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I need ideas for desensitizing a baby event horse.

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  • Original Poster

    #21
    Originally posted by MegBackInSaddle View Post

    My mom and sis went to a show where a girl had a mini that just DESTROYED the sanity of several horses. Like, had to scratch all classes, ruined them for the day. Weird what they decide is terrifying. Winnie notices *everything* but isn't too spooky. However, there's a pair of tiny stone ponies in a nearby yard that she's keeping a very, very close eye on.
    He was originally stalled right across from her when he got to the farm so he got an eyeful of her for about a week before one of the other boarders left and we moved him down to a better stall, and the geldings and mares are turned out in pastures that are right next to each other, so I *think* he's used to her at this point, but we'll see what happens if they're ever doing something at the same time

    I honestly consider myself really lucky that the worst of his reaction to new things is needing to pause and think about them for a second. Right now I'm giving him time to do that, but he's honestly already improved a ton over the last week in terms of how long it takes to go up to things - we really had to think about getting anywhere near the tires, but when it came to the tarp he walked right up to the edge of it the first time and just wasn't sure about putting his foot on it until he'd had a good sniff and figured out that it wasn't going to jump up and attack him, at which point we walked back and forth over it probably ten or twelve times without another thought (and he's tried to lead me over jumps that are set up and I have to stop him and drop them down to like, raised poles because I don't particularly fancy jumping him in hand, so there's that too hahaha. He could care less about poles and goes over them of his own volition when we're free-lunging, so I don't think stadium will be too much of an issue).

    Comment


    • #22
      Desensitisation does not teach them what to do if they get a fright, it more teaches them what to do to not get a fright.

      You want them to learn that if they get a fright the reaction is to stand still. I use Spooky Object training from John Chatterton.

      In his words desensitisation of say hanging plastic bags around the yard does not work when you go on a trail ride for 3 hours and a plastic bag flies up from behind a wheelie bin and lands on their face. The horse will spin and go.

      With spooky object training the horse will hopefully not spin and then stand.

      For me it was standing at the fence talking to a stranger. Me on a 16.3 hh 3 yo just raced 8 weeks ago tb in a dressage saddle and a snaffle bit. Him on a quiet stockhorse in a stock saddle and curb bit with a dog.

      He had a dog who touched the electric fence which is high enough to stop bulls from fighting.

      So there was the CRACK of the dog touching the fence - it then went yelping every stride while jumping over long grass to home.

      Both horses spun. Andy then stood and we watched as the stock horse took off away from us. The rider turning the horse's head back to us. The horse careering blind as it could not see where it was going. Stumbling over rocks in the long grass and jumping the grass like the dog did. It was a good 300 m-400 meters before he stopped the horse who was still trying to go but the rider was using all his skills to stop it continuing home.

      It is funny what they can scare at. My current horse has been out several times. Good in an indoor, good in an outdoor. Okay with farm animals. Good trail riding. Great his first day out in gale force winds with flapping stuff. Great with farm machinery day and night. My mounting block is a a picnic bench seat. Doesn't care about plastic or paper flying into him.

      Coming back from being hosed, he reacted to something and I couldn't really figure out what. As after the initial reaction he stands still and continues to lead. I couldn't see anything. There was the usual floats with horses tied to them. People sitting watching the competition. We had walked around this all morning.

      Next time out I figured out it was camping chairs!

      It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.

      Comment


      • #23
        Geese! Screaming children, children in strollers, running children, etc. Ballons.

        Comment


        • #24
          Horse is a horse, you are never going to figure out all the possibilities of what might send a horse off the deep end. We owners and therefore trainers have the responsibility to do the best we can. Correct work, both in hand and on the horse, teaching space and obedience to the aids, goes the farthest in helping live through the inevitable scary situation. If my horse is trained to listen to my position and my seat aids, he can look at what scares him, he can show his worry, but he accepts my leg. Does it work all the time? Of course not, but it helps. Also not clamping on the front end once the spook starts does wonders, so many folks want to close down and stop when horses need movement, better to direct than close down. Leadership is what is most needed in these moments. Focusing on where you want to go instead of what you don't want happening. Also, I always worry when folks have a youngster and are focused on an end product "event horse" for example. I have been guilty of this myself. Best to say you are giving the horse the best education for the future and see what the horse has to offer.
          BTW ponying is the best horse introduction to new things method out there.

