Horse who is extremely nervous in the show ring

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Hey there, Shawna Karrasch here with another
Ask Shawna answer. I’m still coming to you from the Desert International
Horse Park in Thermal, California which is kinda by Palm Springs, so anyway, we’re here
doing Terra Nova Tuesdays, and getting the word out to some of the people here at the
showgrounds, some of our Hunter/Jumper comrades. Anyway, so, that’s where I’m coming to you
from, we’ll be here for the next four weeks, I don’t know why you’re listening to this,
but this is where we are. Alright, so, um, I got a message, it’s from
Susanne, she says “Hi, I’m from Germany, my English is not perfect, we have a thirteen-year-old
gelding. We take him on trail rides through villages,
through forests. He’s not the coolest, but it works well. When we are on a AQHA show, he is perfect
before the show, but as soon as he sees the judge, everything is different. He hates to make a simple horsemanship pattern
or Western trail pattern. He starts to be extremely nervous- his tail
goes like a helicopter. Clicker training works well for him, for example,
going back with a farrier or go from one cone to another, even when we practice a start-up
with a fake judge he will do it the next time again in the show. How can I tell him that nothing bad will happen
to him in the show ring? With kind respect, Susi.” Ok, Susi, well, you definitely have what uh,
we would call in the marine mammal world, we call it show discrimination. So, he kinda knows the difference between
a true show and, and, and what you’re doing, and there’s a lot of triggers, or a lot of
tells that can let him know that, that it’s different, that this actually counts. And a lot of times it can be us, we can just
be a little bit more nervous, a little bit more frantic, a little bit more tense, you
know we’re worried about where’s our stuff, and where, what time is it and all those different
pieces, so sometimes it is us, so I’m gonna say first and foremost try and remember to
breathe, relax, have fun, and don’t have an agenda. So, I mean that sounds really hard to do,
but the more you can get it where he feels like it’s not really a critical moment. Ok, so that’s one thing you can do to help
minimize that portion of things, the other thing you can do is also sometimes at home,
get tense. You know, intentionally try to feel a little
frantic and worked up and reinforce him for that, so if you can kind of just change your
energy a little bit and when he’s good, click and reinforce him and then let your energy
go back to relaxed and doing your thing. But you’re also letting him know sometimes
I may be like this, sometimes like this, so that’s a way I always do it, I like to do
it with my horses, I don’ always because I forget, but I like to do it with my horses
because you know what if it is a fire and we’re evacuating and people are frantic and
things are going wrong or somebody else is handling them and it’s chaos, I want that
to not be the weirdest thing or if I’m acting differently for it not to be the strangest
thing, so that’s one thing you can do to help him if it is you as the trigger, that will
help him kinda realize it’s ok. The other thing, it sounds like to me, and,
and it, I don’t know how long you’ve had him, but it sounds like he has a past in the show
ring that maybe he hasn’t had the greatest time with, or the greatest reinforcement history
and it may not be that, I mean it could be that somebody did a grind and did the same
thing over and over and over and he didn’t like it or it could be that the person kinda
got after him a little bit more and got tense when it was time for the show ring, or it
could be he took himself over threshold, just the show environment maybe was too much, so
his association with being in the show ring, technically in the show ring, may be something
that feels like an unpleasant situation and has unpleasant reminders for him. So, I think the best thing,, what I’m gonna
recommend you do is if you can go to some schooling shows, or go to the show, so, I
imagine he goes a little bit over threshold, his attention goes up, or he’s at threshold
when he even gets to the showground, he’s probably waiting for that moment that the
other things happen and there’s a lot to watch and it can be exhausting and it can be a lot
going on, so I would take him to a couple of shows and not show him. So, maybe ride in the arena, reinforce him,
reinforce him, so you’re kind of making the show environment, in general, be a more reinforcing
environment. But then what I would also do, I would go
to some schooling shows. Here in the US we have schooling shows where
there is a judge, it’s looks everything like the regular show, but it’s not for points,
it, it, is much more casual and relaxed, but I would go and, and start doing the most basic
thing, and as he engages, I would click, I would feed, and I’d get out of there. Because you know, what does he want? He kinda wants to get out of the show ring,
you know, you think about it, what he’s thinking is, this is panicky in here, and I don’t like
