Happy Halloween everyone! There is no shortage of Halloween celebrations in the horse world. There are plenty of shows, costume contests, and parades where horses are dressed up and shown off.
Every time I see these events there is the inevitable disaster where a horse freaks out and gets in trouble for being scared.
I want to make it clear – there is nothing wrong with putting a costume on your horse. I’ve dressed my horses up, painted them, and even made them horsey pants. However, just like with anything else you ask of your horse you should make sure your horse is properly prepared so that he can be happy and comfortable during the costumed event.
Before you even think about taking your horse to a costumed event you should be sure to try on your costume and allow your horse to get used to it. Even if your horse has worn tons of Halloween costumes they all fit and move slightly differently.
You should work your horse in hand in his costume until he is relaxed and able to move around without worry. Do some basic line work at the walk so he gets accustomed to the costume sliding across his body and rustling.
If your horse is worried about the costume before you get it on then treat it like you would desensitization work with a tarp. Pet your horse and reassure him as you let him sniff the costume and rub it across his body. When your horse can stand in a relaxed stance for this you can begin putting the costume on.
Take your time with this and work on it over the course of a few days or weeks depending on how worried your horse is. If you force the costume on your horse he will likely get more worried and more difficult to desensitize to the costume.
If you are planning on wearing your costume for more than just a costume class then you should ride your horse in costume and practice any specific things that your horse will need to do. Plenty of horses can keep it together wearing a costume at the walk, but panic when asked to trot, canter, or jump in costume.
Making sure that the horse moves around before you get on with your costumes can help prevent an exciting first ride. Even the calmest horses will occasionally buck or rear when something flaps on them unexpectedly.
If you are going wear an unusual costume then you should also get your horse used to this. Costumes including capes or other billowing pieces can be especially difficult for horses. I would recommend doing some tarp work with your horse so that he is accustomed to something flapping around and making noise on his back before you get on with an unusual costume. It is always a good idea to give your horse a refresher with a tarp even if you have worked with a tarp in the past because you probably don’t want your horse to panic when your costume billows in the wind. Once you do get on, make sure your horse is relaxed and comfortable after each new thing you ask of him.
Once your horse is comfortable with his and your cosrume, find a friend to dress up their horse. I’ve had several horses who were fine in their costumes, but panicked the moment they saw another costumed horse. Let your horse watch and calm him down if he gets anxious.
Also make sure to practice your ground work before the show so that you are prepared to support and comfort your horse if he panics. A lot of us get lazy and out of practice with our ground work, especially when we have a fairly laid back, easier horse. At the event you will want to do some ground work to get your horse mentally prepared for whatever may happen.
Once you get to the show focus on maintaining your horse’s relaxed demeanor. If you start with your horse in a good frame of mind it will be easier to handle all the little things that might increase his anxiety. If you continue to pay attention and handle the worry as it comes you can prevent the big, dramatic panic responses I see all too often at costumed events.
Avoid the instinct to get frustrated and angry at your horse if things don’t go as planned. Use the event as an opportunity to teach your horse to trust you and turn to you when he gets worried. The next time your horse is in a difficult situation he will be a little bit easier to handle.
Now go find your inner child and dress up for a cute Instagram photo or a festive event! After all, who doesn’t love horses in Halloween costumes?