Choosing a Horse for Haven of Hope
The type of horse chosen of any youth activity should be carefully screened before coming to an event. It should be confident, willing, and an easy going animal that likes attention from people. Suggestions for a donated horse are:
- Ridden by young children extensively
- Accustomed to noise
- Accustomed to crowds
- Accustomed to strange horses
- Standing quietly for tying, grooming, saddling, and bridling
- Should willingly pick up it’s feet to be cleaned
- It should be easy to control when it is ridden
- Tolerant and forgiving to mistakes made by children
- Should not exhibit any aggressive behavior towards people such as nipping, pushing, bucking, walking past handler while being led, or even ignoring people.
- Do not mistake apathetic, lazy behavior for quiet. A lazy horse may turn extremely angry when asked to work. These horses are more likely to bite, kick, rear, or run over a person than a fearful, shy horse. A shy horse wants to get away from you but a lazy one with a bad attitude will hurt you to avoid work.
- Also check the horse for soundness problems and signs of illness. Look at the horse’s eyes. They should be large, soft and kind looking. Stay away from small eyed horses or a horse that is extremely bug-eyed. (looks surprised and worried
**If you are considering donating a horse to the program please contact one of our directors. They will be able to give you more specific guidelines.
Working with Horses
When working around horses good horsemanship is essential. We must learn to understand how horses think, react, and why they react. It is simple yet it can be complex. A horse is a prey species and humans are a predator species, already a conflict of interests. Horses are extremely intelligent and capable of making decisions because of a high sense of self preservation. A horse also is a social animal. This instinct makes them easy to train and willing to learn.
A horse has two basic reactions to fearful situations. These reactions are flight and fight. Horses usually choose to flee a stressful situation first before becoming aggressive. But, if confined like they so often are in domestic situations, they will fight. This is why horses may begin to kick out behind when startled. They are simply trying to protect themselves. Given their sheer size and strength makes them more dangerous to work with than other species. In order to overcome their strong flight instinct we must teach the horse to “think” before reacting. If we continuously introduce a horse to a scary situation or object and do no allow it to run away or injure itself it begins to realize there is no real danger and it begins to trust you and builds its own self confidence. You must make your intentions to a horse very clear and present them in a way that a horse understands those intentions. We don’t want to sneak, whisper, tip toe around the horses. This behavior may alarm them more than loud behavior. If people are acting nervous and scared of a horse that horse will be come nervous because it senses the fear and wonders where the danger is. It is important to be relaxed and confident when working with a horse because it gives the horse confidence.
When approaching horses you should not approach directly from the rear because this is a blind spot for them. The other blind spots are located under the chin, directly in front of the face, up to about three feet. Approach so they can see you and hear you. Horses like the sound of you voice, so speak soothingly to them. Speaking to them helps them to stay aware of you and where you are. You should also not crowd around the horse’s face; this may encourage the horse to crowd you. Never teach a horse to fight with you. The horse will always win.
Sometimes people will try to “make” a horse do something and because of the size of the animal, they think it is necessary to use a lot of force and pulling to get things done. Most of the time a horse will not understand this unnecessary force. A horse must be well prepared to respond to all the things you ask it to do. At Haven of Hope we use the “Natural Horsemanship” approach. Obviously this takes time, patience, and most importantly, consistency. A horse takes comfort in consistency and knowing that you and the way you treat him do not change from day to day and situation to situation. When working with horses, you must be confident in your own abilities to gain the confidence of the horse. The horse must see you as a leader, capable of protecting it and keeping it from harm. If you do not take the initiative to become the horse’s leader it will take that rose upon itself. This is too often a common situation that becomes a dangerous situation. That horse will treat the human as if it is a lower ranking member of the herd, communicating with you through his own language which usually consists of ear pinning, shoulder shoving, kicking, rearing and even biting. These behaviors are not wrong to a horse, they communicate to each other in these ways but they are disrespectful and undesirable behaviors for a youth program.
Horses must learn acceptable manners in order to be a safe companion. If you are working with a horse that is showing disrespect his behavior needs to be corrected immediately. The best way to teach a horse acceptable behavior is by making the wrong behavior difficult and the right behavior easy. Usually this can be achieved in most situations simply by putting the horse to work and keeping him very busy until he learns that he does not have to work hard if he is doing the behavior you asked him to do. For example, if a horse will not stand quietly for grooming or saddling you need to get his feet moving. Make him hurry around in circles until he decides the better choice is to stand quietly by you and rest. This works very well in most situations because the horse will get tired of working and will start looking for the “right” answer.
Most importantly, when working with horses you need to keep your safety and the safety of the children in mind at all times. There is no shame in removing yourself from a situation that you are not comfortable in handling. Try to always think ahead of the horse to prevent a dangerous situation.