Spooky Stuff


Since coming to live in a world designed by people, horses have had to learn how to accept the sights and sounds of strange things. Plastic bags, rattling metal roofs and blowing paper can be cause for alarm. The instincts of a prey animal, such as a horse, recommend a hasty retreat when faced with unfamiliar things. A horse perceives an unknown danger as a threat against his life.

Chestnut horse in a field

Since a 1,000 pound + animal can cause damage to himself and others, it’s important to try to lessen his reaction to fear. To minimize this reaction takes patience and time, but a horse can learn how to handle fearful circumstances with confidence. It’s a matter of teaching the horse how to feel more powerful than what he is afraid of.

For example, if he sees a tarp blowing in the wind, he should be asked to stand quietly and look at it from a distance where he feels safe. He will eventually realize that the tarp is not an active threat, and he should be willing to move closer to it at a pace he finds comfortable. In time, he will be able to approach the object of his fear and understand that though it is scary, it is not life threatening.

In our world, horses will frequently encounter unsettling situations. The attitude and confidence level of the handler plays a large role in how a horse learns to respond. If he learns that there are options to reacting with fear, he will gain courage and be capable of handling any situation with ease and grace.

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Dale Rudin is a Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA)-certified riding instructor, welfare-centered trainer, rehabilitation specialist, saddle fitter, and certified equine nutritionist. She is a founding member of Force-Free Tennessee, an animal advocacy organization that promotes humane, low-stress training and handling of all animals. Dale's No. 1 goal is to create joyful experiences for horses and the people who love and care for them. She uses compassionate, reinforcement-based training methods that reduce stress and benefit the horse both emotionally and physically, and specializes in restoring health and wellness to horses with mild to severe physical, emotional, and behavioral issues. Dale offers instruction and consultations in person and online. She accepts horses for training and rehab at her farm, Lyric Valley Ranch in Santa Fe, Tenn., which is also the home of Pure Joy Horse Haven, a sanctuary for traumatized and abused horses (purejoyhorsehaven.org).


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