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November 09, 2021 4 Comments
Horses are prey animals that live with a "herd mentality." That means there is safety in numbers. Therefore, leaving the herd to venture out on your own is a dangerous idea that most horses are very opposed to.
Most proclaimed horse trainers figure out how to intimidate a horse into leaving the herd. A little tap on the but, a spur to the side, or any other kind of reprimand for trying to turn back to the herd works, for most horses. But there is something altogether better for the horse that you'll learn about today. It's called the "Easter Egg Hunt For Horses."
Every year, in nearly every park in America, kids (small humans), tear away from their mothers and fathers embrace to race across the open spaces in search of candy. It's not all sunshine and rainbows for every kid, but generally, kids love the experience. One great premise of the Easter egg hunt is to train enthusiasm in "game form," because enthusiasm is way more useful than intimidation. Any parent knows the value of rewards rather than consequences and always hope to use the former unless all else fails. Using rewards is way more fun. That same, fun, Easter egg hunt strategy can be used with horses that don't want to leave the safety of home or the herd. It works like this:
Before you ride out, or lead out. Go out on your own and place treats, buckets of grain, or anything else you know your horse loves in random, far off places. Then go get your horse and lead them to those places, stopping at each to enjoy the reward discovered. At first, your horse will balk, determined not to leave the safe zone, but once they discover the treat, they'll feel rewarded for joining you. When you're ready, head to the next, or head home, knowing you're starting something really cool because what comes next is a magical word called anticipation.
The next day, your horse will anticipate finding a reward in that same place. He or she will put effort into getting to "point b," where the treat is. Only there won't be a treat there because you cleverly moved the treat just a few feet away in a new place. Together you'll hunt for that treat and reward yourselves with it when you find it, then move onto the next or head home knowing you're onto something special.
The next day, your horse will not just look for the reward at the first spot, but also at the second spot, but it won't be there. Its moved again, perhaps a little further away. Together you'll find it again and reward yourselves heavily. Each day you'll play this way until your horse becomes curious about heading out instead of tentative. Each day the treat moves slightly, then further and further away, until ultimately the treat is miles from the herd, tucked away in some enchanted forest where you and your horse get to enjoy the true connection of the horse human partnership. The expression is "riding off into the sunset," not "fighting off into the sunset." It's what most of us want at some level.
The Easter egg hunt will be fun to setup and fun for your horse to learn to grow beyond the herd mentality into becoming a partner with you, his or her trusted leader. In the end, you'll have the horse you dreamed of. And naturally, there are some pitfalls. It's best with some horses to start small. Start close to home and grow from there. If you're unconfident with your handling skills you don't want to be out of sight until your horse starts to show some enthusiasm about the game. Also, some horses are "treat hounds." Once they get a taste of sugar, they go a little crazy. You don't have to use treats. You can use rest and relaxation or grazing time. The whole idea is to make leaving the herd, a fabulous experience for the horse. Make it fun and have a great time with no hurried timelines to pressure you. Before you know it. You will be riding off into the sunset.
Thanks for reading... want more? Buy my new book series full of stories just like this one to inspire you to get out and enjoy your horse.
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