Helping a horse that is ‘herd bound’ is challenging as we need to help the horse grow it’s trust in us and it’s comfort zone area so that it feels safe going out alone. Easier said than done for some horses.
Our Stormy has been the member of our herd since 11 months old, he’s been surrounded by 4 other members to start with but now at the age of 15 he is just one of two left in our herd. He is happy to go out and about with other herd members and has done that throughout his life but the other horse left now is our aged Tara who can do small bits of in-hand/riding work but really is retired and a bit slow and doddery SO, how do I help Stormy learn to be brave enough to go out alone?
Our first session was mostly walking in the field next to the horses home field. Walked and played some games to help his brain think, these games were slow backup and sideways moves. He was okay for a while but I could feel he was worried about going further down the steep part of the hill SO I retreated with him back towards the home field, this allowed him to breathe and think, to respond and not react BUT he had a couple of slips on the hill where it has been raining heavily and is now muddy and also touched his leg onto a thistle and he rushed off back home to the gateway….his reaction was quick and although mud and thistles don’t normally worry him I could see this would make him react if he wasn’t totally connected to me first SO I got him back and did a small bit of walking about near the gateway to their field to end on a good note.
You may have heard about ‘Comfort Zones’ and to get out of your own to progress, this is true but there is also more to it. To progress you need to step out of your comfort zone but if you step too far you may get worried, out of your depth or plain put off going there again SO here is a quick outline of how to progress without going too far.
Here is a good image of your comfort zone, it has the learning zone just outside and the wilderness on the outer edge.
To learn anything you need to step out of and back into your comfort zone to the learning zone. Doing this often can help build your knowledge through consistency but you don’t want to go too far through that section or you could find yourself in the wilderness zone where you could end up lost and too scared to go out of your comfort zone again, sometimes for a while and sometimes forever, so just keep dipping in and out of the learning section.
By stepping in and out of your comfort zone you will increase your confidence and build a solid foundation of knowledge which will increase the size of your comfort zone. This then takes the learning zone further out so you have to go further for that but it also takes the wilderness zone miles away too.
I call this approach and retreat with learning, keeping your CZ safe. It’s accumulative learning and works not just for us but for our horses too. Approach and retreat with scary objects, new learning and building confidence and knowledge at our and our horses own rate keeps things safe and calm and good learning can only happen when those are in place.
SO…keep your Comfort Zone safe but don’t forget to dip into the Learning Zone to PROGRESS 🙂