As I walked to the barn this weekend I heard an unmistakeable low hum underfoot. The grass is not yet green, the snow is still melting from the shadiest nooks and crannies near the treeline, but the insects are restless. And where most horses are concerned, when the flies emerge, so must the fly spray.
So begins the skittering dance in stalls and barn aisles around the world. You point and raise the nozzle toward Old Joe and he transforms from sleepy senior into wild-eyed bronc: “There’s NO WAY I’m letting THAT THING spit on me!” he seems to say as he trods on your toes, knocks you into the wall, and spills his water bucket down the back of your pants for good measure.
Noted horsewoman, rancher, and author of over 20 books Heather Smith Thomas gives us simple steps to overcoming the very common fear of spray bottles in her new book GOOD HORSE, BAD HABITS. In this remarkably easy-to-use reference, Heather provides multiple solutions to over 130 problems in the stable, on the ground, under saddle, and on the road. GOOD HORSE, BAD HABITS is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.
CLICK HERE to find out more.
Here’s Heather’s advice for defeating a horse’s habitual fear of “Spray Bottle Monsters”:
Many horses are afraid of fly spray or aerosol applications because of the hissing sound they make when the product is dispensed. Some people make the mistake of trying to apply spray for the first time with the horse restrained (tied up). Unfortunately, if the horse feels trapped in the face of the unfamiliar sound and sensation of the spray, he may panic and pull back. Fear of the sound of the spray quickly becomes a phobia and resistance becomes a habit.
How to Change This Habit
Start over and reacquaint the horse with the spray in a totally nonconfrontational manner. Take as much time and use as many lessons as necessary to get him relaxed about the sound of spray. Work on this in a safe, open area where the horse can’t run into anything, and use a spray bottle with plain water in it.
• Stand next to his shoulder, holding on to the lead rope, and spray the bottle far away from him, at first. He may run circles around you, trying to get away from it, but just continue spraying (away from him) while talking quietly to the horse. If you are not actually trying to spray him, you will also be more relaxed and at ease, not tense and fighting with him to stand still. As soon as the horse stands quietly instead of moving around when he hears the sound, pet him and let him know he’s done the right thing.
• Gradually work the spray closer to the horse as he begins to settle down. Repeat the lesson several times a day until he starts to fuss less and relax.
• Usually within a few days the horse realizes it’s not going to hurt him—the sound no longer scares him—and you can cautiously start applying the spray to his body. The key throughout the process is to not restrain him so he doesn’t feel trapped. If he’s free to move around you in a circle, he gets over his fear more quickly. (He’s also less apt to try to kick at you when he’s moving.)
If the horse is really nervous and scared, take a lot of time to reacquaint him with the spray. Enlist the help of a friend so one of you can hold him (in a paddock or pen is a good place to work on this) while the other starts spraying well away from him, gradually getting closer. Bring the spray a little closer and then take it farther away again, alternating proximity (using approach and retreat) so he knows it won’t “get him.” Give him a chance to think about it, allowing him to circle around his handler if he wants to. When he does stop and stand still, rub his neck and withers to help relax him—rubbing this area tends to calm a horse because this is where his dam nuzzled him when he was a foal.
A horse always “thinks” more rationally when he is calm than when he’s scared and upset, so your job in the process is to get him calm, rather than try to force him to accept the spray.
What If Nothing Works?
When a horse continues to fear spray applications and his reactions are such that he puts you or himself in danger, use an alternate method for applying insecticide or other spray products. Spray onto a soft cloth and then wipe it on the horse. Seek alternative product choices, like roll-ons and ointments.
Find more practical solutions to common horse problems in GOOD HORSE, BAD HABITS.
“I really like this book!” says Rhonda Massingham Hart, author of Trail Riding and Among Wild Horses. “It is such a great idea for horse people because it leads them deeper into understanding the psychology behind many horse behavior and training issues. People tend to read only what they think they need to know, but here, even if they only read one problem-and-solution because it’s related to an issue they are actually dealing with, they will have learned something valuable–and hopefully, reading one will lead to reading another, and another, and…”