          Comment


          • #25
            Originally posted by gardenie View Post
            (...)
            Also not clamping on the front end once the spook starts does wonders, so many folks want to close down and stop when horses need movement, better to direct than close down. Leadership is what is most needed in these moments. Focusing on where you want to go instead of what you don't want happening. (...)
            Agreed, very much agreed. A long time ago, I started thinking about this. I found the same thing. Here’s my reasoning:

            We are primates, and when up in a shaky tree, a primate's instinct is to hold on for dear life. So we hold tighter with our legs when a horse spooks and try to make the shaking stop. This is OUR instinct.

            We TEACH horses ALL THEIR LIVES, that when we close our legs in on their barrel - that means GO. Almost all of our horses have that one down pretty well.

            So, when a horse sees a scary thing, he spooks and wants to GO. When we clamp down on the barrel, in our instinct to stay on, we are TELLING the horse to “YES! GO!!!!!” He's already scared, so he thinks "YES!! I’M SO GLAD WE AGREE!!!! WE HAVE TO GO!!!!!!!!!” And he starts to go, like a good boy listening to his rider.

            But we hold him on the bit to stop.

            These are two absolutely opposite messages. This is when the horse might decide, “Well, we’ve agreed that we have to go SOMEWHERE!” So he goes UP. If he doesn’t go up, then he has no idea what you are telling him, nor why, and is only confused.

            So instead of clamping on the leg, I make sure I move my legs as far away from the side as I can. An added benefit of this action is that my base of support becomes wider and enables me to ride out the spook better, and while my leg is off his side, which tells the horse “I don’t think we need to run”, I turn in circles until the fear leaves, and that fear is usually more quickly gone with my leg off the side than with.

            I love what I call “lightbulb moments” with horses. That moment when you see that they GET IT. Early on when my mare was fairly new to me, she and I were playing in a lot near the barn we were at then. It was a neighborhood and the dog in the next yard all of a sudden began barking aggressively. She really started, I then DID NOT SAY GO by keeping my legs off her sides, and asked her to circle. She bounced toward the direction for a couple of strides and stopped and turned her head in a way where she could see both me and the dog. I just sat there. Then I saw the lightbulb go off as she was looking and while the dog was still barking. Over the next few days, she allowed herself to be startled by him, but got over it more quickly each time, and finally the dog even gave up.

            “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.”

            Comment

            • Original Poster

              #26
              Originally posted by gardenie View Post
              Horse is a horse, you are never going to figure out all the possibilities of what might send a horse off the deep end. We owners and therefore trainers have the responsibility to do the best we can. Correct work, both in hand and on the horse, teaching space and obedience to the aids, goes the farthest in helping live through the inevitable scary situation. If my horse is trained to listen to my position and my seat aids, he can look at what scares him, he can show his worry, but he accepts my leg. Does it work all the time? Of course not, but it helps. Also not clamping on the front end once the spook starts does wonders, so many folks want to close down and stop when horses need movement, better to direct than close down. Leadership is what is most needed in these moments. Focusing on where you want to go instead of what you don't want happening. Also, I always worry when folks have a youngster and are focused on an end product "event horse" for example. I have been guilty of this myself. Best to say you are giving the horse the best education for the future and see what the horse has to offer.
              BTW ponying is the best horse introduction to new things method out there.
              Unfortunately, we don't have anyone available to pony him off of at present, so that's not something I can really do with him, though I have thought about it before.

              I realize the title of this thread may make it seem otherwise (and that's my bad on the wording), but I'm not going to force him into becoming an event horse. That's my hope for him, but I knew going into purchasing him that if we get a few years down the road and it doesn't seem like something he wants to do, I'll do everything in my power to find him a home where he'll have a job that he enjoys. Half the reason why I wound up with the horse I did is because he's built well and he's an absolute sweetheart, and I knew that would make it easier to find him another home if the need arose (though I obviously hope it doesn't). He hasn't even been home a month and I've already had multiple people tell me they'll take him off my hands if I decide I don't want him anymore, so I'm really not worried about being able to find a place for him if it comes to that.

