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Rain Ready: Introduce Your Horse to a Rain Slicker

Introduce Your Horse to Rain Slicker / Jacket / Gear
Photo by Heidi Nyland Melocco

Will your horse allow you to pick up and swing a rain slicker? The noise and fast-moving fabric on both sides of his body can be spook-inducing. Whether you’re preparing for a trail class that includes the slicker as an obstacle or you need to make sure that you can don your jacket without dismounting during a trail ride, you’ll want to know that your horse is relaxed with the slicker’s sound and movement.

Here, trainer Jessica Dabkowski of Pony Peak Stangmanship in Laporte, Colo., focuses on natural horsemanship techniques while training Mustangs and all breeds of horses. Here, she guides you as you introduce your horse to a slicker. You’ll gain calm, slow and patient training techniques to help you approach and master any new trail obstacle without a big spook.

Before you get started, outfit your horse with a rope halter and long train-ing lead and have your saddle and bridle ready.

Ground Work with a Rain Slicker

Young Rider Magazine LogoConfirm that your horse feels OK with the slicker moving near and around him before you ride with the jacket. While you work from the ground, you’ll be able to see any reactions—whether he steps away, tenses or just stands still and relaxes.

Start by taking the slicker from a post in the middle of the arena. Make sure you have plenty of space to work, so that your horse doesn’t feel “trapped” next to a fence.

Introduce Your Horse to Rain Slicker / Jacket / Gear
Ask your horse to move forward and follow you with the slicker. Photo by Heidi Nyland Melocco

Follow Me

Ask your horse to move forward from the halter and lead pressure while fol-lowing you with the slicker. Following an object helps him think of it differ-ently than a predator he must escape. You want your horse to look interested in the slicker, looking at and sniffing it. Let him take in the information.

If your horse is calm with this step, approach him from one side and then the other. Make sure not to stand in front of your horse as you approach his shoulder and side. Allow him to see the slicker and notice his body cues. Note: Be careful not to get too close. You don’t want to be close enough to get kicked.

If your horse seems calm or simply attentive, progress to swinging the slicker around his side, legs and over him. Move slowly. If your horse seems accepting, ask him to move around you in a small circle. Keep the slicker moving beside him, then eventually on him as he moves. Your horse may act differently as something moves while he’s moving.

If at any time your horse tenses, stop and rebuild your horse’s con-fidence by releasing pressure and speaking softly. You are applying mental pressure as you move and touch him with the slicker. Then you’ll help him relax if you stop when he tenses. If your horse is just learning about the slicker, stopping the movement and stimuli before he has a reaction can build his con-fidence. Once he has paused and relaxed, put pressure on again by approaching him with the slicker in the same way that was once daunt-ing. Let him know the slicker isn’t a constantly scary item.

Desensitization Training with a Jacket
Next, approach him from the side. If he remains calm, you can swing the slicker near his legs and over his neck. Photo by Heidi Nyland Melocco

Why stop when you see tension? Many horse owners worry that “you teach what you release.” With this idea, you can’t stop the pressure if the horse is tense or reacting and can only take away pressure if he relaxes. While this can work, the technique isn’t needed in all cases.

In the beginning stages, it’s best to build your horse’s confidence and work to avoid a big spook by stopping the scary experience when you see ten-sion. If your horse reacts in a big way, face your horse, lift up and to the side with your lead rope. This cues your horse to yield his hindquarters. Your horse’s back legs will cross, which slows him and helps him relax. You’ll teach your horse that if he yields his hindquarters, the scary thing will stop.

Saddle Time

If your horse is calm as he follows the slicker and allows the slicker to touch him all over, you’re ready to repeat the steps from the saddle.

Allow your horse to look at the slicker before you pick it up. To start, touch his neck and sides with it. If your horse seems concerned or tenses at any step, stop, calm him, then try again. You can also cue your horse to yield his hindquarters as you ride in a now-familiar response of yielding, then calming.

Desensitization Training with a Jacket
When your horse is ready for you to pick up the slicker while mounted, start by touching his neck and sides with it. Finally, touch behind the saddle and swing it around. Photo by Heidi Nyland Melocco

If your horse accepts the slicker touching his sides, legs and hindquar-ters, swing the slicker around as you would to put it on. If at any point you feel that your horse is too tense, dis-mount and move the slicker in the same way while working from the ground.

When you break down the steps and work slowly and diligently, you’ll teach your horse to accept the noise and movement of the slicker no matter where you stand or sit.

Special thanks to Preston Sander-Ferracane and Bravo for assistance with these photos.

This interview about introducing a horse to a rain slicker appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Heidi Melocco

Heidi Nyland Melocco holds a Bachelor's degree in English from Ohio Wesleyan University and a Master's degree in journalism from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University with a concentration in magazine and photo editing. At the latter, she was named Master's Student of the Year. Her stories and photographs are seen regularly in many equine publications, including Horse Illustrated and Young Rider. Melocco is an author of Western Horseman's Understanding Lameness, Western Horseman’s Legends 6 and 9, and Goodnight’s Guide to Great Horsemanship, and she’s a contributing photographer for the Certified Horsemanship Association's Instructor Manual, Hitch Up & Go, The Revolution in Horsemanship by Rick Lamb and Robert Miller, DVM; and Breed for Success by Rene Riley and Honi Roberts. She and her daughter are currently writing a new children's book called Pony Powers—all about what it's like to keep a pony at home. Melocco's photos have won awards from the Equine Photographer's Network and an AIM Award. Melocco holds first-prize awards from American Horse Publications (AHP) for training stories and equine photography. She has had more than 35 magazine cover photos. Melocco continues to write about and photograph horses and also works in video broadcasting. She directed and produced a popular RFD-TV show for more than 10 years. Melocco stays up to speed with social media and has grown accounts to reach and engage with hundreds of thousands of fans. She served on the Board of Directors for the Colorado Horse Council and has presented social media seminars at the PATHi and CHA International Conferences.She started riding Ponies of the Americas at age 5 at Smiley R Ranch in Hilliard, Ohio, with Janet Hedman and the W. E. Richardson family. In college, she was president and later assistant coach of the Ohio Wesleyan University Equestrian Team, coached by world-champion-earning trainer Terry Myers. Keeping active as a rider and riding instructor, Melocco began studying Brain Gym—an international program based on whole-brain and active learning. As a 4-H advisor, she used the simple movements to help horseback riding students relax and achieve their goals in the saddle. Melocco became a registered instructor with Path International, helping to combine horse knowledge and therapeutic experience with horsemanship training. Melocco has presented demos at Equine Affaire and at the Path International and National Youth Horse Council Annual Conferences. She taught at the Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center in Longmont, Colo. Melocco resides on her small-acreage horse property with her husband, Jared; daughter Savannah; registered AQHA gelding, Charlie; pony, Romeo; dogs Lucy and Rosie, and three orange barn kitties known as the "Porch Patrol."


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