Here is a tale of Beauty, a gorgeous Tennessee Walker, and the big blue mounting block that terrorized her.
Ok, she wasn't scared of the mounting block, exactly, but the mounting process was causing her so much anxiety she didn't want to go anywhere near the block. Apparently she'd been having issues with standing next to the mounting block and standing still once her owner was in the saddle. The issues had gotten so bad, in fact, that the owner had resorted to not only placing the horse between the mounting block and the fence, but also having her husband assist in holding the horse still.
But Beauty had only gotten worse.
Then, one warm sunny day, her owner approached me for help. She just wanted to get on the horse, she said, but Beauty would not stand still.
We checked her back and the fit of the saddle and neither was a problem. .... so it was time to ask Beauty.
I took a hold of Beauty in one hand and the mounting block in the other and put them both in the round pen. Her anxiety rose as we approached the mounting block. She wasn't being testy (or mare-ish), only nervous. She was fearful, but not in a way that made me think she was afraid of the block itself.
Instead, she was associating the block with anxiety...
... Probably because her owners had become increasingly anxious every time they wanted to mount. Basically, they were anticipating problems which in turn made them tense. And that anxiety rubbed off on her, making her even worse. What probably started out as a minor problem had compounded into an unmanageable issue.
I held Beuary in one hand and the mounting block in the other and placed it down next to her when she stood, praising her greatly for her efforts, even if it was only a fraction of a second.
I had all the time in the world. Frustration was not an option.
Then two things happened:
1 – she learned what my cues were for when I was praising her versus when I was unhappy with her actions
2 – she started to associate my cues with the mounting activities.
She began associating my praises (BIG praises with lots of scratches) with standing quietly next to the mounting block.
Then came standing on the mounting block. Then jumping on the mounting block. Then putting weight in the stirrup.....
In short, we began reprogramming her brain to associate the mounting block, and mounting, with positive feelings and relaxation rather than anxiety.
Within the hour, Beauty and the Beast had formed an entirely new relationship. It was a good first step and, like any relationship, will require maintenance. But I have complete faith that her owner will continue the process far into the future.
....and live happily every after.