              He's not the first green horse I've ever worked with and I'm not worried about my ability to handle any baby silliness or spookiness under saddle - with my last trainer, I was put on all the greenies that younger and/or less experienced lesson students bought and I usually wound up putting three to six months of regular rides on them to work through any spooking and, in some instances, get them jumping calmly over the liverpool/crazy colored fences/whatever else, to get them to a steadier place before their actual owners took over (don't ask me about that business model because I don't really get it either). This is just the first time in over a decade that I've got a horse that I get to spend a ton of time with on the ground doing whatever since he's mine and not whatever horse my trainer had me get on that day, and I'm just looking to add some variety into our in-hand work because he's starting to get very comfortable with his surroundings and I like to change things up where I can every once in a while.

              I apologize if any of this comes across as snarky - I have an anthropology degree and my concentration was linguistic anthropology, specifically online/textual communication, so I'm hyperaware of how hard it is to communicate tone through text and I swear I don't intend it that way. I just want to make it clear that I'm not entirely new to all of this and I've actually got a 5* trainer ten minutes down the road whom I've worked with on and off for close to a decade and a half whom I fully intend to get involved with his training once we're doing more than walking around and he's had a chance to grow up a little more.

              My creativity for weird things to show him is just a little lacking compared to when I was a kid (which is the last time that I really had a horse that I could do all of these things with), so that's why I was looking for suggestions. It might all just be in my head and the value might just be in the groundwork itself which is done in the process, but it makes me feel better to do all this stuff with him and puts me in a better headspace for everything else, so I don't feel it would hurt, regardless of how much added value any of us perceives there is in showing him whatever ridiculous things I can come up with.

              Comment


              • #27
                I wouldn't worry about justifying your credentials, it was pretty obvious from your first post that you had a clue about these things and were bouncing ideas off others. But with an anthropology degree, I'm also sure you are aware that 80% of the internets is people not actually reading the initial post and instead responding with their own personal soliloquy (we are all guilty from time to time, some more than others).

                I agree about ponying a youngster if at all possible (can you "borrow" the quarter pony? ). I schlepped my 2/3 year old all around, crossing rivers, jumping jumps, long trail rides in the mountain, and it helped out immensely, but there was an unintended consequence...

                My horse (best hunter ever, best pony horse ever, best horse ever) was deathly, deathly afraid of cows (due to a funny story with 2 bulls and a dumpster garbage truck). But because he was the best horse ever, he would march past them because he would go through fire if I asked... or past cows. But I could feel the thump thump thump in his chest every step. As it turned out even though he marched right past them with the youngster, the young horse (obviously) spoke horse and picked up on the extreme fear. I'm sure Lido thought if Robbie was that terrified then NO WAY was he going to leave things to chance if Robbie wasn't there to save him. Sigh... Also, while Robbie might have been the best horse ever and would walk through fire for me, Lido was absolutely NOT that horse, he was more a "spin on a dime and give you 9 cents change" kind of guy. Especially when it came to matters of real (or perceived) self preservation. Did you know a 3 year old can actually jump/hop backwards up a 3'0 bank behind him if the spin and leave option is nipped in the bud and the only choices (or so I thought) are remain still and stare at them (acceptable) or go forward past them (desirable)?
                Your crazy is showing. You might want to tuck that back in.

                Comment

                • Original Poster

                  #28
                  Originally posted by DMK View Post
                  I agree about ponying a youngster if at all possible (can you "borrow" the quarter pony? ). I schlepped my 2/3 year old all around, crossing rivers, jumping jumps, long trail rides in the mountain, and it helped out immensely, but there was an unintended consequence...
                  I wish I trusted the quarter pony enough to let him be the pony horse I love him to death, and he does alright ponying my BO's daughter on her pony, but he's a smart cookie and in really good shape and sometimes we have... antics when we're outdoors, let's just put it that way. It's all just silly baby stuff and I stick pretty well so he's never managed to get me off in the process, but it does mean that while I'd trust him to lead the group on trail/a XC course/a hunter pace with someone who knows what they're doing in the saddle, I don't entirely trust him to pony another baby who loves to play with him (and vice versa).

