In this Ask Shawna I address Susi’s question about her horse and his show ring worries. Many people believe that horses do not enjoy showing or being in the horse show environment. For some horses this is true but, this does not need to be the case. By thoughtfully and systematically conditioning our horse to the components of the horse show environment, we can help them to, not simply tolerate it, but truly enjoy being at a show.
I have often heard people talk about how well their horse performs at home vs. their less than stellar performance at the horse show. This does not surprise me and it is fixable. For many horses, this environment can be overwhelming. In fact, too many stimuli can send them into the early stages of learned helplessness since it can be too much for them to process with no way for them to escape their fear. This has them trying to function in a state of fight or flight. Horses tend to be neophobic and let’s face it, the show environment is full of new sights, sounds, and experiences. Utilizing a systematic approach, starting at home, we can teach them that new things are not only safe but actually help them to see novelty as desirable, curious and intriguing. Utilizing positive reinforcement (R+) we can change their emotional association with new things including the components of the horse show. Furthermore, when we use R+ under saddle, they will find joy in and look forward to, the performing part of showing as well. Sometimes we will still encounter situations when we are out and about that we did not anticipate would worry our horses. If we can stay focused on the fact that their response is coming from fear and not a desire to be troublesome, we often have a more realistic and patient response to our horse’s reaction. Prioritizing our horse’s emotional well being, we will soon put the issue behind us and will build a great deal of trust, in the process. This results in a more confident and focused horse. While showing isn’t for every horse, I have seen plenty of horses change their mind about showing. They turn into horses who really enjoy being at the horse show, they seem to find it entertaining. We can help many horses to be their best at horse shows with R+. In this question, Susi’s horse has a specific fear so I offer some ways to use these techniques to address her particular issue. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Cy4-ONoDhY&feature=youtu.be