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How to conquer fear in the carriage driving horse – training a scared pony.


This is Ally, a 17 year old Dartmoor cross mare who was sent to us for an assessment and training. One of the problems she had was a fear of Alpacas. At home, she was going past them
when she panicked, leaping and jumping into the air and
later on in her stable, sweating and shaking. A vet visiting her owner’s yard sedated her because she was in such a state. Today we have brought Ally to a field where some alpacas live. Although her owner was concerned that training her to cope with alpacas would bring out the same reaction, in our
opinion if a pony has a fear of something it needs to be worked on, because you do
not know when it may manifest itself. It could also grow into a bigger problem; for example
if Ally was afraid of driving past a field of alpacas, she could lose her confidence going past a field of cows or sheep. This could potentially cause a big accident if her owner was taking her out somewhere and sheep had been put in a field that she had to
go past. A lack of confidence in one area can lead to problems showing up in
another area, for example a horse frightened of motorbikes might then take fright if a car with a similar-sounding
revving engine comes past, or it could start shying at cyclists. For this reason we believe it
is best to make horses safe, confident and
happy wherever they are driven and whatever
they encounter and this is why we believe in exposing horses that we train to lots of different
situations and hazards. You are not only training
them for when things go right but for anything
that could go wrong as this makes them better prepared. Just as horses that are frightened of lorries should be trained to be happy around them, so horses that are frightened of alpacas or cows, or donkeys or pigs should also be changed to accept them
happily. Not only will it make your driving safer it will also help your horse by keeping
them safe from danger because they are less likely to run away in blind terror. Here we have tied her up at the gate to
show that she is happy watching the alpacas with no driver on the reins to
restrain her and nobody to put their foot on the brake. This shows she is happy to stand still simply because she has been asked to, and she is relaxed even with the alpacas nearby. Bear in mind we do not have control over the alpacas’ movements as they are
loose in the field. This shows the level of confidence we have in the training we have done with Ally
and that we know she will not panic even if the alpacas move. Notice how she is standing with her leg at rest and is even confident enough to put her
head down and graze. Although she is tied up she is on a
loose rope which means that if she was afraid she
could pull away or dive forwards or backwards. However we know that she will not do this. We have always believed that horses
should be able to be driven happily around other animals. We have heard for
example of people refusing to drive their horses at
certain shows because there will be donkeys present
and they think that horse may panic. In our opinion that shows a lack of
training or confidence and skill on the part of
the driver and that the horse in question should be
exposed to donkeys and be trained to accept them happily
rather than having his fear indulged. Trying to keep your horse away from
everything that might frighten it is not always practical or indeed
possible. For example a donkey owner could have
bought that empty field that you drive past. One day you go past, there is no donkey
as usual and the next day one has suddenly
appeared in the field. If this is your only route out of your yard your horse either has to cope happily and go past it or you will be unable to drive out safely until you have trained it further. if the driver is worried about how the
horse will behave and needs to sedate it or put it in a stronger bit so they
think they have hold of it if it panics, more training should be done. Ally’s owner was also feeding her a calming supplement but we are not giving it to her as we do not think this is the right
thing to do because she does not need it. There are some people who sedate their horses before going in the show ring in order to control them better as they cannot then react to the
excitement, but we feel that the key to better control with any horse or pony is training and not chemical sedation. As you can see we are driving Ally in
a soft flexible rubber snaffle and not a strong
curb bit that amplifies the amount of pressure the
driver puts on the reins. People are often willing to accept
different levels of fear from their horses, for example some people refuse
to drive out on bin day because their horse is frightened of the dustbin lorry or shies at the bins left standing on the side of
the road. Rather than accept this as normal behavior we think it’s a good idea to train your
horse to be used to dustbin lorries and bins so that if anybody ever put the bin out on the wrong day or you did not realize that the
council had changed the day that the dustbin lorry would be collecting them, you are not taken by surprise and end up
causing an accident because the horse panics, all for the sake
of doing a bit of training beforehand. If your horse was frightened of its feed bucket or water trough, you would not stand by
and watch him starve but do your utmost to convince him
that the bucket and troughs are safe. This should surely be the same for
anything that frightens your horse out on the roads and it will also help you have a better
partnership with your horse because the more things you can do
together, the more your horse will trust you and the more you will trust your horse. We consider it a standard part of every horse’s training to get used to being caught and having a headcollar passed over their nose and behind their ears, just as we ensure we spend time teaching
horses to lead on a leadrope properly from their field up to their stable, to
pick its feet up for the farrier, or to be picked out, regardless of
whether you drive barefoot or shod, to accept rugs going over its back, all which can be very frightening for
a horse the first time it is done. Yet we
persevere because we consider this as “the basics” – the absolute minimum that a horse should be able to do, for
example if it needed emergency handling or care. Therefore why is it not the same to consider traffic
training, or getting them used donkeys as a vital part of their basic education? We need to raise the standards of what we consider to be “a good safe
horse” and to widen their basic training curriculum so they
are better prepared for life ahead. And just because the horse is young does
not mean that this training cannot be done with them. With all these things mentioned over time we accept that the horse will
be able to cope with it, for example having a headcollar put on without moving their head away, having a rug put on without
flinching and having their feet picked up without resisting. They become part of
the horse’s daily routine and nothing to be frightened of. We feel
this should be the same with encountering large lorries or alpacas, or driving over motorway bridges, or going into puddles. Horses can be taught to overcome their
fears; we do not expect Ally to be frightened of this man-made
post and rail fence but in this case it’s not a “natural” object and not one
she would encounter out in the wild you would therefore
expect it to be more frightened of this than you would another animal such
as a pig for example. Next, we drive Ally along the fence and
move her closer to this alpaca. Notice how Barry doesn’t have his foot on
the brake. When we ask her to move forwards, she does not shy, jump in the air or
swing around to try and run off the other way. Notice as well how she is not sweating in fear, or from exertion. Even when the alpacas I’m are moving about you can see that Ally is happy to
stand still on a loose rein with n-oone at her head to calm her. Often, a horse can learn fear from its handler or driver. For example, many people who send horses to us for
traffic retraining are actually themselves scared of driving out in traffic. This means they are not capable of
giving the horse the reassurance or confidence it needs in testing
circumstances. Ally has confidence in us on the reins which means that when we introduce her
to the alpacas she listens to us and as we are behaving as if there’s
nothing to be frightened of, she is not frightened either. As you can
see here she has her leg at rest again and is
standing still on a loose rein. This attitude is also important when
retraining horses that are frightened of traffic. As we consider driving in
traffic to be normal and are ourselves not frightened of it, so the horses become confident too. W then turn Ally around and ask her to face that alpacas from a different angle. Notice she is happy to go right up to the fence and stand still on a loose rein again. We
are also asking Ally to face the alpacas head-on to show that it is not the fact that the
blinkers are preventing her from looking at them as she walks past the field, but that she is
happy to remain calm and relaxed even when she has a clear view of them
right in front of her. We also take Ally past the field at
different speeds to show that she is not trying to run
away from them even when she is working at a faster pace and that she can be driven past them just as easily at the trot as she can at
the walk. More videos showing the other work we have done with Ally and her owner on the reins can be viewed on her playlist

