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“Triggers” Get Help: Introducing Equine Phobia Reversal Therapy
By Casey Sugarman, Equine Behaviorist
Every barn knows of at least one horse with a hang-up. “She’s a great horse, all except for this one weird thing…” “This horse is bullet proof as long as you don’t…” “Ever since it happened, that’s just the way he is.” Whether it’s a scary object, a scary activity, or a weird reaction… these “fear triggers” can make otherwise good horses unsafe.
There’s no mistaking a horse with a phobia. The obvious sign is when the horse turns into an animal possessed, stops breathing, goes to ‘Mars’, stops thinking, becomes extremely unsafe, bolts, or all of the above. Less obvious signs are when the horse is in a ‘frozen panic’. While absolutely still, the horse’s eyes start moving sideways with a dra-a-ag to them… a dangerous explosion is about to occur.
If you wish you could help your horse become more rational, if you’ve tried the medications and herbal calmers, the sacking out and months of repeat exposure, and are still in the same boat, your story is quite common.
Contrary to popular belief, even beliefs held by some behaviorists, phobia reversal in horses and other animals is not only possible, it is achievable, the process is predictable, and complete recovery is routine. But Equine Phobia Reversal Therapy is not an arena for recreational trainers.
A Phobia is a fear that has become something like an addiction. A phobia is an emotional abscess; it is analogous to a layered onion. At the core is a rotten center, a buried unconscious memory of un-processed ultra-negative experience that handlers may or may not have witnessed. Countless layers of evasive behaviors, excuses, and irrational beliefs surround the core, like the layers of the onion, to keep it hidden and walled off, in order to shield the brain from further trauma.
Phobia Therapy is based in positive reinforcement but does NOT utilize standard clicker training, standard habituation protocols, cowboy schooling, natural horsemanship, nor any psychic/energy approaches. Phobia Therapy rebuilds the horse’s experience through primal emotions, re-experiencing each layer of his memory and putting the horse in complete control of a new rational approach to the trigger. Equine Phobia Therapy also does NOT teach horses to tolerate; it teaches horses to seek out the once noxious stimulus.
The work is done by employing the horse’s breathing, center of gravity, curiosity, personality... In Equine Phobia Reversal Therapy, horses are not rewarded for doing a correct behavior, horses are rewarded for rationally taking charge of a situation, and then for sharing that authority with a handler. Horses who have gone through the therapy seem to say: “Go ahead, hit me with your best shot!”
Although each therapy is highly customized to each horse, learning curves go through multiple predictable stages of exponential improvement. Also, the horse will carry the new skills to new homes, new owners, and new jobs.
Horses who have multiple fears or phobias usually learn courage from phobia therapy, as they learn how to learn. Horses get very excited about their newfound abilities to control and even seek to play with triggers that used to evoke terror.
Following are some beginner tips for helping a horse through a common stable fear. But remember, your safety is always most important. Kicking, biting, striking, and rearing horses should be rehabbed by professionals only. Emotional recovery in dangerous horses should be directed by a professional phobia specialist to reduce risk of injury to people and animals.
Trigger’s Trigger Trigger: Fear of a Spray Bottle
For tackling “fear of a spray bottle”, fill a pocket with quarter sized treats. Bring the horse, on 10 foot lead into a large enclosed area with good footing, like a small paddock. The lead is only there to keep you and the horse in somewhat close proximity, but the horse is to always be on a slack line. Bring a reliable spray bottle, set to stream, filled with water.
Before you begin, you must promise the horse one very important thing: EVERY single time you hear the horse give a big exhale (ignore snorts), you will stop what you’re doing and give the horse three treats; exhaling is a jackpot. Invite a friend to watch and listen for those exhales to remind you of your promise.
Start with one spritz aimed in the opposite direction from the horse’s head, so he can see and hear the bottle. After each spray, give the horse one treat until the sound of the spray makes the horse’s ears perk up as if to say, “I heard the spray, here comes my treat!” That’s your cue to start working the sprayer closer to the horse. Every foot closer needs about 3 repetitions before you shorten the distance. Give a treat every 3-5 spritz or so, but don’t spray the horse yet.
The first aimed shot should be onto one hoof; the right front is usually the closest. Spray the hoof wall and then the hair just above the hoof. This is the part of the horse most experienced with weird sensation. The horse will stomp the foot as if it’s being bitten by a fly. This is great because the horse is dealing with the insult in a rational and purposeful manner.
