This is an enormous part of our work here in Skidby and I am always grateful to those drivers who are patient and allow us both room and time. The better we can train all horses to feel safe in traffic and with all the obstacles, hazards and comings and goings, the better.
Being given the chance to let horses habituate to it all and with us rewarding their every try, it makes drivers safer as well. Horses leave our care to face a lifetime of road riding because horse owners do not have the luxury of much off road riding these days. I dearly wish we did because we do not choose, or even want, to ride out on the highways.
Horses usually come to us in one of 2 categories:
1 - They are already fearful of traffic, especially tractors and big wagons because of past-experience.
2 - They have never been out on roads before and therefore it is all scary and unknown territory.
To understand how to change fears into acceptance and calmness, requires the handler to understand thresholds. We work with the horses below threshold and introduce the world of traffic, busses, diggers, tractors etc at a distance where inquisitiveness in to the fore with no feelings of needing to escape. We provide buckets full of grass or high grade forage or a Hors-lix at that point. Through time, effort and repetitions, the thresholds drop back and habituation occurs. Counter conditioning happens through the nice stuff happening when in the presence of traffic. Very gradually the bar is raised until the horse can stand right on the pavement, with his lick and be totally un-bothered by passing buses, general traffic and people with dogs and prams etc. Only at this point will we start to walk the roads and explore the village.
My yard is based right on a busy Main Street which makes it a perfect place to begin. The horse is loose and is given total control. The proximity to traffic decreases as the horse learns to relax, knowing it can leave at any time. I also share the property with a Plant Hire company so we are surrounded by diggers, road sweepers, excavators and tractors. I use all these for training and the horses pass them to go to and back from the fields. There will be power washing, hammering, welding and general running of big engines on a daily basis. Habituation occurs. We reward every correct emotion, inquisitiveness, targeting, and calmness therefore a wonderful history is built up day by day.
We work at liberty in the school with tractors, gradually building up different associations using positive reinforcement and empowering the horse with complete control. The end result of which is that the horses will choose to follow and interact with the tractor, instead of the previous feelings of needing to avoid or escape. Target ting the vehicle with its nose end for reward rather than the opposite of running away.
Please feel free to ring and discuss your worries over traffic fear.