Allowing a horse to stop and look when scared?
I wrote a while ago about how my mare, a pleasure to work with about 95% of the time, is prone to explosions if she's pushed really hard in a terrifying situation.
For example, and this pretty much sums everything up: today, some huge, loud tractors were working in the field across the road, clanking and sending up dust, the whole production. (*Just as a note: I haven't been able to ride her in months, so everything is relative to me walking her from the ground*) When my mare caught sight of them, her head shot up and her ears went forwards and she wanted to halt. I walked her a few more steps and then told her to stop, and she stood there like that for 30-60 seconds watching them. When I sensed she was less worried about them, I quietly asked her to do some yielding to pressure exercises, and calmly asked her to bring her attention back to me. We went for a walk down a long stretch of road by the tractors and she remained nervous at first, but by the end she would walk by them pretty calmly. Now, it ended well today, but that was because I allowed her to stop and watch for that first, crucial minute. If, in that minute, I had pushed her and made her work and forced her to listen to me, I have zero doubt that I would have been dealing with another explosion.
Normally, there's three "levels" of her spooking:
1) When something takes her by surprise and she flinches or starts. In these cases, I don't even react or say anything to her, and she never takes it to her head and she too acts like nothing happened.
2) When she's wary and looky of something and a bit nervous, but she's not likely to bolt or flip out over it. In these situations, I carry on as normal and ignore her as much as possible, but if she's really, really upset and refuses to calm down, I'll talk to her calmly but that's about it. I'll do yielding to pressure stuff around the scary object and basically just stand there for a good while until she doesn't care anymore, and then we walk away.
3) What she did today-something REALLY concerns her, she'll tense up, her head will shoot up, ears go forwards, eyes widen, flaring nostrils, the whole bit. This is the state right before a blow-up where it really matters how I handle it. As I've discovered, if I work her or attempt to engage her mind, she can't handle it and keeps getting more and more anxious until she explodes. So, I generally just halt her and give her a minute to look and assure herself that it's not going to murder her, and then when I start to feel her relax, I'll quietly ease her mind back down to earth. Luckily, this stage of terror is fairly rare.
Letting her stop and look in these really stressful situations has seemed to decrease the number of explosions, but I'm not sure it's the right thing to do. On another forum, one member said that allowing a horse to stop dead and look was the worst thing you can do, because then they learn they can do it to stop work and will start becoming balky and then are a pain to work with (or something along those lines-it was a long time ago I saw the post). This mare isn't really the type of horse who takes advantage of me, but it's always a possibility.
When I'm on the ground, her stopping is good. It is much better and easier to handle a horse who is stopped than one who wants to bolt or take off bucking. But it's when I start riding her again, I'm unsure of what I should do. When I'm riding, I would really rather she bolt (even buck) than stop dead and refuse to move. I can channel and harness forwards motion, but pushing a stalled horse is only going to make her rear. I am lucky that the lady who broke her put a very good "go" button on her-forwards has never been this mare's problem, but I'm concerned that my allowing her to stop when she's really scared will teach her bad habits. She's not likely to take advantage of it, but she's a good learner, and she will learn whatever I teach her.
If I'm riding and she's mildly scared, I just act like nothing is wrong and try to react as little as possible; I will say "eaaaasy" or react to correct her short little bolts or whatever, but I try not to feed into it. It's these terrified fits that I don't know how to handle.
Basically, what I'm asking here is: do you think I should be allowing her to stop and take a moment to recuperate and collect herself when she's terrified? Is it the right thing to do?