Don’t Get in a Flap: Say ‘Neigh’ to Tarps and Flags
Neil Davies working with a young foal
Recently I watched a famous trainer harassing a horse with a tarp. The horse was snorting and ‘taking fright’ of the tarp and was obviously very worried. “I’ve been doing this for a few months now,” the trainer said. “I’ll keep at him until he gives up. I may wear out a few tarps but he’ll eventually get used to it.”
No matter what the poor horse did, there was never any relief. The horse tried to escape the pressure of the flapping tarp by rushing away, by standing still and by moving towards the trainer. But the tarp kept flapping. At one point the horse approached the trainer but there was no relief – the trainer flapped the tarp even harder. There was no way out. There was nothing the horse could do to stop the flapping tarp.
After a few months of this treatment, the horse was still very frightened. He wasn’t ‘used to’ the tarp and he wasn’t ‘desensitised’. Forever more, this horse’s first reaction will be to rush away whenever he’s startled. Forever more, he’ll expect bad experiences when something is flapping.
A horse that rushes away from a flapping tarp or flag means one thing and one thing only. The trainer has pushed too far. The horse stops thinking and rushes away because his flight response overtakes his normal logical thinking process.
Every day, all over the world, horses are chased and harassed with tarps and flags. You see terrified horses puffing and dripping with sweat while trainers flap their tarps and flags. Eventually the horses stand because they’re physically and mentally exhausted.
Don’t be fooled. These horses haven’t ‘submitted’ and they aren’t ‘desensitised’. They’re simply so fatigued that they can no longer react.
There’s no need to put any horse through such trauma. Everything must be introduced to every horse without evoking the horse’s flight or fight response.
Every horse has a point where he’s frightened. Every horse has a threshold where his flight or fight response cuts in and he’ll rush away or kick or strike. The key to having every horse confident and relaxed is to never push past this flight or fight threshold.
In other words, never scare your horse with the idea that he’ll ‘get used to it”.
Neil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977. Over the next fifteen years, he started more than a thousand horses under saddle and trained thousands of so-called ‘problem’ horses. From $100 backyard ponies to thoroughbreds worth millions, Neil has seen it all. Neil was one of the first trainers to document his unique approach on video. The videos sold worldwide and he has conducted clinics and demonstrations in Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Neil’s ‘original knowledge’ comes from working with so many horses, day after day and year after year. Though few people have the opportunity or the inclination to do what he’s done, every horseperson can benefit from his knowledge and experience