                  He's a good horse and he's incredibly brave, but he's definitely one that requires your full attention right now (and probably always will. BO and I have talked about how he'd be a great lesson pony if it weren't for the fact that he's just too smart for anyone except like... experienced teenagers or adults, and will 100% pull a fast one on anyone else). We're working on it (just on Tuesday I was trying to get a quick ride in since we're going XC schooling tomorrow and instead wound up having to do an extra load of serious trot work so that he won't learn that throwing a few bucks in every time I ask him to canter equals getting to be done working) (no, he's not in pain, they all get regular vet, farrier, and chiro work and the saddle fitter is out regularly, he's just excitable outside) but I have a feeling it'll be a few years before he calms down enough to be trustworthy leading another baby under ponying circumstances.

                  (BO's daughter's pony takes great care of her but also has a huge attitude and won't take anything from anyone, so all the horses behave themselves around her hahaha. If she wasn't 11hh to my guy's 16.1hh I'd absolutely use her as the pony horse.)

                  Comment


                  • #29
                    Yeah, I'm not really understanding some of the negative responses to what OP is asking for. As long as she's conditioning the proper response I see zero harm in coming up with wacky things to show him.

                    Relevant to shows, things that flap in the wind come to mind; flags, table cloths, judges tents, balloons, camping tents, pop up canopies, banners like those hung up on arena fences, those strings of flags that are often used to rope off lanes/rings/traffic areas... You get the idea. As mentioned, baby strollers and umbrellas are likely encountered too!

                    Not as relevant to shows but still useful and fun: tarps, bubbles, smoke/fire, things that are reflective/shiny and moving (pinwheels, anyone?), those air-blown dancing statues, things to walk under or through that dangle and touch - like the pool noodles, tarps or caution tape. Those are just off the top of my head but there are tons of ideas on Pinterest that are low-budget and easy to put together. Don't forget weird smells - animal hides are often found on trail obstacle challenges - and startling sounds, like sirens or train horns or gunfire.

                    I have a pony youngster that is in training to be a kid's mount later on; he gets exposed to everything I can think of, from the mundane to the silly, wacky woo woo stuff. One really can't be TOO worldly, IMO.
                    Last edited by Heinz 57; May. 23, 2019, 03:23 PM. Reason: Forgot banners!

                    Comment


                    • #30
                      Watch some Tristan Tucker videos. And don't forget to deal with applause and wearing a ribbon.

                      Comment


                      • #31
                        OP I think you are on the right track and sound very sensible about it. Your horse is lucky to have you!

                        In my opinion, when we help a horse become un-fearful of the world, we prepare them for a better life. They are more rideable, and their stress level is lower against their default fear response. Should they go on to other ownership and who knows where or with who, they will have far more options for a good home. And far less jeopardy from misunderstandings and mischaracterizations somewhere down the line.

                        I've found that, done correctly and kindly, the flag desensitization done by some natural horsemanship type trainers can definitely help a horse start to understand that "things" aren't a default threat. It doesn't desensitize them to everything, but it helps make them ready to expand desensitization.

                        I was so gratified that after a considerable amount of desensitization flag work, my very green horse bravely ignored a white floaty empty clothes bag someone had left hung from an arena fence, flapping in the wind.

                        Sounds can be a source of spook, especially off-property. Leaf blowers. If they aren't used in your barn aisle, they are in many others. The version of 4-wheel transport known as gators - the camo-green-&-black really loud ones - can be frightening on first exposure even to a horse that is ok with a golf cart. My very green horse was also reactive to lawn mowers and tractors. We had to especially work on the riding lawnmower going away and coming back, over and over again. Not all horses care about those, and it was a bit of a surprise to find this horse had some inconvenient worries about some standard farm machines engines.

                        Chickens. Free-range chickens are popular! My horse can deal with minis, goofy dogs, children, "I've never petted a horse before" adults, but not chickens. Working on it.

                        I agree with everyone who says that desensitization helps teach a horse to return to calm, and to trust their handler/rider more than they fear the thing, whatever it is.

                        Comment

                        • Original Poster

                          #32
                          If you want to talk about desensitizing, we certainly had a time of it tonight in the form of a minor tornado/serious hailstorm blowing through literally two minutes after I got off of him following our first ~six laps around the indoor under saddle (for which he was very good and I am very proud of him). Half the horses in the barn were panicking and whirling around in their stalls and he just stood completely still in the corner of his stall with his ears back while it sounded like the entire world was falling down around us (just have to love hail on a metal roof).

