Calming a nervous horse

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Calming a nervous horse

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    02-10-2013, 12:10 AM
Calming a nervous horse

My mare is 4 and I've had her since August. She is a TB and nervous in new places. I'm not really sure how to handle her when she acts up or how to help her relax.

It took about 2 months before she was comfortable on the trailer and even now she isn't totally relaxed. When we go off the property she gets tense and looks at everything. She is quicker to spook. I can handle all of this. I'm pretty good about staying relaxed my self and if I get her forward and into the bridle to work, she is manageable.

When there are other horses around, especially if they are going faster than her or pass too close, she hops and rears and tosses her head and then trys to run. This is what I don't know how to handle. I usually laugh it off and hope that people pay attention and don't pass too close again. The more she does this hopping thing, the more anxious I get. I haven't fallen yet, and I can always stop her when she trys to take off, but I'm waiting for the day when things don't go as well.

She is also very anxious on trail rides. The only place I have taken her is in a large hacking field by my barn. She was very nervous and reared/bucked/bolted/spun/ and spooked. I don't take her very far any more- just to where she is comfortable and then we turn around. I don't think she likes seeing the whole field, but she isn't this bad when we go cross country.

In the ring she is an angel. Sure she spooks and acts up sometimes, but it is rare, much easier to handle and it's not as bad.

Tomorrow I plan on taking her on a trail ride with a very calm companion who is okay leading or following. I want to see if she is better in an area that isn't as wide open. The probelm is- our "trail" is really a gravel road. Cars do drive on it- and they don't slow down, so she might get scared about that.

What can I do to help her relax? Any amount of training in the ring hasn't helped her nerves. She is 100% okay with horses that she knows passing her at the barn, but at shows, people tend to get a little careless with their steering. How do I help her? I can probably sit through all of her antics and just shake my head and keep going, but will that really help the next time we are in the same situation?
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    02-10-2013, 12:17 AM
She's 4. She needs more miles and exposure out of the arena. Edit, I didn't really help ya there. Try riding in a group, which it sounds like you're planing. I like to turn away occasionally, so she doesn't just walk with them and is listening to you, then ride back a bit. I also like standing as others ride past and around us. Anything that breaks herd bound and keeps her attention on you. Without a boundary.
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    02-10-2013, 12:21 AM
I understand that, but I don't know what to do when she acts up. I know that eventually, she will be comfortable in new places, but until then what can I do? She will be getting off of the property at least twice a month this season (not counting trail rides). Are there certain things that I can practice or do when she starts acting like she will freak out? We tried using Quietex, but it had no effect (or if it did, I don't want to see what she'd be like without it)
    02-10-2013, 12:27 AM
Ok, I type slow and not very well lol. If she spooks, bolts, rears etc.... Enter the one reign stop and or tight circles. I've found that when my boy gets nervous, talking to him helps.
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    02-10-2013, 12:33 AM
Okay thanks :) I will try those tight circles. When I first strated riding her in the indoor arena, she was nervous and would bolt the whole way around. I just did 10 meter circles all the way around the arena until she calmed down. Now she is much better. I don't know why I didn't remeber this before!

Riding her is a big difference from my gelding. He is very on his forehand, so when I got my mare, I was excited that she was uphill. Unfortunately, this makes it easier for her to rear lol.
    02-10-2013, 12:36 AM
The fact that you're posting here tells me that you, yourself, are apprehensive. Other things you stated also incline that you're giving into the behavior (which will make it harder to correct).

My case below:
The only place I have taken her is in a large hacking field by my barn. She was very nervous and reared/bucked/bolted/spun/ and spooked. I don't take her very far any more- just to where she is comfortable and then we turn around. I don't think she likes seeing the whole field, but she isn't this bad when we go cross country.
Some of it sounds like typical barn sour behavior. If she hasn't gone far since August, I can see it happening that way -- my mare was the exact way when I first started working with her. The previous owner kept her at the barn for months after purchasing her, then expected her to ride right out... She didn't. She was tense, reared/whirled (reared up and spun around) so quickly boss, who was riding her, got whiplash. She was kept away from the herd and would panic if a horse came close to her.

If you feel her winding up (Creampuff usually starts to move stiff in her shoulders & tucks her chin a little before she acts up -- look for your horse's "cues"), time to turn on her brain. Ask her to work; side pass, figure 8s, pace changes, etc. Something to get her focused on you, because apparently she's not very attentive to you right now from what you're telling us.

Maybe an experienced friend can ride her out a few times for you? Someone who isn't easily swayed by naughty behavior? For the most part, she needs more respect for you as well as more exposure.

From the excerpt I quoted, you have taught her that it's "okay" to only go "so far." Ask her to go farther next time, I bet she'll act like a brat because she feels she doesn't "have" to.
    02-10-2013, 12:50 AM
Small circles :) in that I mean her length circles. Does she cross over well? If so it'll be easier to do those tight if circles if not, pratice them in the arena. It may save you out on the trail.
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    02-10-2013, 12:50 AM
I've realized her signs already: Head and neck go up like a giraffe, heart pounds so hard that it literally moved you legs, she freezes, and then... BAM she explodes

I know I'm not helping her by keeping her in her comfort zone, but I also don't think I'm helping her by going halfway around the field and then turning around to go back to the barn because I don't think bucking and rearing and spinning down the steep hill is a good idea. I feel like I should wait to turn around until she behaves, but when I do this she will just start misbehaving on the way back to the barn.

The only person I know at my barn who could ride her through this is my trainer. I went out on a few hacks with my trainer to help fix this problem and that is how I discovered riding her fast and collected works a little bit. It doesn't prevent everything, but it's a start.

I don't expect her to be good right away, but I do expect improvement. Also, if I'm in the ring or at a show, her antics don't usually make me that nervous and I can handle it. But something about taking her on a trail ride is just downright scary. I plan on wearing my helmet cam for our little ride tomorrow, so I might get a video of what she does.

EDIT: I have tried to take her past her comfort zone before. We went to where she was comfortable, turned around and went back to the barn and then went 20 feet further the next time. We did this for about an hour of just going back and forth so she would know that she will always come back to the barn. If anything, this made her worse.
    02-10-2013, 12:52 AM
Phly- Just this week we have been doing turns on the haunches- I guess our hard work will come in handy
    02-10-2013, 01:00 AM
Persistence is key.
I wouldn't push Creampuff to the point of explosion... When she showed the beginning signs I started to make her think. Talked to her soothingly (short phrases, not lolling over her), gave her little things to "do." And eventually went back to it.

"Whenever the [horse's] head gets above the saddle horn, the brains all run down their neck and they can’t think.” - Doug Williamson
boots and Ashsunnyeventer like this.

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