‘Mashing’ is a term I came up with to describe how to help a horse learn to mentally handle stressful or new situations and develop a healthy response to pressure. It is exposing the horse to something outside his current comfort zone so that when real life happens, he has learned how to hold it together. You could also think of it as extreme desensitizing.
Mashing Your Horse Vs. Desensitizing Your Horse
Mashing is a little different than desensitizing. The objective of desensitizing is to have a horse no longer react in fear to a particular object. The objective of mashing is to purposely put the horse in a controlled, but somewhat tense situation. You actually want him to get a little bothered so you can help him learn to handle pressure in a better way. Mashing can rework the wiring and cause a horse’s mind to resort to bravery instead of fight or flight.
Mashing Your Horse Objectives
A lot of horses have never had any pressure put on them. Therefore, they are no good at handling pressure. Any time everything is not just exactly right or familiar, they fall apart and mentally lose it. The horse freaks out when another horse runs up behind him on the trail. A tree branch unexpectedly moves in the woods. A stirrup breaks and falls off. The horse travels to an unfamiliar place. He hears a loud noise and quickly speeds up. The list goes on and on.
The intent of mashing your horse is similar to boot camp for a soldier. The recruits experience various situations that push them beyond their norm. The goal is to increase mental fortitude.
If you want to evaluate your horse’s mental soundness, get my free checklist here: Mental Soundness Checklist
Squeeze Out The Spooky
Another way to look at mashing is like squeezing a wet rag to get the excess water out. The water contained in the rag remains hidden until you squeeze it. If you always treat a horse like he is spooky and mentally fragile, he will remain in that condition.
A horse can have inner turmoil that doesn’t become apparent until some stimulus brings it to the surface. And many horses are never pressed enough to get the majority of the bother out in a controlled way. So it leaks out at unexpected and inconvenient times.
Mashing will squeeze out the spooky. But this happens over a period of time. It’s applied gradually with timing and consideration of the horse. Read the horse. Fit the level he is at.
Mashing Your Horse Example #1
When mashing on a horse, a calculated amount of pressure is applied that is slightly above his comfort level. For example, suppose your horse is okay with rubbing his shoulder. But when you move down to rub his front leg, he gets antsy. To execute a mashing exercise, start at his shoulder and then begin to move your hand down his leg. Just go with him when he begins moving away as a response to your touch. Keep the ‘pressure’ of your hand on his leg steady and constant until he makes a positive change. The reward for the change is that your hand goes away. Then start again, rewarding all signs of bravery.
Mashing Your Horse Example #2
At a clinic in Idaho, there was a horse that could not stand still to be mounted. So instead of continuing to tiptoe around the horse, hoping he would not walk off or move around, we did some mashing. The horse’s reaction shocked the owner. She had been riding this horse around all morning and was not aware he had so much inner anxiety.
To begin the mashing, I moved towards this horse pretty quickly and reached to grab a stirrup. The horse started frantically going sideways. I simply went with him and kept my hand on the stirrup until he settled. The reward was that I took my hand off the stirrup and left him alone for a minute. After doing that again a few times, the horse handled my grabbing the stirrup without any bother.
So we continued mashing the horse by doing some more things that he was unsure about. We rocked the saddle around, put some weight in a stirrup, and even jumped all around him like a hyper kid. At first, the horse would react with uneasiness. But after only a few minutes, my obnoxious presence and exaggerated motions only caused a controlled response, and no longer caused an uncontrolled reaction.
A video of this session is included as part of the Buckaroo Crew membership: Buckaroo Crew
Frozen Vs. Relaxed
As we were doing many of these things, we asked this horse to keep his feet moving. That was to ensure that the horse was not standing still in fear, but standing still because he was relaxed enough to not feel the need to move.
Again, you have to ‘read’ your horse. When a horse is totally relaxed, it will be easy to get him to move his feet as he is being handled or mashed. But with one that is still anxious, he will have a harder time not freezing in place. For that type of horse, it’s better to have him move his feet at first because that really helps one get brave quickly.
If they are already moving their feet easily, then during the mashing session you just hang in there until they get still. The progression would be the horse courageously standing still while you are ‘mashing’ on him.
Put some thought into ways you can create a mashing scenario. Mashing is all about what’s going on in the horse’s mind. It builds general stress resilience. It causes a horse’s mind to be more well-rounded and not easily frazzled. It’s a life skill. And it’s an exercise that I highly recommend doing.
To listen to my ‘Mashing’ podcast, go here: Mashing | Teach Your Horse To Handle Pressure
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