I have to admit that for many years I dreamed of being a Mounted Police Officer (and applied to join the UK police before moving to Australia!!)
My interest led me down the path of “bombproofing” – which I loved to experiment with – even buying a bombproofing book (which I still own!) and trying some of the techniques, quite badly I’ll admit, with my not-so-calm-thoroughbred at the time.
I can fully admit, pre-Equitation Science, I really didn’t know the science behind fear and therefore lacked the understanding of how to help a horse through scary moments.
I look at ‘bombproofing’ differently now. Looking at those horses who have patterns (or habits) of spooking more than others or those whose arousal levels are quick to rise - or those who seem to take things in their stride.
A recent idea that I learnt from Lisa Ashton, is the idea of ‘Mental Resilience Training’. What a term! As a teacher, my main aim for each child was building their resilience – or agency: the belief in themselves that they could handle ANY obstacle. I loved seeing children grow in this area and become, simply put, UNAFRAID of their world.
Well, isn’t this what we want for our horses too!
Lisa talks about building resilience in horses by exposing them in a safe way to aversives – taken at each horses own speed, of course. I believe this is what ‘bombproofing’ is all about. Giving the horse the practice to stay calm, build their ability to cope with challenges and develop curiosity instead of fear. As with children, whether they are optimistic or pessimistic in life can make a big difference to how they react to events. Having the tools as trainers to know how to systematically build an optimistic outlook is key.
This can include:
- Understanding the flight response
- Awareness of individual horse’s arousal levels
- Knowledge of overshadowing
- Using methods such as counter conditioning and approach conditioning
- The benefits of target training
- The problems with punishment
There was no option for filming, but here is Hazel, one of my Percheron fillies, with a beautiful flowing mane…which needed a little help with a mane ‘de-tangler’ spray. As you can imagine, such a new experience for her to learn about and the reason I got to thinking about the need for improving their resilience to new stimuli.
I can highly recommend finding Lisa’s “Espresso with Equicoach” Facebook membership page. The content provide by her is inspiring with in-depth discussions that get you thinking about improving horse’s welfare.
MTeach(EC), Dip.ES, BSc(Hons) Psychology
Equitation Science Coaching Teaching children & adults to train horses www.e-s-c.com.au 0433211028