                          He’s a good kid and I count myself so lucky that I wound up with him. Definitely not a fright we needed and my car took a beating (shoutout to past me for buying the warranty on the paint), as did the siding on our indoor, but everyone is in one piece and that’s the important thing.

                          Comment


                          • #33
                            Your horse is responding beautifully to your dedication and time invested in him ...

                            ... and let me now prepare you for years of everyone assuming that you were the lucky one who found the 'easy' horse.

                            So many people don't want to put in the time and work, and prefer to believe that it's about finding and buying the 'easy' horse. Good for you to have the long run in mind! I know your horse trusts and appreciates you.

                            Comment


                            • #34
                              trakehners I got exactly where you were coming from. And you sound like an owner any horse would be lucky to have! I'm hoping my Winnie B is my first Forever Horse, but the decision to get her was based partly on her being an athletic, sound, good-minded horse that I knew would be pretty easy to responsibly sell into a decent situation if that's what life throws at us (hubby is military; no telling what life holds in the future, except change).

                              Not only do I think desensitization is good for your guy, but its FUN! What new crap can we get into today? I love any time spent at the barn, even just sweeping the aisle while Winnie stands at her stall guard begging for treats.

                              Happy for you that the storm didn't do any more damage! And that your boy kept his cool. I had one of *those* nights. Winnie decided the arena pigeons were scary. Looking for an excuse, as she usually ignores them and *I* spook worse at them. Then RAIN ON THE ARENA ROOF OMG! (Once again, I call bullshit.) But she settled in and worked for me after a bit. And that, I think, is what exposure does for them. Shortens the amount of time it takes to come back to you when their silly horse brains get away from them.

                              Comment


                              • #35
                                Originally posted by Sparrowette View Post

                                Agreed, very much agreed. A long time ago, I started thinking about this. I found the same thing. Here’s my reasoning:

                                We are primates, and when up in a shaky tree, a primate's instinct is to hold on for dear life. So we hold tighter with our legs when a horse spooks and try to make the shaking stop. This is OUR instinct.

                                We TEACH horses ALL THEIR LIVES, that when we close our legs in on their barrel - that means GO. Almost all of our horses have that one down pretty well.

                                So, when a horse sees a scary thing, he spooks and wants to GO. When we clamp down on the barrel, in our instinct to stay on, we are TELLING the horse to “YES! GO!!!!!” He's already scared, so he thinks "YES!! I’M SO GLAD WE AGREE!!!! WE HAVE TO GO!!!!!!!!!” And he starts to go, like a good boy listening to his rider.

                                But we hold him on the bit to stop.

                                These are two absolutely opposite messages. This is when the horse might decide, “Well, we’ve agreed that we have to go SOMEWHERE!” So he goes UP. If he doesn’t go up, then he has no idea what you are telling him, nor why, and is only confused.

                                So instead of clamping on the leg, I make sure I move my legs as far away from the side as I can. An added benefit of this action is that my base of support becomes wider and enables me to ride out the spook better, and while my leg is off his side, which tells the horse “I don’t think we need to run”, I turn in circles until the fear leaves, and that fear is usually more quickly gone with my leg off the side than with.

                                I love what I call “lightbulb moments” with horses. That moment when you see that they GET IT. Early on when my mare was fairly new to me, she and I were playing in a lot near the barn we were at then. It was a neighborhood and the dog in the next yard all of a sudden began barking aggressively. She really started, I then DID NOT SAY GO by keeping my legs off her sides, and asked her to circle. She bounced toward the direction for a couple of strides and stopped and turned her head in a way where she could see both me and the dog. I just sat there. Then I saw the lightbulb go off as she was looking and while the dog was still barking. Over the next few days, she allowed herself to be startled by him, but got over it more quickly each time, and finally the dog even gave up.
                                This is the best and most sensible explanation I've ever heard of what goes on, and sometimes goes wrong, when a horse spooks while a rider is on board. I'm convinced.

                                My greenie is kind of funny after his "lightbulb" moments. He abruptly switches from spooked, or confused and upset, to very professional about it. Like he's mastered it and will henceforward be a mature example to others. As if he never had those silly moments before the lightbulb. All good, I'll take it!

