At our stable we hold a class called Despooking. It is classes where owners can first lead then ride their horses in a controlled setting around all kinds of new and possibly scary sights and sounds. One key to its success is using the herd dynamics. If one horse is scared of something he assumes an alert posture, the rest of the herd will be alerted. Then the other members will either recognize the “thing” is not a threat and stay relaxed and the one horse will then also relax. If the threat is not recognized as harmless the herd will join the scared horse and assume an alert posture. This is Very infectious in either direction. Indian Artbeat ( AKA Stilts) is VERY calm so we use him to settle the other horses that may be afraid of what we present to them. As he goes through the obstacles the other horses DO notice that he is not reacting so when they get there they are a bit braver. Other horses are also not reacting so the young and scared horses then even if unsure go through the obstacles without much reaction.
We want the horses to chew so we will put oats in a pan or on the objects if they can eat them without biting the object. Thus you see Artbeat looking for the oats. He rather enjoys this job!
We walked over pool noodles to simulate a branch hitting a horses belly, under a flag, pushed a very decorated baby stroller with plastic trailing, drug a tarp then walked over it, walked over plastic water bottles, a rug covered in wadded up newspapers, under the strips of tarps, saw a hoola hoop, a later with decorations on it, a tin can and sheet, an umbrella ( that has seen better days) and a horse soccer ball.
The class is a little like watching paint dry, but the owners all look for the little signals their horses are scared, Not going forward, tight mouth, head raised, tense and hurry through. Because of the herd dynamics thing, there are usually no big reactions. The key is to recognize the slight fear reactions and work with the horse by following a calm horse or having a calm horse near. Also having oats available to eat. The oats cause the horse to chew and think. For some horses a finger in the corner of the mouth is enough to get them to chew and think. Once blinking and chewing they learn that the fearful thing is not going to harm them and becomes desensitized to it. If a horse is frightened so they don’t chew they may not react but the horse will not learn that the object means no harm, they have to chew to accept the object as safe to be around.
Will post more when I put up Ivan’s video of going through the class