As humans we think completely opposite of how the horse thinks. This is based on the difference between predator and prey problem solving. They are a “run now look later” mentality that’s been proven to keep them safe for thousands of years. without that “spooky” mentality their species wouldn’t exist today. As humans, we have a “I will make you do what I want”. That’s a predator mentality. That helps us to be confident, driven and superior. The fact we ride horses at all is amazing considering our differences. We can ride these animals because they allow us to. In reality they weigh as much as most cars and could kill us if they knew they could but that’s not their nature… sadly that’s ours. Before riding these beauties we harvested them for food to survive. That is something instilled in them that is hard to shake, do you blame them? Learn from them they will show you how to communicate with them. Forget everything about being a human. Start thinking like a horse. Yes this means you’ll find yourself jumpy, spooking at plastic bags and wishing you could pin your ears at people… that means you’re there!
Okay, introducing the scary object to a horse. The biggest mistake I see is people approaching training thinking like a human. If you think like a human you won’t get anywhere but backwards with a horse. Stop, think about something you’re scared of. Snakes for instance, say someone came at you with a snake. You’d run now look later right? But what if they said “it’s fine, it’s not going to hurt you”… would you believe them? Didn’t think so. That’s how the horse views every scary thing you try to touch them with right away. Then they bring the scary thing up to their nose to MAKE them smell it… notice that’s the human brain again. Horses just see you trying to attack their nose with it now. And lastly the first place people go to touch their horses with said scary object are the most vulnerable areas like the legs and belly! How much sense does that make?! Stop watching amateur “training” videos and re-wire your brain to be a horse not a human.
The best way to make the horse comfortable over a scary object is “setting them up to succeed”. When I say that, what I mean is you let the horse find its way on its own so it’s at his pace and his comfort level. You’re just there to make sure nothing can go wrong making this a bad situation as they feel their way through it. Start out hanging the scary object in the round pen so they can pass it, sniff it or avoid it if they want. Then stop them by it to show them it’s a sign of release. After a couple times of this, reverse so they can see it from their other side and repeat the steps. Next, take it down and put it on the ground, let them investigate it themselves. If it’s a grain bag I like to put their favorite treat on it to get them to engage in being close to it then they get a reward for finding their goodie. All of this without a rope on them so they don’t feel forced. After that, drag it behind you, as you’re leaving them and they will start out at the very end of the rope until they are sure it’s not a horse eating bag they will become more confident and walk closer. Stop, let them walk on it, paw at it and harass it as much as they want. Don’t ever chase them with a scary object that just solidifies the threat and good luck getting them past that again. Be patient, let them set the pace. After they are bored to death of those steps then bring it up to their shoulder then take it away then go back to having them follow it again. This is all very time consuming but the horse learns you’re not going to push it on them and your bond will be stronger because of it. Little by little is how it’s done.
Once a solid foundation is built on trust and they are correctly desensitized you’ll see a confident, happy partner. That’s the goal and it’s worth it!