The great outdoors can be a scary place! Autumn and I have started going for walks around the yard, which I wrote a bit about here. We’re encountering all sorts of strange sights, sounds, smells, textures, and noises. Some of these new objects can seem like monsters to a horse, especially once they’ve left the security of the other horses.
Autumn and I have been playing Alexandra Kurland’s Touch the Goblins game. This is similar to a game I had previously learned from Parelli–the put your nose on it game (sometimes also called the touch it pattern). Horses are naturally curious and many like to explore things with their noses, smelling things, picking them up, or pushing something around. We can use this to our advantage and help our horses learn to not be afraid of things by rewarding them for touching and exploring new objects–especially objects that could potentially be scary. At first, these objects seem like goblins to the horse. However, if we can get our horse relaxed when approaching and touching goblins, we’re well on our way to a calmer and safer riding horse.
While Autumn and I were moseying around the yard, a big red balloon drifted over the fence. Not only did it look weird, but it sounded pretty scary too!! Autumn spooked a bit, and sidestepped to the end of the lead. She was high headed and big eyed–pretty sure the balloon was coming to eat her!
So, we stood around a few moments until she relaxed and then off we went to investigate the goblin. She’s naturally pretty curious, so it wasn’t too long until she was sniffing and pushing the balloon around. Nothing to be scared of here! After smelling the balloon a few times and pawing at it once, she became rather bored with it.
This exercise is a natural extension of targeting, an exercise many people start with when clicker training a horse. If your horse has already learned to touch a cone or target stick, it’s easy to transfer this to other items around the barn yard. If the horse is hesitant, you can always start by putting the familiar target next to or on top of the scary goblin. Pretty soon, you’ll have a horse who is seeking out new objects, rather than spooking and running away!