There are lots of things you can do with your horse, besides riding. Of course, it’s great to ride your horse, but it’s also important to remember to alternate your training occasionally. For example, there are plenty of opportunities to do groundwork with your horse. And in doing so you can, among other things, make good use of environmental training.
WHY ENVIRONMENTAL TRAINING?
Environmental training is a great thing to work on with your horse, being that horses are flight animals, and their natural reaction to a dangerous situation is to try escape from it. By using environmental training, you can get to know your horse’s individual reactions, so you know what to expect, both when riding and when doing groundwork training. Even though horses are flight animals, they can be trained to get used to and accept things that may appear dangerous to them. Horse consultant and horse owner Dorte Rebbe writes, on horseconsult.com, that even though you cannot change the horse’s natural way of reacting, you can change the horse’s perception of what is dangerous, and this is where environmental training comes into play.
SHOW THAT YOU ARE IN CONTROL
Of course, you must remember that your horse will probably feel insecure during the environmental training. Therefore it is very important that you are completely calm. You must guide your horse through the exercises, and it must be able to feel that you are 100% in control and that therefore it can relax.
If you feel nervous about the exercises, or you feel that you are not relaxed, it is best to wait until you are calm. Then you get the best possible experience – both for your own sake and the horse’s. It is also important that you brace yourself with patience (and lots of treats) and wait for your horse to be ready to take the steps you ask it to. So, take it at the horse’s pace, and remember to give it lots of praise when it does something right!
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DO THE EXERCISES WITH OTHERS
Another thing to consider is whether to do the exercises with others. It can be quite nice. And it might help your horse to relax more if it is not completely alone, but in the company of another horse. In fact, research states that it helps a nervous horse, if there is a calm horse with it, in potential “dangerous situations”.
8 ENVIRONMENTAL TRAINING EXERCISES
If you have a tarp, you and your horse can do a lot of fun things. You can start by getting your horse to stand on it and then walk over it. Here you can begin with the horse sniffing at the tarpaulin and just looking at it – they make noise and move, so they can be perceived as dangerous. The next step may be for the horse to put just one hoof on the tarpaulin, and then you can work slowly step by step until the horse finally walks calmly over it.
Another thing you can do with a tarp is to use it as a blanket and drape it over your horse. Here you also need to go really slow, starting with the horse just being able to stand still while you hold the tarpaulin next to it. And then again step by step adding to the amount of the tarp that is placed over the horse.
With a ball, you can get your horse to push it using the muzzle. For example, it could be a large, soft yoga ball that is easy for the horse to push. Here you can also start with the horse sniffing, and then if it feels like it then ‘push’ the ball. When it can do this, praise it when it starts pushing the ball. Eventually you have a new play mate.
Some horses are not fond of water, which can be a bummer if for example you want to wash them on a hot summer day. Therefore, it is a super good idea to get your horse used to staying calm when near water. Here you can start by using a sponge with water and apply the water to the horse slowly and gently. When it is comfortable and calm during that process, you can try with a water hose with a weak and soft jet. In the summer you can also train your horse to walk in the water if you are near a lake or a beach.
Even such a normal thing as windy weather can be a challenge for some horses, which leads the horse getting nervous even coming out of the stable and going to the outdoor arena. Therefore, it can make good sense to train your horse to be able to ride in windy weather. You can do this by doing groundwork in windy weather and doing exercises where the horse feels safe. You can have a lot of treats with you and praise it when it is calm and focused on you. Make sure it is a good experience so that your horse does not associate the wind with a bad experience.
There are quite a few horses who will get upset by the sound of a spray bottle close to them. It can be a bit annoying when all you are trying to make their man or tail nice. Therefore, it can be good to get your horse used to a spray bottle. All you need is the bottle and a lot of treats. Then your horse learns to associate the bottle, and the sound from it, with something good.
Things that make noise or move
An easy thing that you can train with your horse is for it to be able to stay calm around things that are noisy and / or moving. Here you can, for example, use things like garbage bags, bags in general or balloons. Try using these things in the arena. And once your horse is used to the different things separately, you can line them up in a row and make a small path that it can walk through or over. This helps the horse to stay calm if it hears or sees sudden unusual things.
Riding your horse
When riding your horse, you can also encounter many ‘dangerous’ things that you can easily use as part of your environmental training. You can either take your horse for a walk, ride it, or dismount if the horse feels it’s really dangerous. On walks you might experience that your horse gets anxious around ditches, puddles, markings on roads, traffic lights, creaks, and small bridges. But these are important things to train, so you can feel safe when you ride.
Another thing you can train is for your horse to feel at ease in traffic. You do this by spending time by or on the road. Where of course you can either walk the horse or ride, depending on how safe you and your horse are to begin with. You can start on small residential roads, and then move on from there.