                                Comment

                                • Original Poster

                                  #36
                                  Originally posted by OverandOnward View Post
                                  Your horse is responding beautifully to your dedication and time invested in him ...

                                  ... and let me now prepare you for years of everyone assuming that you were the lucky one who found the 'easy' horse.

                                  So many people don't want to put in the time and work, and prefer to believe that it's about finding and buying the 'easy' horse. Good for you to have the long run in mind! I know your horse trusts and appreciates you.
                                  Not going to lie, there are days where I do kind of wish that I'd stuck to my original horse-shopping plan and gone for a five or six year old that I could theoretically push faster under saddle (primarily because I've been riding since I was eight years old and never had the ability to do all of the things that I can now afford as an adult, so it's brutal in its own way watching mini-trial/horse trial deadlines pass me by), but then I remember that my relationship with the best event horse that I ever rode (the rearer, amazingly) was a consequence of spending hours with him doing everything and nothing while I was leasing him.

                                  Even with the occasional bought of impatience, I'm grateful for the fact that I wound up with a younger horse than I intended, and that I wound up with one with his history - his trainer has a long-standing relationship with his breeders (he's actually named after a mix of his sire and one of his breeders for his JC name, which is made even more special because said breeder passed away in 2017) and he was with his trainer on the farm or training at the track from the time he was weaned until he came to me, so he's only ever had stability in his life (and I'm in regular contact with the assistant trainer who absolutely adores him, which helps when I have questions about anything where he's concerned and is also just fun when it comes to seeing her reactions to my updates about him). He's got such a good brain as a consequence of that and really all I'm trying to do over here is take advantage of it and not ruin it

                                  Like I said, I'll rehome him if he really isn't happy with what I want to do, but my hope is that he'll enjoy it and be with me for the rest of his life, so to me this is just a worthwhile investment in building a relationship with him and hopefully keeping him as curious about things as I can for as long as possible. He's still a pretty lanky baby who has a lot of growing up to do, so I have to fill the time while I wait for him to mature a bit more somehow (and honestly, standing around hand-grazing him after spending half an hour to an hour on basic groundwork does get a little boring after a while, so this is as much for my own amusement as anything else).

                                  Comment


                                  • #37
                                    The clampy leg analogy is so true, which is why I think the best riders are those that spent more time bareback than in a saddle. If you are a feral child growing up riding equally feral ponies and horses and just can't be bothered with the extra time it takes to put the saddle on, you will learn to lose the "clamp" FAST because nothing pops off quicker than a tight leg on a fast moving equine (in either the highly desired "forward" or the ever fun spin and duck move) when you are bareback.

                                    I'm so far past my bareback days that it is beyond laughable, but I like to say I may not know what the horse is going to do, but thanks to my childhood exploits, my ass knows what the horse is going to do before the horse has fully formulated the plan. Sadly the rest of my body just isn't as awesome as it used to be to balance those movements with a loose lower leg anymore. Getting old sucks.
                                    Your crazy is showing. You might want to tuck that back in.

                                    Comment


                                    • #38
                                      I love Tristan Tucker too.
                                      And Linda Tellington Jones.
                                      If my post was negative sounding, I surely didn't mean it to be, just things I've come to understand.
                                      Most of what people share is where they are in the moment...

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                                      • #39
                                        This winter, I did a lot of obstacle style shows and playdays. The kinds of obstacles used for Extreme Cowboy Obstacle competitions. A lot of people did the courses in hand before they rode them (and had minis in hand for it as well). At one point we had to mount with 4 huge gold mylar balloons at the mounting block, bouncing off both of us...amongst other things. It has been very effective at lower my horse's reactions to things. Interestingly enough - in an obstacle lesson I had - we were taught to let the horse 'choose' the obstacle, no micro managing as the rider's eyes should be where we are going next. It has been a lot of fun.

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                                        • #40
                                          My horse would have much preferred to just never look, smell or hear anything scary, ever. I think fear is a stressful and even painful experience for them.

                                          But even if he spent his life in a safety-first pasture, the world isn't going to be that kind. Learning that scary things aren't really so scary is a great gift that will give a horse a better quality of life at all times, whatever they do.

                                          IMO

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