The Chink in Cole’s Armor

No horse is perfect. Every one of them has a chink in their armor. You can work with them and improve them, but deep down, it never goes away. Starry D just hates bugs. Cruiser hates motorcycles. Ranger can’t deal with rain on the roof. (He’s the biggest sissy of them all.)

Cole Train is afraid of horses. He has been like this since I got him. I remember the first few weeks when I had a horrible time getting him to walk through one of the doors in our barn. He didn’t mind being inside and he wasn’t afraid of doors, since he would go through the other door, but refused on this door. Turns out, he was afraid of the mare in the first stall when she laid her ears back at him.

That was just the beginning. He was afraid to pass other horses, afraid of them walking behind him in the river and gets startled when they make the slightest aggressive mood—like swishing a tail. He likes Starry, but if he is next to him and Starry does one of his little bucks, Cole will either come to a sudden stop or shoot off sideways. If Starry briskly swishes his tail at the dreaded bugs, Cole will throw his head up in the air.

He has gotten used to Ranger snarling at him, and he will now cautiously pass another horse instead of refusing to pass or leaping forward to avoid getting bitten (even if they aren’t threatening him.)

I don’t know why he is like this, but he is.

The other day, I was riding him in the arena with a bunch of horses. He has gotten used to doing that, and we can pass horses and they can pass us. There was a woman who was standing on the end of the arena holding her horse on a lead line. Her horse got startled by something—she didn’t know what happened. He flew backwards very quickly—right into Cole’s path.

Cole took off and started bucking. After a few seconds, he stopped and was fine. I told everyone it gave me a chance to practice my “Velcro seat.” I didn’t think much more of the incident, but a few minutes later another horse spooked when we were fairly close and it caused Cole to erupt, again. This time wasn’t as bad, and I thought no more of it.

The next day, I was riding with Ellen and Ranger in the arena. I forgot all about the experiences from the day before, but Cole didn’t. We were walking along the wall of the indoor arena and Ranger approached on the inside. Cole bolted. Even though he is very good friends with Ranger, he didn’t want to be trapped between Ranger and the wall. A few minutes later, it happened again; proving that the first time wasn’t a strange fluke. I now had a problem.

Ellen stopped Ranger, and I tried to ride Cole to him. Cole refused to get within 10 feet of him. He was definitely scared. We had some serious Ranger desensitization to do. I was glad it was Ranger that I was going to work with since Ellen is the greatest and most understanding rider.

Of course, I used clicker training. I have found clicker to be the best for desensitization. I took Cole away from Ranger and asked him to approach. As he stepped toward him, I clicked, he stopped and I gave him a treat. Ellen was clicking Ranger for standing very still. I kept repeating this—getting a little closer each time. In about 5 minutes, he was close enough so Ellen could give him a treat. At that point, we started riding together with Cole following Ranger. He became more confident, and their friendship was restored.

A short time later, Kevin came out to lead Starry, and Cole seemed fine with him. When Kevin then came out to lead the evil mare, Cole was uncomfortable with her—for good reason. She has kicked at him in the past. We just stayed away from them.

Hopefully, Cole will take what he learned from Ranger and generalize it with other horses. If not, it will be a long winter of riding with other horses in the indoor arena.

No horse is perfect, and if this is the worst for Cole, I can live with it—as long as I have understanding people to ride with and help me out, we will be fine. Oh, and a Velcro seat helps, too.

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