Letting Curiosity Work For You

These are some pictures from last summer that I just ran across. I know they are old, but I’m still posting them because I LOVE them! Most horses are naturally VERY curious. Especially if they are given the time and space to explore something new. Horses get scared when we force them to interact with new things, instead of allowing the horse the time to investigate at his own pace.

Temple Grandin says that what animals are often afraid of is “forced novelty”—when we push the horse into new situations that he does not understand. Confidence increases when the animal feels like he has control over his environment and surroundings. (More about this here).

The following pictures show Luna checking out the new hay ring the rescue got last summer. (Luna’s the pony I wrote about in this post about a week ago. She made SO much progress last year.) Luna can be very skeptical about new things. However, given time to investigate and explore, she approached and retreated from the hay ring, even approaching close enough to smell it. Then, after a few more approaches, she walked all the way through the hay ring! After that, she turned around and walked back through it the other way. What a brave little pony.

If you are working with a horse who is scared of something, DO NOT try to force the horse to approach the scary object! Instead, use other strategies to help the horse build his confidence. For instance, make the scary thing smaller or less intense, if possible. You can turn down the pressure on a scary water hose or fold up a scary plastic bag to make it smaller. Find a place to start working where the horse can remain comfortable and relaxed.

Let the horse choose when to approach and honor the horse’s requests to move away. If the horse needs to take a step or two backward, let him, rather than trying to pull on the lead to keep the horse in one spot. You can practice approaching and retreating from the scary thing, gradually getting closer.

That’s what I did with Autumn when we found a crinkly balloon in the yard (pictures here). With a clicker trained horse, this quickly becomes a fun game for the horse because the horse learns that she will get a click and a treat for approaching and touching new objects. Novel objects then become something fun to investigate, rather than something scary to run away from.

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