I want to start with letting you know some facts about fear and anxiety in horses:
How can you make a horse relax?
It all starts with YOU as your horse relies on YOU as part of his herd.
Your horse will start to lower his head, extend his neck outwards, relaxes his ears and let them slightly fall to the sides, his muscles will loosen up, the tail will unclamp and the eyes will soften a little so that you cannot see the white anymore ( as you might have seen in the moment of fear). Another obvious sign of relaxation is the big long exhale with the snorting sound. Congratulations, you helped your horse to relax!
Why is predictability and consistency important?
Consistency provides boundaries, a frame of rules that are always the same. If you let your horse nibble on your shirt one day, but the next day you tell him off for that, it is confusing. Confusing what is right or wrong. One time you let your horse graze with the bit and saddle on, the next time he wants to eat the grass or bush on a ride he is not allowed to. Just as an example...
Consistency provides security for your horse and makes you a reliable herd member for your horse. Consistency makes him feel safe and protected when with you, because you are predictable and consequent with what you do and "say". A safe haven.
Prediction is very helpful for your horse if it is nervous or get stressed easy.
Developing routines in feeding, tying up at the same place in the same way, grooming and tacking up in the same order/way, building up a routine when entering the arena, even riding the same track for a while. After about 2 weeks of this routine, your horse will relax more when being tied up, it can predict what comes next when you groom it, it feels comfortable with you when hacking out.
Whatever routine you chose, stick to it for a while and your horse will calm down and settle.
It will trust you! Then you can open up your routines bit by bit, if your horse trusts you, he will be able to deal with changes more easily.
Horses rely on us, they depend on us. It is our responsibility to understand their nature and why they might be fearful or anxious in situations that might not be fearful at all from our HUMAN ( brain) perspective.
Through RESPECT and CALMNESS we can help our equine friend to overcome the fear.
An umbrella, plastic bag or tractor might not be fearful to us, but we need to understand that our horse sees, smells and hears the world in a different and more intense way than we do. Our human opinion about it is not helping the horse. In case you feel fear as well, use your breath to calm down.
Breath deeply and conscious, start to relax your body. Let your horse feel how YOU relax, and it will start to relax too. It might not happen in 10seconds but if you practise CONSITENTLY it will become easier and easier each time.
Start practising and learn to relax in normal situations ( practise breathing when grooming your horse, doing the dishes or waiting for the bus...), so you can built up a routine. Then you will be able to use your " breathwork" in stressful situations with your horse more easy. Other options to learn how to relax are Yoga and Meditation, Mindfulness practise or any type of body awareness orientated sport ( e.g. Tai Chi, dancing, Pilates,...)
Relaxation is the key!
For the love of horses,
Inspired as always from the book " Horse brain, human brain" by Janet Jones
Britta Bruns, Invercargill