Let’s talk about Trigger Stacking:

What is Trigger Stacking?

Trigger Stacking is an accumulation of stressors / triggers simultaneously or over a short period of time. Multiple stressors / triggers that would normally be fine on their own, but they add up to one big reaction when the horse goes over threshold.

I like to break thresholds down in 3 colours for simplicity:

🟢Green Zone: The green zone is when your horse is feeling safe, they are showing no signs of fear or anxiety. They are showing signs that they are calm and relaxed.

This is the best zone to work with your horse in. They are much more receptive to listening, learning, and remembering.

🟡Yellow Zone: The yellow zone is we start seeing signs of fear and anxiety. This is where we need to show caution and be vigilant because once your horse is here, things can escalate to the red zone rather quickly.

When your horse is in this zone and is showing stress signs it’s best to calm them down and bring them back to the green zone before things escalate.

đź”´Red Zone: The red zone is where the sympathetic nervous system gets activated automatically (i.e., its involuntary) and your horse enters Flight, Fright or Freeze mode.

With trigger stacking it is extremely easy for a horse to jump from one zone to the next rather quickly. It’s not only important for us to recognize signs of stress but it’s also important that we recognize potential triggers and help minimize and try and limit multiple consecutive stressors.

Utilizing techniques such desensitization and counterconditioning can help eliminate potential stressors and triggers. It’s also extremely important that we recognize our own emotions, especially negative ones, can count towards potential stressors.

Some stressors / triggers can be unavoidable, it’s impossible for us to create a trigger free world, we are working with prey animals. But we can help the best we can by:

•Creating a positive and healthy learning environment
•Recognizing potential triggers and respond as they appear
•Helping train your horse to be confident
•Working on desensitization and /or countercondition common and regular triggers
•Remaining in control of your own emotions
•Creating calming techniques and cues for when triggers are presented suddenly
•Avoiding correction-based techniques
•Using good management / husbandry practices (to ensure there are no pain / physical stressors)
•Giving your horse a safe and less extreme way to express its fear, pain, anxiety, etc. (I.e., create start and stop buttons)

It’s important to know that trigger stacking is an involuntary occurrence, and it can sometimes be unavoidable and some days we just need to give our horses time and space to come down after sudden triggers. We need to take the time to create environments that minimize the number of triggers and set our horses up for success the best we can.