be too"!!

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