What would make a horse seek out an object to stand near? The answer is easier to understand than you think, because we are not that different. If you were alone and sleeping outside would you choose to sleep near something or out in an large open space? What feelings would both scenarios evoke?
I’m guessing that like horses, most of us would choose to sleep near a tree, an outcropping of ledge, a large rock, etc. Like us, horses inherently know that being out in the open leaves us vulnerable. There is safety in numbers, but if that isn’t possible a “Safety Object” can do the trick.
Observe your horses at rest and notice the surrounding environment. Are they near other horses? Are their butts towards a shelter, tree, a post or the fence line? This gives us the answer to their preferences.
Horse Speak® founder Sharon Wilsie has coined the phrase, “Safety Object” and taught us how to replicate the feeling of safety for the horses we keep on our farms or travel abroad with.
It’s as easy as this:
- Place two or three objects such as cones, barrels or a stall mat in paddocks, pastures, riding areas and even out on the trail.
- Place them in the quietest area. In an arena this might actually be towards the center. (We all know “gremlins” live in corners and unpredictable “things” happen outside the fence.)
- Lead or ride your horse to the object and just let him be, asking nothing.
- Lengthen the reins if mounted and the lead rope if in-hand, creating freedom of movement.
- If in-hand, step a bit away, turning your core (center) off the horse and relax. Take some deep breaths, cock a leg, soften your eyes, etc.
- Allow the horse to do whatever comes natural to him.
The goal is for him to associate the object with a place to rest, digest and restore, activating his parasympathetic nervous system. He may bite it, play with it, or knock it over before he begins to relax. Give him a few moments to fully relax and then carry on. Notice any changes. Over time this can become an invaluable tool, especially for the nervous or hesitant horse,…or human.
Once horses learn the benefits of standing near an object, they may begin making requests to do just that. By listening and honoring their request, whenever possible, you are showing them that their feelings matter. This sets you on a pathway to deepening rapport and improving your overall relationship. Humans process much faster than horses. Slowing down and giving them the needed time to rest, digest and restore will often speed things up in the end.
Supporting the Horse Who Lives or Is Turned Out Alone
Placing one or more Safety Objects in the space of a horse that lives alone can offer him a place to rest and restore. In our paddock we have a plastic barrel, a 6×6 post with a scratching pad, a stall mat and a couple of salt block holders. Try it with your horse regardless of whether he lives alone or in a herd. Take glimpse of the horses at rest and see where they choose to stand.
I would love to hear your stories and see a picture of what you come up with and how your horse responds. Feel free to share them on my FaceBook page.