Spooky Stuff

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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
Dale Rudin is a CHA certified riding instructor, trainer, clinician, and contributor to Young Rider, Horse Illustrated, and HorseIllustrated.com. She is the creator of Unnatural Horsemanship—a mindful approach to the horse-human relationship, and a founding member of Force-Free Tennessee, an animal advocacy organization that fosters humane low-stress training and handling of all animals.Rudin sees horsemanship as an opportunity for a mutually beneficial collaboration between our two species. To achieve positive results on the ground and under saddle, Rudin makes the horse’s welfare her first priority. She emphasizes the important of comfort, calmness, confidence, balance, and clear compassionate communication. She works with all breeds of horses in every discipline using positive reinforcement, clicker training, and the principles of classical dressage. Dale offers training, lessons, workshops, and clinics on her farm in Santa Fe, Tenn.

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