Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: Southern Alberta, Canada
• Horses: 0
Spooking can have multiple causes, psycological or physical. It can also have multiple roots, so you shouldn't think that it is just one, either. These are also just a few root causes that I've dealt with in the past with my horses.
The Bored or Souring Horse: I had this issue with my old lease Freddy. If we were schooling in the indoor arena, he would always spook or shy from at least something that day. We thought it was vision problems at first, but the vet told us otherwise. But we also found that if he wasn't schooling on the flat, he almost never spooked. Even at shows, when his rider was nervous, he would never spook.
The solution? Variation - taking him outside for hacks or walks around that farm, going to gymkhanas, jumping, finding new and challenging exercises for him to do inside.
The Nervous or Aggressive Rider: As riders, we know that it can be difficult to control our emotions or actions in a difficult situation. This was also a part of my problem with Freddy - I was nervous and frustrated.
The key is to be calm and confident. When you are nervous, you become an alarmed herdmate and the fear is mutual. When you become angry or aggressive, you become a predator already attacking. When you're confident, you are a leader who promises the herd, "This is where we are going and it is safe."
The Skeptical Horse: Our morgan cross at home, Toby, is a skeptic. When he was about five, he was physically beaten by a trainer - and it drained every bit of his confidence and trust in people. He was on his way to becoming a low-level hunter, now he is unrideable. He is now ten, and we are just starting to get that confidence and trust back. Every new situation is scary to him - strange people, different halters, et cetera. Every little thing that a casual horseperson would never think of.
Trust takes a very long time to build. Skeptical horses will not accept you as a trustworthy leader right away - it may take days, it may take years. The main idea with Toby is that we take it slow, very slow. We never force him or pressure him; we'll just take him to where he is comfortable that day, reward generously, and leave it for the next day.
Physical Implications: Anything from blindness to mild lameness can concern a horse. When Freddy was starting to become unsound or lame (in his legs or back or neck and whatnot), he would being more flighty because he was "guarding his weakness" as an article I'd read had termed it. Also check the tack.
Dealing with a Spook: Ride forward with an open mind and quick thinking. Instead of focusing on the object your horse is spooking at or what he is doing while spooking - things you do not have control over, find something you do have control over to bring his attention back to you. Little things like the bend in his ribcage or his neck. Be prepared for a spook and watch his ears, feel the difference in his step. Know how your horse generally spooks; does he balk, bolt, rear, or something else? Don't force, but convince with confidence. Don't stop and turn, don't back up, always forward. Find something you can use to relax your spooky horse. With Freddy, it was riding in a long-low frame or even a low-deep-round frame on a figure-eight. Other riders thought I was crazy - riding a known bolter on a loose rein. But Freddy was able to stretch, relax, and focus on a confident rider who wasn't afraid to let him "be".
And remember - don't be afraid to back down if you are scared or under confident. You cannot force self control. You don't have to work by yourself, either. A creditable trainer will know how to work through it with you.
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