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... when he said: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses ....”

Of course, Franklin D Roosevelt made this famous remark in the course of his inaugural address and I suspect he had something very different in mind than the collywobbles many horse riders suffer. But, if you think about it, the sentiment he expressed back in 1932 applies just as much today as it did then.

Loping Bill’s Blog

FDR was right....

30th September 2012

And a vicious circle  then occurs in which the rider decides the horse is a nutcase and the horse, meantime, is making the same determination about the rider. Fear generates fear...

I apologise if this is stating the obvious but I am writing this in a month when the editorial in my favourite magazine (Western horse UK) talks about the anxieties of trail riding (and there’s a really good article on the subject by Julie Goodnight). And I have a good friend who daily conquers her fear just to put her foot in the stirrup and mount her horse.

These fears are not unfounded. We are, after all, trusting our well-being to a prey animal whose first instinct is to turn and run for its dear life whenever it’s faced with a perplexity. And, if that's not enough to put the fear of God into any normally well adjusted person, what is?

But, more to the point, what do we do about it? Acres of print have been expended on how to "desensitise" a horse and there’s no shortage of help on the Internet. However, whilst our horse’s hypersensitivity can be at the root of this sort of problem, we may need to look a bit more closely at the “fear breeding on fear” issue and find a way to square the circle. When all is said and done, we do want a horse that is alert and responsive rather than sleep walking.

I’m jumping on my soap box here again but believe that the first solution is versatility. The more a horse is trained to do, the more it will accept the vicissitudes of life.  If the poor thing spends his days pounding out circles and sliding stops or just the walk-jog-lope of a Western Pleasure class, he really isn’t getting much chance to experience the wider world, is he?

And after that it’s a question of trust. That’s something else that builds on itself; but in the opposite direction to fear – the more you trust the horse, the more he will trust you and so on. Getting there is a combination of desensitisation training, the occasional “come to Jesus” talk when you get the idea he’s really having a laugh with you and, then, regular work together.

Of course, there is always room for professional help but I suspect this is one of  those areas where, if you can, you just have to do it yourself. You can take your horse to a trainer but, in most cases, all that will achieve is that the trainer will establish the trusting relationship. You’ll get your horse back with the problem apparently solved only to find that he’s still anxious and spooky with you.

In the end, there’s no substitute for time with your horse. They may be prey animals but first and foremost they are herd animals and love a friend. Get a relationship and you’re more than half way there....

Hold that thought and then picture the everyday situation which occurs when two familiar horses come face-to-face. They stand there, probably do not even look each other in the eye, and then after a few moments one of them will react either by throwing its head, stabbing the ground with its hoof or squealing. We've all seen it happen and marvelled at the sixth sense that has communicated something from one horse to another such that it has provoked a reaction. And you always wonder just what it was that flicked through the ether to cause that reaction...

So it should not take too much of a stretch to realise that, with this uncanny sixth sense, our horse can catch the vibe when the old collywobbles are rumbling around our gut. And, once that takes hold your averagely sensitive horse starts to feel apprehensive and gets to displaying his own anxiety. He starts shifting around and generally looking nervous and that then purely confirms the collywobbles

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