it in here, I don’t like it in here, so the best thing you can do is say good, you relaxed
a little bit, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but if he goes in all tense and you feel a
little bit of that, I’d say that’s, I’ll take it, that’s good, so he starts relaxing is
what you’re looking for and I would like I said I’d click and may be illegal, I don’t
really care because you’re at a schooling show, it doesn’t matter and I would feed and
I’d feed and I’d feed and then I would leave. And then I might come back in for a later
class and try to do it again and then maybe get a little bit more, and what you’re doing
now, is you’re he anticipates something. he expects that this show environment predicts
that this is gonna go a certain way that in his head is really uncomfortable and he doesn’t
like. So what you want to do is break that, so the
show and seeing the judge isn’t a predictor of bad things to come. He’s not letting you help him to figure it
out, but if you can break it down into the little pieces and get a little piece of it,
and reinforce him, you’re really gonna start to break that chain, and I would practice
that a bit. I mean what’s the point of showing if it’s
not fun for you and him? So I think breaking that down and turning
it into something that is fun and feels safer for him, is going to be rewarding for both
of you, and I think in the long run you’ll have a horse who actually likes the show environment
because you’ve broken it down to those little pieces and helped him in general. Now I know you said that he, he he’s good
until he goes in the show ring, but the stronger and better we can make the, the reinforcement
history with the show in general, and the show grounds and all the pieces that are part
of it, the better, the more he’s going to feel that it is a good thing and a relaxing
thing so I think just even going and reinforcing him for being there and being around and saying
see, that’s all there is to it will help him to, to see the whole picture as better, and
then adding in the schooling show or even yeah, the schooling show and going into the
arena, seeing the judge, getting a minuscule amount of relaxation and building on that. And sometimes as you’re building, as you’re
building, as you’re building and now let’s say you can do the whole thing, once in a
while just go in and go, here I’m just gonna do, I’m just gonna go in and do the very beginning
again and click and reinforce there. If we always build and build and build and
build, they learn that, that, the end matters. So I mean they can, they don’t all, but like
with the dolphins if we always blew our whistle, clicked, I mean it’s essentially the same,
we didn’t use clickers, but we used a whistle, if we bridged at the fifth bow and we have
five lovely even bows, pretty soon they’re like the first one doesn’t matter, don’t put
any effort into that, the second one doesn’t matter, don’t put any effort into that, so
you’re gonna have bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, and at five they’ll be up to criteria
because they know that one matters, so it’s really important to kind of vary and break
out of our human patterns so I think sometimes going in, sometimes doing longer, sometimes
doing shorter will give you the greatest outcome and keep his attitude bright and and optimistic.So
you have a little road to how here, but set your criteria so low, look at him like he
is a little teeny tiny baby and, and you’re not expecting the world from him, you’re just
looking for a little bit of relaxation, the goal is relaxation, not the performance. You can work on the performance later, but
for now, you gotta get him where he can come below threshold and get in a place when he
is above threshold, he is at fight or flight, he’s, he’s not really processing, learning,
it’s not a great place for him to be, so if you can get him slow and relaxed, you can
actually use the shows as, for you a schooling session for the shows that count. So anyway, that is where I would go if he
was my horse. Anyway, Susi, I hope that helps you out, and
gives you some ideas and some things to think about. If you have more questions as you go along,
and you’re, or maybe you know there’s a piece that we didn’t talk about or something, please
don’t hesitate to send another question in. You know where to do it, you go to Ask Shawna
on my website, for those of you who don’t know, you can go to my website, or, which
is, and if you want to know more about what I’m doing, where I
am, what I’m up to, you want to go to, and that’s where I live, that’s what I do,
it’s where our positive reinforcement training center, and you can get signed up for our
email and you’ll keep abreast of what we’re up to, what our schedule is when our workshops
are and just kind of some fun facts, some things that we’re, we’re doing. So, anyway, if all that’s too much, just google and you’ll find me. Anyway, until next time, enjoy getting your
horse on target! Bye-bye!


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