Now it’s time to upgrade our approval criteria: now, every time the horse stands very still that will earn him one spritz and one treat. Now it’s time to start moving the spray with the same goal in mind. The first time each torso and neck area feels the water, it should be in mist form. The first time each leg and rump area feels the water, it should be in stream form; the reason is so that you can aim accurately from some distance and because these are the more insult-ready parts of the horse. Your main job is to keep exhaling yourself and to “take 5”often, and start again when the horse is focused on you.
In finishing off the project, aim to be very inconsistent with the spraying, but always give the horse a chance to find the big exhale in between every dousing. The horse’s exhales are what teach the horse’s brain that it’s all nothing to worry about. If the horse cocks the leg you are spraying or if horse bends away from the bottle those are great signs. This is the picture of a horse who is playing the part of the catcher behind home plate; kicking you or the spray bottle is the last thing on his mind.
By the end of this game, you should have a thoroughly wet horse, an empty pocket, and a buddy who can’t wait to play the spray bottle game again. After the horse “sleeps on it” a few times, and forgets why she was ever afraid of that fun toy, he’ll be an old pro, and you can save those treats for some other game about some other spook.
Casey Sugarman, Phobia Specialist/ Behaviorist
Horse Power Instructor Training School
Currently Accepting Applicants for Spring Semester
February 4, 2011
The Horse Power Instructor Training School is now accepting applications for its spring Instructor Certification Course. Horse Power is a NARHA (North American Riding for the Handicapped Association) Premier Accredited Center and offers and extensive twelve week course covering all aspects of therapeutic horsemanship instruction.
Individuals who take this course and pass the NARHA certification requirements are eligible for NARHA Instructor Certification at the Registered level. Horse Power's Instructor Training School specializes in Equine Experiential Learning. The first-of-its-kind program offers an unparalleled learning experience leading to national NARHA Instructor Certification. To date, 46 graduates, ranging from 18 to 63 years of age, have successfully completed the rigorous program of riding, teaching, training and coursework.
Saving Sierra Benefit
Sierra was headed to slaughter, if that isn’t heartbreaking enough she is pregnant and ready to give birth. However Sierra has not come without severe health issues. Medical bills have been extensive, which is why we need your help. We at Central New England Equine Rescue are hosting a fundraiser "Saving Sierra” with proceeds benefiting Sierra and her unborn foal. Two great rescues put it together to rescue a Momma and her unborn foal! Thanks to Charming Acres Farm & Central New England Equine Rescue Sierra is in a safe home!
Help us save Sierra & her unborn baby at our upcoming fundraiser “Saving Sierra”.
The fundraiser will include food, local musicians, and raffle prizes donated by local businesses.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
6:00pm - 10:00pm
Tickets can be purchased at the door for $10
The Upper Deck Sports Bar & Grille
377 Stetson Road, Barre, MA
Must be at least 21 years old to attend
Join Central New England Equine Rescue in celebrating Sierra’s new beginning.
For more information or to purchase tickets please contact Mary Whitelaw 774.239.6331
If you are unable to attend the fundraiser, but would still like to help please visit www.CNEER.com.
Under the “How to Help” tab you can make a donation. Please include a note that the donation is for “Saving Sierra”
Trick Training for Horses
Fun Ways to Engage, Challenge, and Bond with Your Horse
BEA BORELLE with Gudrun Braun
Trafalgar Square Books is pleased to announce the publication of Trick Training for Horses by Bea Borelle with Gudrun Braun. Tricks and games are not only fun for both horse and handler, they can also add variety to a serious training regimen, helping to keep a working horse interested in his job. Now, this fabulously illustrated book on trick training explains the best way to teach a horse tricks using positive reinforcement. Step-by-step instructions are provided for over 25 different tricks, including classics such as bowing, kneeling, sitting, and lying down. Throughout, Bea Borelle clarifies how including tricks in your general horse training program can help improve a horse’s outlook on life and willingness to perform, regardless of your chosen discipline.
