Leonara is a spooky mare. And once she gets a fright, she is highly reluctant to try again at that place or with the thing that scared her. She does take a lot of comfort from people, though, and can be helped to work through her fears. Claire Waldron, Manager of the Connection Training Centre, has done a lot of work to build their connection and now wants to help her to develop more self-confidence so that she can face objects by herself without human guidance. In short, to empower her so that life in general is less worrying.
So, we introduced some equine enrichment exercises which we learned from Rachaël Draaisma. She is a world expert on Equine Calming Signals and recently visited us in Spain, when we filmed this video. Here’s what happened in Leonara’s fourth session:
The bits we couldn’t show you
As you watch the video, it’s important to understand that we had to trim the full 30-minute session down. Much of what we trimmed was Leonara standing still. These episodes lasted for about half the session and were highly informative. Rachaël explains:
“People tend to think when there is no movement from the horse nothing is happening. In relation to getting to know unfamiliar objects the opposite sometimes is true. When a horse stands still and turns the hindquarters towards the object, this can be seen as a calming signal meant to appease the object. The horse might also eat in this position. Or sometimes flick an ear toward the object or look at it without turning the head.”
Then Leonara turns around, flank-side to the objects.
As Rachaël explains in the video, this position can often be seen as a follow up to the showing of the hindquarter: “The showing of the flank is also a calming signal towards the object. The horse may eat and can, from this position, easily look at the object. A showing flank is often followed by an approach towards the object. With a horse that is self-confident with many objects, you would not see these long calming signals. They would get skipped or in time would be very short. “
Towards the end of this session, after she had eaten both apples, Leonara wanted to get to the pear. After a little direct exploration of the pear, but without eating it, she stood side on to the objects for about 5 minutes. “It’s important for us to learn just how much time horses need when fear or caution is involved,” said Rachaël. “We tend to rush them, which causes them to get anxious again. Learning to leave them to work it out on their own can be the hardest thing we need to learn”
A Confident and Independent Leonara
The enrichment exercise proved to be a great success as you see with the last clip. This was the session next day and Leonara went straight to the objects with no-one present in the arena.
In this session, we had introduced a new surface, the towel, and it was interesting that she was happy to eat off that with little hesitation. Something about the grey blanket had obviously worried her right from the start. But, after all the support we gave her, she finally went to the blanket and ate quite happily from it without Claire’s support. We were thrilled that she showed such an increase in confidence over these sessions. We’ll do lots more with her in the next few months so that exploring new things becomes her favourite game. Whilst connection is everything to us, we don’t want to create dependency in our horses. A self-confident horse will be happier and safer and we want to develop that too.
If you’d like to know more about this deeply emotional and informative side of communicating with your horse, please come along to one of Rachaël and my weekend Seminars next year. We’re starting off in Manchester in February and then going to Poland, Austria and Sweden. See you there!
Rachel Bedingfield, Co-Founder, Connection Training
2-day Seminar “Equine Emotions and Calming Signals”, Manchester, 17th-18th February 2018
With Rachel Bedingfield and Rachaël Draaisma
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