INTRODUCING RHYTHM BEADS TO THE EXTREMELY NERVOUS OR REACTIVE HORSE
ADVANCE AND RETREAT
The 'advance and retreat' method is key to introducing rhythm beads (or anything new) to your horse without frightening him.
Just as when a horse has previously been frightened by a specific item (insert fly spray, bridle or whatever) advance and retreat can be used to reintroduce and overcome that bad experience.
So lets talk about the best way to introduce rhythm beads to the very reactive horse. (Most horses won't bat an eyelid and will take to them immediately but as we know, all horses have different quirks and things that can send them into orbit... )
Back to rhythm beads.
Firstly, SAFETY: I would suggest introducing them in the stable, or menage, with a headcollar & (preferably 12') lead rope, so you can control his movement more easily. A longer lead rope literally gives you more rope to get out your horses space if needed, without getting all tangled up. Wear appropriate footwear, gloves and definitely a hat if your horse is very reactive/"explodes" easily. Have your rhythm beads in the bag, so they're not jingling about and can be easily taken away/put in a pocket.
You want this to be as stress free as possible, so make sure you are calm and in the right headspace; ie: have plenty of time!
Remember the Monty Roberts quote,
" if you act like you've only got 15 minutes, it will take all day. Act like you've got all day, it will take 15 minutes. "
With advance and retreat, you are teaching your horse how to relieve pressure for himself, which is a fundamental part of making a horse feel safe.
Advance & retreat uses negative reinforcement: the subtraction of something aversive, (such as pressure: in this scenario = rhythm beads) to reward the desired response: acceptance/standing still.
If when you first introduce rhythm beads to your horse and he is worried (under pressure), his instinct as a flight animal, is to move away to 'escape' the pressure but he needs to learn that by standing still ( the required response) the pressure (rhythm beads) is taken away.
Done in the right way, your horse will soon learn he can control the situation by tolerating the pressure by standing still and it will go away.
You can then build up the amount of time you ask your horse to stand still in incremental steps, as he learns to tolerate the 'pressure'. There is no specific time frame so don't rush this, you can take it at a slow pace over several days to get to the end goal: your horse happily wearing his rhythm beads.
Keep your sessions short and always end on a positive, if you get a good response, stop there for the day! The biggest reward is to take away the pressure.
It's important to reward all positives: this could be acceptance/ ignoring, or showing interest or curiosity. Reward a try however small. Reward by dropping the pressure. That is the biggest and most important reward to the horse. Yes, a smile, a pat or rub and 'good boy' is fine, but you don't need to go overboard or your horse is more likely to be suspicious! You want to show him you're the calm and confident leader, so be nonchalant about this "New Thing" not make a huge fuss.
Once your horse accepts them happily around his neck in his stable, try him in a menage/outside, before riding in them; as they are likely to make more noise as they get blown about and you will have a harder job to control the outcome! If he reacts badly outside, go back to where he was happy to accept them ( ie: in the stable), and build up again from there.
If you find it easier try hanging them up in his stable, (in the bag to begin with, as they will be less noisy/frightening) maybe whilst he eats a haynet. Horses are curious, so he should want to investigate and you can reward as before.
Sometimes, putting them around your own neck (safely obviously!) works but as before, proceed calmly and in incremental steps to acclimatise your horse to rhythm beads and you'll soon be riding around in them, as though he's always worn them!
Do let me know if you need any further help on introducing rhythm beads; or if you have a suggestion or would like to share your own tips on this subject, please leave a comment.