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Fear of Whips

Dear Franklin

I really enjoy reading your website, and have read most of the archives, I think. But I have not seen a question like the one I have. I have a new mare who was formerly an Amish buggy horse. I am retraining her for pleasure riding and driving, and there is one thing in particular I am not sure how to fix. When driving, she overreacts strongly to the lightest touch of the whip. I would like to lay the whip gently behind one shoulder or the other to encourage her to move over on turns and so on, but she leaps forward as if she were previously taught to "get movin'" at the lightest touch of the whip. I was planning to sack her out to it by first touching her with it while she is standing in a halter (so she can see it), then adding the driving bridle and blinders, and repeating the exercises, but I am afraid she may end up unresponsive to the whip altogether. Can I somehow teach her that she should react, but only gently, rather than in a panic? By the way, she is very easy to work with at liberty - she follows me like a dog, or will go in a circle around me (even in a big arena) if I drive her out with my body and voice. I can turn her the other way, and if I stop asking her to do anything, she will stop and stand wherever she is. I didn't teach her that - she seemed to know it already. She was started out West as a youngster, before she ended up as a buggy horse.

Thanks so much for your advice!
Thanks, Ona

Hi Ona,

Sounds like you have a lot of good skill already. If you really understand the 'sacking out' process, that is how to get your horse used to all sorts of things including whips. Begin by having a buggy or lunge whip in one hand and the horse's lead in the other (preferably in a paddock or round pen). Walk the horse forward and hold the whip out in frount of you (you will be between the horse and the whip). Begin to move that whip, crack it, twirl it, shake it, move it big, all the while keeping the horse moving forward in a medium sized circle, towards the whip. This way the horse is actually moving towards the scary object. Occasionally stop, lower the whip and praise the horse for not running away. Repeat this process for the entire session with frequent stops and praise. End after 15 minutes or so and put the horse away on a positive not (always end your sessions on a positive note). Next time, same thing, only occasionally stop and keep the whip moving and making noise. The instant the horse stands quietly while you move that whip around making noise, etc., stop moving the whip and praise the horse. Begin the whole thing again with the addition of occasionally stopping your movememnt but keeping the whip moving. Next thing is to, slowly and gently bring the whip towards the horse to touch and perhaps rub on the animal's shoulder. You can try to do this while the horse is moving forward or standing still. If he balks, move forward again. You can gently bring the whip around to begin to touch the horse with the horse moving forward as well. If you can gently touch the horse with the whip at anytime even briefly, immediately stop all movement and give praise,. Begin to build on that. If the horse backs away a lot from the whip, you can slowly and gently walk towards the horse as it backs, keeping the whip a bit low, and allow or keep it intentionally that the horse continue to back and gently attempt to bring the whip to the horse's shoulder for a small rub while it is backing. If you manage to get the whip touching the horse, stop all movement and give praise. Try not to scare the horse, but if he wants to back away, allow it and just keep moving towards him gently with the whip ready to rub his shoulder. Even if he just keeps backing around the pen time after time, so long as he is not terrified and tries to leave you forcefully, stay with it. He will eventaully want to stop backing and probably allow you to touch his shoulder with the whip. This should not be that hard to overcome.

Be patient and take your time. I would sack this horse out with as many potentially scary items as you can think of. Once you can touch and rub this horse all over with the whip, it will still be responsive to cues by the whip. Not to worry. It is your intention, energy and how you use the whip that motivate the horse. It will never just ignore it.

The techinque of keeping the scary object out in front of you and the horse on your other side (you are between the horse and the scary object), and you keep walking, is a tried and true, long time method of getting a horse used to something scary. Good Luck and please keep me posted. Be patient and don't expect everything in one session. It is always a process and time should be taken always for completion of the process. Make certain the horse learns this lesson before going on to another. One step at a time is how it needs to be when training horses. Please le tme know how it all goes.

Sincerely, Franklin

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