“Using Bea Borelle’s methods you can rediscover some of the ‘magic’ of your childhood and how it can change the way you work with horses. Trick training is one of the best ways to make your horse your friend.” —Philippe Karl, Internationally Renowned Horse Trainer and Author
BEA BORELLE is trained in classical riding by Richard Hinrichs and her husband Philippe Karl. Her interest in preserving the horse’s emotional health and enthusiasm for work during the training process led her to integrate trick training into her general horse training program. She is a staunch advocate for encouraging horses to have “fun” with their handlers and riders, regardless of discipline and the rigors of competition.
152 pp • 6 ½ x 9 ½ • 152 color photos • 978 1 57076 462 2 • $22.95 pb • February
Note: Sections of this book may be appropriate for reprint as FREE excerpts in print and
online publications. High res jacket images are also available.
To order contact: Trafalgar Square Books, Box 257, Howe Hill Road, N. Pomfret, VT 05053
800.423.4525 ∙ www.horseandriderbooks.com
EquineSite's First Ever Kids Model Horse Show
February 4, 2011
EquineSite.com is hosting it's first ever Kids' Model Horse Show for youths under the age of 18. This horse show is an opportunity for kids to show off their Breyer and other model horses with photographs and win ribbons and trophies.
"It's a great cure for the winter blues," says Managing Director, Louisa Amirault. "With all this snow, not everyone is able to ride. Most horsey kids have Breyer horses, so why not enter them in a show?"
The model horse show has 10 halter classes and one costume class. Ribbons will be awarded in each class and trophies will be awarded to the halter champion and the winner of the costume class. Contest sponsors so far, include Griffinbrook.com, Equissage-NE-NY, Langebec Wood Shavings and The Complete Equestrian.
The show is to be judged by a qualified, local Judge. Marie J. S. Phillips is the president of the AMAHA, novice coordinator for MEPSA and AMHEC treasurer. She has 25 years of experience showing and customizing model horses.
"Model horse showing is not just a kid's hobby. It can be difficult for kids, especially the novices, to compete against the professionals," explains Amirault. "That is why this contest is just for kids." EquineSite has provided helpful links for first time model horse showers on the contest page and has also set up a topic in the Bulletin Board for potential entrants to get help with finding more resources and to chat with other model horse owners.
To learn more about this contest, click here.
Dressage4Kids announces New Young Breeders Sport Horse Educational Program
Bedford, NY - An exciting new educational program called the "Young Breeders Sport Horse Educational Program" is intended to educate the Young Breeders of America in theory, judging of confirmation, judging of free jumping and presenting a horse.
One of the goals for this program is to bring young breeders together across breeding associations, countries, and languages. To create a network among these participants that will help exchange ideas and information to assist them in creating the ideal Sport Horse of tomorrow.
Dressage4Kids (D4K) has organized an Weekend Equestrian Educational Program (WEP), for January 29th and 30th at Nonnewaug Regional School in Woodbury, CT. This year’s D4K Weekend Educational Program will include a day-long session on judging conformation and showing horses in hand. Among the many speakers are clinicians Britta Johnson and Phil Silva who will be on hand to supply you with more information about this program as well as future clinics. And, for the first time, the 2011 Youth Dressage Festival includes a Sport Horse Handling and Judging competition. Ages 10 and up are accepted. In addition to the Festival, you can expect to see several classes added at select Breed Shows throughout the season..
These clinics will be a great learning experience to evaluate the suitability of sport horses of all different breeds. It is a good opportunity for the riders to learn to judge the horses’ potential from the ground. They will learn about the horses’ conformation, and how to evaluate the horses’ strong and weak points. They will learn how to present the horses in-hand, evaluating free-jumping, and theory. The competition consists of 3 parts, a written quiz on knowledge, presenting a horse on the triangle, and judging. The judging consists of 3 parts, judging mares in hand, evaluating free movements of the horse, and evaluating horses over jumps.
This new Young Breeders Program is spearheaded by Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids (D4K). The program was formulated with the hopes of putting together a team to represent the United States in the International Young Breeders World Championships. "The WBFSH World Championships for Young Breeders” are held on a 2 year cycle. Six people may be selected to represent the United States at the championships to be held July 22th-24th 2011 in Chazey sur Ain, France. There will be two age groups in the international competition: 16 to 19 and 20 to 25.
D4K Mission Statement: To encourage riders under 21 to become true horsemen with correct position, competitive skills, and knowledge of all aspects of riding and horse care; to offer scholarships to enable competitors to further their education; to have fun and develop good sportsmanship throughout. For more on D4K, visit www.dressage4kids.com