Help for the nervous horse?
   

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Help for the nervous horse?

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  • Equiwinner for nervous horses that booger
  • My horse is so scared to go inside an indoor arena help

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    10-03-2013, 10:16 PM
  #1
Green Broke
Help for the nervous horse?

My horse is a nervous creature. Currently, I'm having a real hard time getting a decent ride out of him since I have to ride in the dusk/semi-dark. I have access to a small, outdoor arena that is not very well lit - it's lit enough that you can see the entire arena, just not very clearly. Shadowy illumination, I guess. There's some dark shadows, but no dark corners.

I get to the arena early enough that there's some light, and that's where it begins. He starts shying away at specific objects - a particular tree that birds have a fondness for, a drain pipe that's outside the arena, the corner where a muck bucket is, a pink jump standard standing outside the arena and the spots along the rail where trot poles are resting parallel to the wall. I make him circle at these spots until he passes by without reacting. Usually doesn't take more than 2-3 circles.

When the sun sets and the shadows come out, he gets very hyper-aware of the surroundings and gets scared. If I try to work him hard, he just explodes with fear and tries to bolt all over the arena (have a solid, reliable whoa in him, so he doesn't run more than a stride, but he really wants to). Working him hard, in other words, just fires him up. Going too easy on him, encourages the spooking. He is athletic and fit enough that I can work him hard and he can make his body listen to me but I can't quite capture his brain once he gets scared enough.

I have a breastplate with LED lights on it, and that helps some. I also ride him with bells, that also helps a bit. Without those crutches, he can't keep it together and just starts leaping around like a deranged rabbit.

Now here's where it gets even better!

He is fine in the same arena will full daytime light. These are the same objects in the day and at night. He doesn't seem to make the connection. His fear feels genuine. I can feel his heart race and he will tremble sometimes. I don't believe he's faking it. If I do groundwork* with him, he is flawless and relaxed. If I lunge him, he is flawless and relaxed (reaches down and forward, licks/chews, snorts). At liberty, he takes sidesteps away from the scary spots, but doesn't full on spook.

Basically, if he can see me, it's not so bad. If I have him in hand, it's fine. What on earth else can I do to make him calm the heck down?

I hate when my horse makes me feel so incompetent!

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* Groundwork entails of lunging, changing directions without stopping on the lunge, halt on the lunge, backing up on the lunge, the 'sending' exercise, disengaging the front end and back end, side passing, backing up, etc. Doing these exercises under saddle do not help to calm him down.

Background info: 9 year old Straight Egyptian Arabian gelding, backed at 4, shown extensively from 4-5.5. Lots of indoor arena work, lots of outdoor arena work. 2-ish years experience on trails (the first year of trail work was on trails always within sight of his herd and field so I don't know how much that counts). Goes out solo without batting an eye. Spooky around other animals (deer, cows, gophers, coyote, turkeys) on the trail but okay outside of that. Has had lots of exposure to 'bombproofing' clinics, often wins small prizes. Has been ridden through fire and all sorts of crazy obstacles without much fuss. It was easier to ride him through the double rows of lit flares than it is to get him to walk nicely around the arena!
     
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    10-03-2013, 10:29 PM
  #2
Started
Do you think he may be having problems with vision in limited light...? Maybe he really isn't seeing things well.
I would have the vet check him out.
He sounds like a good boy in full light. I'd wonder about night vision.
     
    10-03-2013, 10:40 PM
  #3
Showing
Try turning the lights out. Horses have good night vision but the lights make everything look different which he doesn't recognize. As teens, on hot summer nights we often rode at midnight and some nights it was black as pitch but the horses never missed a step.
     
    10-03-2013, 10:50 PM
  #4
Green Broke
Quote:
...not very well lit - it's lit enough that you can see the entire arena, just not very clearly. Shadowy illumination, I guess. There's some dark shadows...
Honestly I read this and thought "well there's the answer." Sounds like a perfect set up for a spooky horse. I don't blame him. Is the arena outdoors? No option of better lighting? I almost wonder if he would do better in a darker area.. sometimes that "shadowy illumination" can be worse.
Also, since the bells help playing music may calm him too.
No helpful critique, sorry, just my thoughts. I second getting his eyes checked out.
     
