Easily Spooked Horse Dislikes Being Stalled
I have a new horse who is about 18 years old. He is at a barn with another horse, and they have their stalls opening to their paddocks 24/7 except during severe winter weather, when we put them in at night. He is a wonderful, sweet horse, but I had a slight problem getting him used to going in the stall at night when needed. He got used to it—until the snowplow came and plowed the driveway. The barn is close to the driveway and he was scared to death. I understood his fears, so I patiently and calmly worked him (with food) through this.
My only concern is next time the plow comes! Will I have to start all over again? The woman who owns the barn doesn't agree with my method of being patient and reassuring him through his stall fears. She says "enough already, just shut the stall door, he has to get used to it." I just feel that, being new to the barn, he has come to trust me and I am the one shutting them in at night and doing all the barn chores. I don't want to lose any relationship I have already gained with my horse. Am I wrong?
Tami, it sounds like you are on the right track, however, when we train horses, we do want to try to move the training along at a fast enough pace that we can see forward progress quickly. If I understand correctly, he is coming in his stall now, but you are not yet shutting the door. Let’s be sure he has his grain in his bucket when he enters, and simply shut the door when his head is about to go into the bucket. Be sure to also hide some treats around his stall, so that he can forage while in the stall. Start increasing the amount of time he is stalled to eventually keep him in overnight.
It also sounds like we need to desensitize your horse to lots of different sounds so that when a snow plow or other uncontrolled stimulus impacts him, he will be comfortable with it. See our Virtual Pet Behaviorist article Horses Who Are Afraid of Noises to get started.
- Dr. Weiss