Skittish trail horse-any suggestions for exercises? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 7 Old 05-30-2011, 01:19 PM Thread Starter
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Skittish trail horse-any suggestions for exercises?

Hello Everyone! I am half-leasing an Arabian gelding. I've only been riding him consistently for the past 2 weeks and so far things are going very well. He has great ground manners, and listens to voice cues pretty well. He's not pushy and is very respectful of my space. I think we are bonding pretty well too. He's started to nicker at me when he sees me walking up and will come trotting across the field to greet me.

He hasn't been ridden on trails much and he tends to spook at logs, butterflies, squarrels, reflections, breezy branches.... His spooks are not that bad, they're mini-spooks. He sort of just lurches to the side and then carries on.

He will be the lead horse, follow or go out alone. Do you have some suggestions for helping to desensitize him on the trails? Aside from just putting more miles on him. He tends to spook less when I put him into thick brush. He's too busy watching where he puts his feet so he tends to spook less. Any suggestions of exercises that I can do from the ground?

Riding him is a lot of fun, but you definitely can not stargaze and zone out, you have to have your attention on him otherwise when he spooks you could be on the ground if you lose your balance!

I ride him only 3 days a week, so I won't get to work with him all the time. I hope I posted in the right section, wasn't sure if this should go under trail riding. I also did a search for "skittish trail horse". If this subject has been covered to death, please direct me to the thread and I can read up on everyone's suggestions there.

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post #2 of 7 Old 05-30-2011, 02:40 PM
Green Broke
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post #3 of 7 Old 05-30-2011, 03:51 PM
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It sounds like he just needs to get out more and see more things, aka more miles.
You'll find that if you just keep being calm, not getting worked up, (it sounds like you're doing a really good job of that right now) and continue taking him out on the trail regularly, he'll get less and less spooky as time goes on.

It might also be beneficial to do some trust building exercises since the more he trusts you to "take care" of anything scary, the more comfortable he'll be on the trail. I can't think of any trust building exercises off the top of my head but maybe someone else can think of some.
Two things that just came to me are:
If you can, I'd take him for hand walks near things that are scary so he can examine them visually, and however else he wants to look at them, and realize that there isn't a reason to be scared.
Introduce him to lots of things that might be scary. Tutus, helium balloons, shiny things, plastic anything, spray bottles, umbrellas, buckets jostling around, things falling off of him (plastic containers, buckets, balls, etc), and so on. Obviously start with something little like plastic and work your way up to things falling off of him as he gains confidence in himself and in you.

The one thing you never want to do (it doesn't sound like you're inclined to do this but it's worth mentioning) is punish a spooking horse.
I did this on accident with a horse I rode in the past. He was kinda a jerk horse and he'd try everything he could think of to get to go back to the barn so obviously I read his continual spooking to be him trying stuff with me. I started smacking him with the crop every time he spooked and by the end of a week or two, he had gone from little baby spooks to really big ones. I managed to fix it but I had never thought about how I could actually make a horse spookier just by punishing him...

Another thing to consider is how much exercise does he get? My mare (also an Arabian) is oh so spooky when she has too much energy. She has to be worked at all three gaits for at least an hour three or four times a week for her head to be screwed on right (and she's in a large 3 acre pasture 24/7, I'd be terrified to see what she's like stalled! hahaha). I like to lunge her a bit before going out on a trail ride so the "edge" is taken off and she's been reminded that I'm a good person to listen to. Then when we go out on our ride, she's still listening to me well and not nearly as spooky as she would have been if I just hopped on and went for a ride.

Good luck!

Fabio - 13 year old Arabian/Lipizzan gelding

Rest peacefully, Lacey.
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post #4 of 7 Old 05-30-2011, 04:05 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks Wallaby. I just ignore the spooks, keep him moving forward and not make a big deal of it...hope that's the correct thing to do? If we do a loop on the trails and we come back up on the thing that scared him the first time, I take him by it at a slower pace and have him walk up close to it so he can explore.
I'm trying to build up his hind-end so we trot up the hills, but I'm hesitant to trot or canter him when we're on flat trails as he tends to spook more when he's going faster. I suppose that makes sense to him since it seems like things are "coming at him" faster! lol

As far as Arabians go, he's very "un-type". Laid back, he's just green. I think you're right in that he just needs to be exposed to more things :)
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post #5 of 7 Old 05-30-2011, 04:05 PM
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He's spooking because you're allowing him to look for things to spook at. He isn't scared when going through things like thick brush because his attention is on getting out of the brush, not looking for wood goobers that might attack him.

Every time he spooks, get his body moving. Back patterns, sidepass, do circles, circle trees, go down the trail in a leg yield, bend... Trail dressage. Do this for about three minutes, intensely. This has two benefits. Firstly, he can't spook because he's listening to you, not the scary woodland dragons. Secondly, when you actually do allow him to walk down the trail on a lose rein and relax, he'll take that and roll with it. He'll zone completely out and relax, because he knows if he spooks again, he works again.
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post #6 of 7 Old 05-30-2011, 07:04 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Brighteyes View Post

Every time he spooks, get his body moving. Back patterns, sidepass, do circles, circle trees, go down the trail in a leg yield, bend... Trail dressage. Do this for about three minutes, intensely.
I can see doing this from the walk and trot, but what should I do when he spooks at the canter? I thought there was a narrow window to correct an undesired behavior. Do I make him do "trail dressage" ( I like that term!) at the spot of the spook? I guess what I am asking is, if he spooks and then it's 5-10 ft before I get him to turn around, do I do the correction at the spot I've stopped him or take him back to where the scary wood creatures were that scared him in the first place?

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post #7 of 7 Old 05-30-2011, 08:16 PM
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I've found that it isn't necessary to go back to the exact spot the spook occurred, but you must get him working and moving quickly after the spook occurs. Don't wait any more than a few seconds. The place you stopped should be okay. As long as the timing is there, the association will be as well.
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