    10-04-2013, 08:05 AM
  #5
Green Broke
Morning bump
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    10-04-2013, 08:09 AM
  #6
Super Moderator
This horse is just proving my frequently repeated saying "Horses are creatures of habit!". He needs no other reason to repeat the same behavior over and over and over and over. It is what he has done and will continue doing it until you make him give up the habit. The more he does it, the more he is convinced that it is the thing to do.

Remember to NEVER let him stop and look at things. Your goal should always be to have him ride past and ignore any scary object. Do 'leg yielding exercises' passing all scary things, making his inside ear come back to you when you can. When you can't or his head come up and he braces against you, just do "back and forth' exercises until he goes by correctly.

Have you read the sticky article at the top of the 'Training' page on training a fearless trail horse? Treat your arena at dusk like it is a trail. Particularly read this part--
Quote:
If you can, ride past a scary place, double the horse back (toward the place or object) and ride back and forth for as long as it takes for the horse to give up the fear. I have done this for more than an hour when Dobbin has convinced himself that he should be afraid of something.
Every time your horse finds a 'booger', don't ride in circles and don't take hold of both reins at the same time. Be a LOT HARDER on him. Ride him 'roughly' back and forth and back and forth and back and forth at a trot. Ride only a short ways past the booger spot, pull him around with one rein turning him toward the spot each time. Go back and forth until he drops his head and wants to just walk by on a loose rein. You pull him around roughly and go back and forth enough times, he will find spooking a not very welcome thing. You will discourage the habit instead of embracing it.

The reason that you only use one rein at a time when a horse is behaving badly is because he cannot brace and argue with one rein. He can elevate his head and embrace fear when he you pull on both reins at the same time.

I am convinced that if a horse raises his head high enough, all of his brains (or at least his good sense) runs out of his ears. A horse cannot make good decisions and ride intelligently with his head up in the air. He cannot focus on a booger when his head is low, his back rounded and is soft in the face. A 'frantic' horse must get his head down and get the rider to stop pulling on both reins at the same time. This is why 'one rein stops' work and 'leg yielding exercises' work.

I also would 'set him up'. I would ride in the arena until he goes all the way around it with his head down and on a loose rein. Then, I would throw a horse blanket over the fence ride past it. If the boogers at it, just do the back and forth thing until he is happy to go by on a loose rein. Then stop him and stand next to it (use enough inside leg to make his inside ear come back toward you). That is where I would dismount, loosen his girth and lead him out from the arena. I would end every ride this same way.
     
    10-04-2013, 01:22 PM
  #7
Started
Twilight is really hard on horses, they see well in the light and the dark, but that in between period I believe objects look different. That said, it should be on par with riding in an area that is unfamiliar. I agree with Cherie's method.
     
    10-04-2013, 01:31 PM
  #8
Weanling
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cherie    
This horse is just proving my frequently repeated saying "Horses are creatures of habit!". He needs no other reason to repeat the same behavior over and over and over and over. It is what he has done and will continue doing it until you make him give up the habit. The more he does it, the more he is convinced that it is the thing to do.

Remember to NEVER let him stop and look at things. Your goal should always be to have him ride past and ignore any scary object. Do 'leg yielding exercises' passing all scary things, making his inside ear come back to you when you can. When you can't or his head come up and he braces against you, just do "back and forth' exercises until he goes by correctly.

Have you read the sticky article at the top of the 'Training' page on training a fearless trail horse? Treat your arena at dusk like it is a trail. Particularly read this part--Every time your horse finds a 'booger', don't ride in circles and don't take hold of both reins at the same time. Be a LOT HARDER on him. Ride him 'roughly' back and forth and back and forth and back and forth at a trot. Ride only a short ways past the booger spot, pull him around with one rein turning him toward the spot each time. Go back and forth until he drops his head and wants to just walk by on a loose rein. You pull him around roughly and go back and forth enough times, he will find spooking a not very welcome thing. You will discourage the habit instead of embracing it.

