Thinking about your horse’s emotional state as ‘traffic light zones’ is a great way to get results in your training, explains equine behaviour consultant Justine Harrison.
For training, such as trying to overcome separation anxiety, to be successful, you need to begin at the point your horse starts to become anxious.
You want to work with your horse in his emotional ‘go’ or ‘green zone’, when he is relaxed and paying attention.
If he starts to worry, you will have entered his yellow zone where his anxiety could go either way — if you give him time and don’t ask any more, he may relax and be happy to continue; alternatively, his behaviour may escalate and he will start to panic, entering the red zone.
Individual horses may display anxiety or hold tension in different ways, but common indicators to watch out for are:
Attention without tension. This is the ideal emotional state for your horse to learn and build confidence.
Soft body posture
Soft, round eyes
Relaxed facial muscles
Happy to eat
Could go either way. Go back a few steps and, if necessary, put your horse back in his field or stable and try again later.
Raised head and body posture
Tension in the face — the chin, pursed lips
Triangulation of the eye
Increased muscular tension
May be reluctant to eat
Too late! Remove your horse from the situation as safely and calmly as you can. Try again later or once he’s relaxed.
Trying to leave the situation
Can’t stand still
Whites of the eye visible
Unable to eat or concentrate
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