Step 1: Make sure you can halter your horse 🙂
Step 2: Let her sniff the mask. Make sure you have plenty of room for her to drift (paddock or pasture).
Step 3: Try to softly throw the mask over her neck, nose and eventually ears.
Step 4: Run after your panicking horse, still throwing the mask over her neck or at least make that movement in the air until you see a slight change in her tension (obviously less tension). Don’t be afraid to touch her with the mask. All of this while making a fool of yourself for all those watching 😉
Step 5: Shorten the line and try that again, ensuring she doesn’t run into you by protecting your space. Rearing, and extreme pulling are to be expected but don’t give up until you see a relaxation of some kind. Can be standing still for a second, her head making a slight move downwards, a softer eye or ear.
Step 6: Repeat step 4 and 5 and add intensity when she gets more worried. When she gets softer, you get softer and stop every now and then to let her soak it all in, there will be licking and chewing going on.
Step 7: After about 40 minutes, try to aim the mask over her ears and rub with the mask over her nose, neck and ears until that doesn’t bother her anymore. Tip: when lots of flies around and in the ears this helps as she enjoys the scratches).
Step 8: Put her ears in the mask and try to close the Velcro before she starts swinging her head up and down, left to right. Let her do that swinging until she starts to blow, yawn and lower her head.
Step 9: Remove the halter and let her run free.
As an alternative you could remove the mask and put it back on later, but this works as well as she gets used to the feeling and soon doesn’t even notice the mask anymore.
This is what I did today to make our Missy braver about the mask. It basically is everything that comes around her ears that she doesn’t trust. Not surprising for a horse that got hit on the head with a pole.
The big trick, and I need to thank Michael Grohmann and Susanne Neff for their wise lessons on this, is to not be careful or sneaky around a horse that is afraid of things, that only makes her reactions worse when something really spooky happens. We however all tend to be very calm and quiet around horses like that because we don’t want them to blow up.
Why does that work? Think about yourself, have you ever tried something you are afraid off without someone (can be yourself) pushing you a bit and exposing you to an aspect of it? If you keep avoiding the very thing you are scared off, you’ll never be confident doing it and the fear will not disappear, maybe even intensify. You need to move closer and stay longer in order to feel a change and become braver.
What I just did was giving her a chance to become braver by exposing her fear, letting her go there and giving her a chance to learn for herself how to become a more thinking and centered horse. If I were to stop when she gets worried, I would actually teach her to be worried because she gets release every time she spooks.
Yes it can get nasty, or at least it looks like that, but it really helps the horse as long as you are self confident about it. If you are afraid of her reactions, this strategy does not work, so don’t go there.
Later in the pasture at liberty I could put her ear back in the mask (she shook her head too much and her ear came out) and tighten the Velcro without any fear reaction from her, she even enjoyed it.
And now I’m sitting at my living room table with a sight on my 2 alien looking horses and one little naughty pony that is lucky enough that he has long manes to keep the flies off.