Reynold King

12 Replies to “How to conquer fear in the carriage driving horse – training a scared pony.”

  1. Thank you.  We have alpacas in the field next to the yard.  Must go and take my donkey and pony out to see them!  Great comment about donkeys.  I have a donkey and a neighbour refuses to let me introduce Doris to her horses, who are terrified of her and literally bolt up the road when they see us.  Get so many negative comments from horseriders at shows.

  2. Well done Barry and Mel for mentioning the secret trick some drivers have of sedating horses before going in the ring. I feel this is something many people view as acceptable when its far from it. In my time I've come across plenty of well-known names who follow this practice, often people who are held up as examples for others to follow. What you do may not be considered normal in their books but I'd take a well-trained, unsedated horse over a poorly-trained sedated one any day! Great video folks.

  3. What a lovely little Dartmoor mare, who clearly wanted to go & say "Hello" to the alpacas, although they weren't so sure! She was clearly assisted by the calm, patient way she was introduced to the herd. Usually they don't upset too many horses? I had an Arab cross riding pony who would become very upset about with miniature horses…he was fine with draught horses though!

  4. Such awesome work and sensible mentality you all have! Seriously, can you come over to America and train our horses? The training done here is abysmal at best.

  5. I am ecstatically happy to have found you all and this video.  I have two mammoth donkeys and some folks at a horse boarding facility next to a public trail think my donkeys frighten or excite the horses in their paddocks and want me to leave the area.  Some horses seem to like (love!) donkeys, and some seem to be fearful.  The donkeys have their own fears, so your video is really helpful.

  6. Thank you so much for all your instruction. I am living in the states and need to find quality harness and cart as seen in your video. Can you please direct me to the best makers?
    Happy New Year!

  7. Excellent video (as are all of your videos).  I just wanted to offer a tip for your viewers, specific to conditioning horses frightened of Alpaca.

    I live in a very horsey area, just down the road from a huge national horse show grounds, however it is not a rural area, it is very
    suburban and exclusively equestrian.  So, the horses in our area (mine included) do not get to see a lot of farm animals
    of any kind, let alone Alpaca.  About a year ago I found myself in possession of a pet Alpaca and he caused quite the
    stir in the neighborhood.  Especially since his paddock borders a popular bridle path.  This is what I have figured out from watching many horses’ initial reaction to seeing an Alpaca: I believe the horses think they are predators/meat eaters in nature. 
    Something about the snake-like movement of their exceedingly long necks doesn’t sit right with the horse.  Their
    slow, gentle movements I think can also be mistaken for predatory stalking, like a cat.  They even look like giant
    sheepdogs from a distance.

    For these reasons, I believe a horse is even more intimidated by an Alpaca than they would be a sheep, or a cow.  So extra care in introduction may be necessary.

    In numerous instances, I have discovered that if a horse can see and hear an Alpaca engage in grazing behavior, the horse becomes instantly more accepting of the animal.  I have literally witnessed the exact moment the light bulb goes off for the
    horse.  It’s like “Oh, you’re a fellow herbivore.  Well ok, then.”

    So my advice is, try to position the concerned horse so that he can observe grazing behavior among the Alpacas.  If the sight itself of them grazing from a distance doesn’t fully convince the horse, the familiar and comforting close-up sound of happy tearing and chewing of blades always seems to seal the deal.  So, I pretty much echo the theme of your video: get closer, not farther away, but with the added specificity of making sure the horse gets to see the animal graze.

    If the horse and suspect Alpaca are forced together in close quarters and the situation is a dry lot, where no grazing is available, I find allowing the Alpaca and the horse to “break bread” by sharing a flake of hay (hand-fed if necessary) works just as well.

    Alpaca and horses actually get along exceedingly well once accustomed to each other.  I have found mine to be an invaluable companion with calming effect on the horses he is pastured with.

  8. Sadly, Merlin is terrified of having the harness put on. His back legs buckle and he clamps his tail down hard. Even if I get it one as I did this afternoon and spend time reassuring him, he is still liable to rear and bolt as he did this afternoon. Sadly,I think I have to call quits on him 🙁

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