Curiosity is a gift in helping a horse develop self confidence. If they approach a bag on a stick with their muzzle and their curiosity is rewarded with a ‘friendly’ object that is passive and even pleasurable (when used as a scratcher) they will more readily try the same approach again rather than running scared. The more you stretch a horse’s comfort zone by introducing varied objects and obstacles in a structured and controlled way, the more they will learn to overcome their initial flight instinct and become curious.
Encouraging them with praise and reward will make the whole experience a positive one and help them become more confident in their self belief and ability to cope with new surroundings and environmental changes. It will also further their trust in you as a leader as you are suggesting something new is OK and then proving to them that it is.
Beware of your timing when working with a horse’s curiosity. A mistimed movement at an object’s introduction might make them ‘confident’ that new objects are unpredictable and worrying. This is why it is important to find where your horse’s tolerance level is and build on it bit by bit.
Check out this video on Curiosity and Contact from the Desensitisation module of the Foundation Training course for more.