Like anyone else, I always want to have a good ride and be able to concentrate and train without distractions. At the same time, I need to compete, and my horses are all high-strung, sensitive, athletic creatures. Even the smallest thing can cause a meltdown. One thing, in particular, is the light blue fleece blanket I like to sit on when I teach. If my butt is planted in the chair with the blanket, it's fine. If I'm wrapped up in the blanket, it's fine. If the blanket is folded up and left on the chair, I guarantee, 1 out of 4 horses will spook at it. Granted, this blanket sits in the indoor on the chair every day...every day, someone spooks at it. I could simply put the blanket away and call it done. But what good would that do? Horses need to learn to deal with things such as this. Don't you think they'll go to a show and have to walk by a chair with a jacket on it? The horse needs to accept these things and realize there's no troll hiding underneath waiting to suck out his liver (if that's what trolls do, I'm not certain).
Unfortunately for me, Junior is quite certain there is, in fact, a liver sucking troll living in the blanket. At first, I'd go out to ride and move the blanket so that I wouldn't have to deal with his silly behavior. Then I realized I was hiding from the behavior, so I left the blanket alone. With that said, I would begin riding and think to myself, I'd better sit back because Junior's going to be afraid of the blanket. Boom...slam on the breaks, spook, shy, run backwards, blow at the blanket. I'd get him going again and think about the stupid blanket and how I should just stop using it, put it away, blah, blah, blah...Boom...slam on the breaks, spook, shy, run backwards, blow at the blanket. Really? Was Junior afraid of the blanket or was I afraid of Junior with the blanket? You bet, I was afraid of the stupid blanket. Once I figured that out, Junior hasn't looked at the blanket again. Just look up and focus on your job, it's just a blanket, now get going...problem solved.
The other day I ran into a very interesting situation with one of my clients. (Don't worry, I asked her permission to talk about this.) She was attempting to get her horse onto the wash rack and was having a terrible time of it. There was a very strong "Absolutely NOT" coming from her horse. She was going about it in a way I had not experienced and asked why she was using the technique. She said "it's the only way he'll get on the wash rack...he thinks the puddle is bottomless and refuses to get on." She also said she'd tried the day before without success to get him onto the cement. I suggested she sweep the water away to show him there was no portal to hell, just a floor with a useless drain. She swept the water off and still, he refused to step onto the wash rack.
"He thinks it's a trap!" she exclaimed. "If there was another way out, he'd step right on." I mentioned to her that he goes into and out of stalls without a problem. That comment made her take a moment and think about what she just said. I was very happy to hear her say "Good point! Am I causing this?" I shrugged my shoulders and said "it's just a wash rack, not a trap." She quickly handed me the lead line...
It's funny how another perspective can change a horse's perspective on a situation. I sprinkled a bit of grain on the cement and told him he was being quite ridiculous for rearing and trying to carry on like a fool. He then realized that if he walked on the cement (with a bit of pushing from behind), he could reach the feast and the problem was solved. No trap, no portal to hell, just a wash rack. I don't think it took 5 minutes and he walked on and off and back on again like a champ!
Now, am I the reason Wheels is having such difficulty with the changes? Have I said, "he's not going to get the changes!" so many times that now he senses my frustration and has no confidence trying? Hmmmmmm.....?