Saturday, June 6, 2009

Acid sprayer torture update

Ok, so after I replied to yall I headed off to get my hair cut then out to the barn. Here's what went down.

I put the white spray bottle of water and the purple spray bottle of fly spray in the middle of the round pen, then led Dixie in and unsnapped the lead. She watched curiously as I walked out into the center of the round pen and picked up the water bottle - then she bolted. It wasn't cantering, it was full fledged panic galloping in mad terror, around and around and around. I waited her out for a few minutes, but she wasn't calming down and she wasn't thinking about it, she was just trying to flee. I decided that was pretty unsafe - a slip would be tragic - so I put the bottle down and waited.

She wasn't having any of it. She kept running, just as freaked out as before. I waited til she calmed down just a tiny bit, then started turning her every other lap or so. Eventually I got her brain back, turned her a few more times, and got her to stop.

Well, I thought. That didn't go like I planned. I didn't even get to try to spray her to prove that it doesn't hurt. So I put the lead rope on her, picked up the water spritzer, and squeezed it once, not even pointed in her direction. She freaked out and bolted again. This was even more unsafe, because if I pulled wrong I could knock her down and if I let go the lead could tangle up in her legs. I set the bottle down, waited and talked and eventually got her back from whatever spray-bottle waterboarding fear she was engulfed in.

Hmm. Let's back the pressure off again. I took her off to the side, rubbed her head and told her she was a good girl and waited til she stopped looking quite so horrified. Then I started leading her around. (I don't think I did irreparable damage, because she was leading like the rope wasn't even there, just following carefully in my footsteps.) We walked around the pen a couple laps, then changed direction and walked some more, then changed direction and walked directly by a bottle. She hesitated and made sure I was closer to the bottle than she was, but she came. Walk, walk, walk, near a bottle. Walk, walk, walk, I stopped and kicked a bottle, then walked past it. Walk, walk, walk, I picked a bottle up and dropped it again and walked past it.

Then I tried to take the pressure off entirely for a minute, maybe get her a little curious instead of 100% afraid. I unsnapped the lead, left her by the rail, and went and squatted down near the water bottle. She stood frozen, terrified, for a long time, but I didn't look at her or attack her with it or anything. I just waited. Eventually she relaxed a tiny bit. I started picking up the bottle and setting it down, squeezing the trigger at the dirt, holding it upside down, just messing with it. I was watching her out of the corner of my eye, but I never stared at her or motioned toward her.

I left the bottles in the middle and walked over and loved on her for a while. I rubbed a lot of loose hair off of her with my hands, massaged her neck a little, just stood near her. Then I picked up a bottle and moved toward her til she tensed up, then stopped. Waited til she relaxed, then moved in til she tensed. The rest of it was just traditional approach-retreat, and I ended up spraying one leg with water, then three legs with fly spray.

We'd been at it for a full hour, and I decided to quit when I noticed her attention was kind of wandering. I brought her in, put sunscreen on her pink little nose, and turned her back out for the night. She makes the most hysterically indignant faces about the sunscreen, but at least she's not burned raw like last summer!


  1. That is a tough situation. Ideally, when a horse acts fearful of something, benignly keeping the object around until it becomes quiet and realizes that said object is all right is the way to go. When a horse runs or acts fearful of the object and then the object goes away, the horse learns that running away makes the object go away. But in a situation like this where the horse puts itself into a dangerous situation, where DO you back off? I'm not really sure there is a good answer.

    It sounds like you made progess despite all the Dixie terror. Keep at it!!

  2. Good job and good luck. I've been doing this for 5 years with Lakota. EAch year I give up and spray a rag and wipe it on her. She has the same insane terror over spray. She's just as afraid of the hose. I can, however, bathe her by pressing the nozzle against her skin so the water runs down her, but doesn't make that spraying sound. It takes a TON of treats and a lot of time, but we get it done, once a year (lol).

  3. Also (if you can do this SAFELY) don't be afraid to have several VERY SHORT sprayer torture interludes in a single day. Don't raise the pressure at all, just let her get bored. And more bored. And more bored. THEN raise the pressure.

    And be careful. You have an alternative (wiping on the fly spray) so it's not actually critical that you accomplish the ultimate goal of spraying her with the stuff while she stands calmly eating carrots. That means you have Tons. Of. Time. to practice this. Take it, and use it wisely.

    We'll be watching from the sidelines and cheering you onwards. So far, you're doing great!

    --Aarene (and Fiddle, who isn't afraid of flyspray but OH MY GAWD terrified of white plastic bags. Sigh.)

  4. baasha hates spray bottles. he rolls his eyes and tries to escape every time i spray him. you'd think he'd be used to them by now, but no. he'll go to his grave hating spray bottles, but that's ok: )


  5. Sounds like you made good forward progress...excellent! Doesn't it make you wonder WHY she is so terrified of the sprayer? Is it the noise? The shape of the bottle? The smell? The feel of the spray on her skin?

    It just amazes me what some horses decide to take exception to. For some it's the sprayer, others it's tarps or chickens or llamas or golf carts. They are such goofy critters!

  6. My horse was the same way. However, last fall I solved it. He still makes icky faces but at least he does not flip out in the cross ties. With his halter and lead rope on, we go into his stall. I stay in the middle and asked him to walk in a circle around me. I also put grain in his feeder and hay. Then, I just began spraying his barrel/top middle section of his back. At first he zoomed into a quicker walk/trot but I just kept spraying. As soon as he began to slow down or stop, I quit and praised him/treats.

    I realize that plan is a bit dicey but it worked for me. I think the enclosed space of a stall leaves less room for full blown panic attacks.

    I remember trying to solve the issue in a round pen first and it resulted in major temper tantrums and a lot of sweat for both parties involved.

    The other advantage of a stall is they can not run away from the spray. Using a lead line/halter and asking for a circle might help with danger risk slightly. I think at first I also kept a little batting crop in one hand to just use for poking horse's shoulder away. (Crops are my little "blankie" of sorts. I never use them harshly just has an extension of my arm to tap hindquarters or shoulders of younglings to remind them to keep a further distance away from me.)

    I heard other people suggest that during feeding time to spray outside the stall. To begin with the horse just gets use to close proximity of the spray sound.

    Well, that is my two bits and good luck!

  7. Good job working through a scary situation.

  8. I have a mare who doesn't care for the fly spray and if I try to spray her without her halter, she takes exception & trots off. But never have had one show so an adverse reaction as your Dixie. Glanced thru the comments to see some of the good suggestions. Maybe toss it out to Mugwump, too. Good luck!

  9. HUH!
    Well..could be she needs to live with a small bottle near her grain and hay and they can become her friends!Remeber to spray with your mouth too and it can be a desensitizing effect!

    Would not try the stall thing without a halter!


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