The reason that you only use one rein at a time when a horse is behaving badly is because he cannot brace and argue with one rein. He can elevate his head and embrace fear when he you pull on both reins at the same time.

I am convinced that if a horse raises his head high enough, all of his brains (or at least his good sense) runs out of his ears. A horse cannot make good decisions and ride intelligently with his head up in the air. He cannot focus on a booger when his head is low, his back rounded and is soft in the face. A 'frantic' horse must get his head down and get the rider to stop pulling on both reins at the same time. This is why 'one rein stops' work and 'leg yielding exercises' work.

I also would 'set him up'. I would ride in the arena until he goes all the way around it with his head down and on a loose rein. Then, I would throw a horse blanket over the fence ride past it. If the boogers at it, just do the back and forth thing until he is happy to go by on a loose rein. Then stop him and stand next to it (use enough inside leg to make his inside ear come back toward you). That is where I would dismount, loosen his girth and lead him out from the arena. I would end every ride this same way.

Very good advise, too many horses are allowed to spook at stuff. The problem is it takes a competent and confident rider to push a horse past it's fears. I purposefully look for things to spook my mare, and make her work through it, I want her bomb proof so I can hand her down to my kids when she is push button and boring . "your scaring your horse".... darned right I do. If I am out on a trail, working cattle, or in an arena I want her thinking about my next due, not the boogie man behind every rock or bush.....gun training starts soon, yes I will work up to shooting my hunting rifle from her back.
     
    10-04-2013, 08:00 PM
  #9
Started
I believe in the principal of not "pushing your horse over a cliff": if something's scaring it, don't (even though you CAN) shove it on through. Cherie's "back & forth " is tactful, because she's bringing horse to gradually cross fear thresholds till fear is of the past.

Working with the fear thresholds is the tactful, effective way.

There's also the understanding that Cherie talks about in her trail horse thread that when the rider is confident enough, the horse happily rests in that leadership & doesn't take over in scouting for dangers "out there".
     
    10-04-2013, 09:04 PM
  #10
Green Broke
It will be another day or two before I can get back in the saddle due to time, so I'll just respond with that in mind :)

He has a vet check in a couple of weeks so I will see if they can run a couple of tests just in case, including checking his vision.

@Cherie-- Thank you, I will try that. I kind of have to direct rein though as my horse does not understand neck reining.

@Northern -- It's definitely not a confidence issue in me. I do get incredibly frustrated that at my horse when the (insert object here) we've been riding by for the past 10-30 minutes suddenly becomes so terrifying that it warrants a speedy canter sidepass to avoid going next to it. I keep asking him to work through it, making sure he stays below the explosion threshold. Also keep in mind that if I am on the ground, he is a little concerned about the darkness/shadows but works through it, whereas undersaddle it's a fight.

----------

It's not just specifically objects outside of the arena, but just things outside of the arena in general. What frustrates me the most is that we'll be riding and at it while the sun sets and the darkness comes and it's THEN that he decides to be fearful undersaddle.

I also wanted to toss out that I've also tried starting him in the darkness, in hand, getting him relaxed and stretching down and forward, then get on him and it's a train wreck.

I may have to resort to dragging out the running martingale because when he does the hard stop to spook, he braces his neck and sucks back so he can move his head around freely at whatever it is he wants to look at while I try to regain contact. I think if I can get him into the habit of not locking his head up in the air, it would help. As Cherie said, he can't make good decisions with his head in the air.

I will also have to see if I can ask someone else to help 'set him up' though. If it's an object that he sees me set down, he's fine with it.

A less whippy and more thud-y whip might also be better, but I'm not sure what would work. I need like a boot on a stick type of whip instead of the swishy kind!
     

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