Zombie Eyes: When Bomb Proofing Goes Wrong

I guess the first thing that would come to mind for most people when bomb proofing goes wrong is that it did not take. The horse is still shying at things on the trail as always. Although this can happen, it is not what I am talking about. What I am taking about is that the horse has become so desensitized that you cannot get the horse to respond to your driving aids easily. This condition is caused from too much desensitizing. And this can be caused from the ideology that a horse should have no fear of us at all. This is what I want to address in today’s blog. When all of a horse’s fears are taken out of him, a couple of very valuable qualities can be lost, and safety issues can crop up. The first issue that comes up is that the horse stops paying attention to his handler. When all fear is removed from a horse, he looses respect, interest, and the desire to interact with his handler. When this happens, having a horse that is so much larger that we are like this is not a good idea.

"I See Nothing, I Hear Nothing"

When you go to ride such a horse, it can cause him to stop responding to your driving aids. So what you end up with is a horse that won’t go, won’t listen, and can loose his personality and turns in a “zombie” type performance when ridden, which unfortunately is a fairly common sight. It is what I call a “trail slave mentality,” when the horse is barely putting out and is not present.

I think bomb proofing is a good thing, but I want to propose that there can be a lot added to the focus of the program to insure that the horse doesn’t just “zone out” from his handler. This can be achieved by adding exercises between the regular bomb proofing games.

Exercises To Prevent “Zombie Eyes”                                                               

 You could have a course, like a ropes course where you ask your horse to go at a brisk walk or trot to a checkpoint where you do the bomb proofing exercise. Then, you and your horse are off to the next checkpoint in a hurry using your reed or whip as a driving aid; and at the next stop-use your whip or reed as a scratching aid that he enjoys. This way the horse learns that a whip can say many things.

By doing this, you will be able to teach your horse that the whip can be a signal to go forward, or a signal for direction- as well as special tool to scratch his favorite places. I teach my horses to key off my body language and voice so they understand the purpose of my whip. I do not like referring to a whip as a “whip,” I would rather call it an added element to my communications aids, and an extension of my body’s presence. It is only to be used as a directional aid and communication tool.

Sometimes a horse must revere a whip, and other times see that it has value as a toy or scratching aid for him. I want my horses to have a certain amount of fear- enough to keep my horse respectful and paying attention to me. However, there is good fear and bad fear. When the result of fear is respect, it is a healthy fear.

An Exercise in Changing Viewpoints: 

Turning the Negative into a Positive

To keep my horses lively, I like to get them to chase the things they are afraid of and when they catch it, I let them eat a treat off of it. I also hide treats on the trail around scary things, and when I ride my horse to the scaring thing, I get off and get the treat. This way, the horse starts thinking when he sees a scary thing it could be a treasure trove of goodies.

Another thing you can add to your bomb proofing is the Eye Contact Ritual to keep the focus, respect and gas pedal working between the bomb proofing exercises to ensure your horse does not “zone out” and turn into a dull-minded zombie horse. If you have encountered dullness in your horse as a result of bomb proofing in the past, see if these exercises help you.

Zombie Horse? OR Zombie Rider?

The last message I want to add is that many times what causes a horse to shy at things is that the horse is not focused enough on his handler in general, which can be caused from the handler not paying attention to their horse. It can be caused from a horse not trusting or liking his handler, or not enjoying his handler’s company. I have found that horses that are really connected to their riders, and enjoy their connection do not have the interest to shy.

Waterhole Rituals Moving Forward 

The practice of the Waterhole Rituals can make a big difference in your horse’s attitude. If you mix both bomb proofing with the Waterhole Rituals you will come up with a willing, forward horse that sees scary things as a possible treat station when passing by in walk, trot or canter. Instead of trying to shoot quickly past something that he is afraid of, he will be hoping you have a treat for him, and the possibility that you might ask for a halt. Because you have built enough respect and interest in your horse to listen to your lead he will ease on by. Just remember to take the time that it takes and make the adjustments you need to get the results you want to gain.

Try not to use a method blindly. Be creative, and be sure to use the method in a judicious way. When something is not working, create a plan that you think would work better for you. Any method takes your input and creativity to get the best results. In other words, pay attention to your horse as much as you would like him to pay attention to you.

Training horses must always be hinged around how your horse is taking to it. When you see the “zombie eyes” beginning to form, change your routine to an active one. Practice fast work to wake him up, like riding him on a course in a strong walk, strong trot or canter. Keep your horse aware of your presence. Focus also on keeping your horse relaxed while being with you when you are practicing bomb proofing exercises. You can do this simply by standing with him and doing nothing more than enjoying the day as part of the program. Put a lot of pause into your program along with the faster work to keep your horse in a state of well-being. Start out slowly, and do not step it up until you see your horse starting to zone out on you, then take it to the next level through faster work.

Good luck. Hope this is of help.

May the Spirit of the Horse Be With You!

Carolyn