In previous articles (despooking part 1, part 2) I discussed the basics of despooking using rhythm. In this article I will take it one step further, and add the element of chaos.

As Finn prepares to find a new home, we move into the final phases of his retraining. He can remain calm and collected when scary objects are introduced in a rhythmical fashion (videos can be seen on my facebook page), but when things become unexpected and chaotic, he still takes a fright.

In all fairness, most horses would not tolerate the type of things I expect from one of my own horses, but to complete Finn, he will have to go through some advanced despooking.

If you have been keeping up with Finn’s progress, you will know I have been working him in an open area, with no fencing. This actually worked quite well for rhythmic despooking, but now that we are moving up to much more serious and chaotic work, fencing will be required.

He will be moving down to my local equestrian centre where I currently have a handful of clients horses boarded, and the training will intensify.

Stay tuned for updates.

Getting back on the subject of despooking, we will be advancing to a much higher level of scary with an expectation of remaining calm, and swallowing the urge to run.

Finn likes to run, and he has done well to overcome that urge in a lot of situations, including flags, tarps, and party balloons. But all of these items have been introduced gradually in a rhythmic fashion. My body language has remained calm, and I have shown no sign that I expect anything other then calmness from him, and he has understood, and remained calm.

I have to stress, If you intend to attempt any of my methods, it is very important you build up gradually. Please be sure to read my previous articles on despooking, and be sure your horse can remain calm and focused, prior to attempting anything I am going to describe here.

Sooooo, as I said, most despooking is done in a calm and rhythmical fashion. This is great, and builds trust and confidence between the horse and the rider. However, most actual spooky situations are anything but calm and rhythmical.

A dog running out from a driveway, a bird flying up from a hedgerow, a rider falling off. All of these things are unexpected and somewhat chaotic. So this presents a bit of a problem. Sure I can approach my horse slowly, rhythmically waving a balloon on a stick, but what happens if I come running around a corner with it?

I’m sure we all know what happens! Bye bye horsie!

So really, truly, you can’t totally say your horse is despooked unless they can take the unexpected.

But, and this is a big but, if you are a horse owner, and you spend several hours with your horse, several times a week, there is a trust relationship there. 

Rhythmical despooking will build that trust further, and, over time, your horse will look to you in unexpected situations. If you remain calm, they will remain calm.

As a horse trainer, I don’t have the luxury of time. Horses come in and go out, and with a horse like Finn, who I never had any intention of keeping, I must do everything in my power to send him out into the world as prepared as possible.

Things we will be working on will include (but definitely not limited to), unexpectedly running up to him (currently he does not take that very well), working in a very hyper and chaotic manor, loud noises, flying objects, etc.

This is where the need for fencing comes in. He will try to run. He will, and thats fine. He must have the choice to escape. However, I need a way to limit that escape. Eventually he will learn running is harder then sucking it up and being calm.

So I will do something like sending him in a circle and then start acting like a crazy person. Jumping up and down, maybe singing loudly and badly, while running towards and away from him. Acting unexpectedly, and losing all sense if rhythm. As he thinks “omg I’m out of here!!” I go with him, continuing what I’m doing. It’s so important not to give him anything to pull on. I won’t win.

As he goes, and I continue what I’m doing, he begins to realise that nothing bad has actually happened, and that actually running is a lot of work. These are things he learned in all of our previous despooking sessions. When he finally stops, and gives me the “what is Wrong with you?!” look, I stop.

I will use this technique in as many situations as I can come up with.

Running up to him, and then rubbing and petting when he stands. He will try to run, and I will chase, till he stops and gives me the look.

Balls are great for this, very scary and act very unexpectedly. I actually have a space hopper, and whats great about it, is that I can tie a rope to the handle. This way I can toss it out and reel it in.

Once I feel he is dealing with unexpected scariness well, I will start to do unexpected things in the yard. “Accidentally” dropping the metal wheel barrow, jumping and sneezing, popping balloons, smoke (if I can work out how to create it safely!), flying buckets (never at the horse!!), etc.

When he can stand calmly for these things, I can be relatively certain he will remain calm, cool and collected in various situations out in the real world.

Stay tuned for more updates on Finn, and how we get on in our coming week of intense training.