Spooking...respect issue...I don't know? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 7 Old 04-04-2012, 01:29 AM Thread Starter
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Spooking...respect issue...I don't know?

Lacey has traditionally been very bomb-proof.
She does get spookier when she doesn't respect (trust? not sure since she can't speak english) the adult on her back (kids can do anything with her and she's just fine).
She's never been one of those really jumpy horses.
There are a few things that really get her: bright spots in the forest on a dark day (due to a congenital defect in her eyes which basically renders her blind in dark-dusky conditions, so light in darkness looks REALLY bright to her), small-medium stand alone objects (rocks, benches, single firewood sized logs), things that were moving but stop (besides cars/trucks/vans, those can do anything and she doesn't care), etc.

Anyway, she's developed a new fear and it's EVERYWHERE: things "appearing" out of nowhere/appearing then disappearing.
Today she full on bolted with me because there was a white dog (bright thing in darkness, of course) in the forest off to the side of the trail and she apparently didn't see him/her until the dog jumped off a ledge. She was about to be gone (she even threw in a couple of good crowhops for spice, I ended up climbing her neck a little ) and I was just riding her in her halter so I basically would have been dead...thankfully I was able to ORS her around to look at the dog and she calmed right down. The dog wasn't being at all aggressive, it was just that he/she had been still when I tried to show Lacey that he/she was there, then he/she moved after we went past.
Of course, when the dog's owner came walking past with his other dog (that the owner had been struggling with to get leashed) who was lunging and barking at Lacey, Lacey couldn't have cared less. And when the owner and both (leashed) dogs walked past us going the other way, she didn't even look at them twice.

I can't really pinpoint when this started, but she's started spooking at birds, cars appearing at the tops of hills, basically every change in her environment that she witnesses. Things can be drastically different on the trail from the last time she went on it and she doesn't care. It's the change happening while she's there that scares her out of her mind.
It started out as little flinches at birds and such but now it's full on "PANIC!!! *side-scurry*" to things like birds and falling leaves.

A thought is that maybe she's just bored. She gets all excited about being out after a good spook. Like after her mini-bolt, she did not want to turn for home when we got to the end of the trail. She wanted to keep going and look at everything. Of course, she was also flinching at every little movement she saw in the trees, but she wanted AT whatever was coming for her.

Another thought is that a lot of this seems to have started after I started doing more "I'm the dominant one here" stuff. Like, she wasn't behaving this way before I started "leading from behind" while we walk over to the trails... But at the same time, I started that before the spring took over and now it's really spring...

I don't know, I really would like to solve this because it's really not fun to be riding along, afraid to canter because your horse *might* decide that's a good time to realize that there are invisible zombies leaping of the forest to your left or right and that dramatic evasive action is needed...
I'm really not a super brave rider. I'll stick with it and get the job done but I really don't enjoy that. I'd much prefer to just go along, trot in the trotting spot, canter in the cantering spot, gallop in the galloping spot, and walk the rest of the way with no spooks or other silliness. Of course, I realize that the only bomb-proof horse is a dead one, but the fact that these spooks are escalating is a problem for me.

Do I get my friends to hide in the woods then jump out and feed Lacey carrots? I don't even know.

Side note: today while we were riding, we happened upon a man firing a gun into a target right next to the trail. Did Lacey care? Did she even flinch or really look at him? Psh, of course not! That's only a crazy loud noise!
She's the same way about bombs, literal bombs. "Oh, that noise? What was that? Hmmmm"

Sorry for the length... *hands out cookies*

Fabio - 13 year old Arabian/Lipizzan gelding

Rest peacefully, Lacey.
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post #2 of 7 Old 04-04-2012, 02:22 AM
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I can really relate! I am just the kind of rider you describe yourself to be. I don't want to have unexpected 4 foot sideways jumps while cantering. And the way Mac used to spin, it was just frustrating because I never could tell what it was that provoked him to do that. Other things that scared him he would telescope his fear, like a typical horse, and we would walk through it, but the spinning would be like "run, run, run, ears pricked forward, then BAM! stop on your front feet, drop the left shoulder and spin to the right. Caroline either rides his neck and recovers, or Caroline just tumbles off the left shoulder and gets free chiropractic.

In your case, I think it must be a vision thing, no? As you are riding , try to discern if she is more spooked by things that move suddenly , on any one side of her head? and is there much sound? Do sounds unaccompanied by movement scare her?
You could try putting ear puffs in her ears and see if that makes any difference, in that it cuts down on her hearing. Some people say that makes the horse less spook prone. other say, no, it makes them more spook prone because since they cannot hear well, they are more jumpy to movement (having lost the tiny warning a rustle might have given them before the bush moved).

I would not doubt, however, that the more she spooks, the more you are concerned and the more you unwittinly convey concern and hesitation, which just plays into the whole thing. And, it's practically impossible to just say, "don't feel nervious" when, as in my case, it's happened 5 or 6 times that the spin put me quick on the ground (not counting the ones I rode out).

So, not a bit of help here. just musing with you.
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post #3 of 7 Old 04-04-2012, 02:26 AM
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you mentioned sight issues, this could be getting worse, or her hearing is not all it used to be. A lot of times a horse hears what is coming long before they see it but if she doesn't hear anything and all the sudden it pops out and she can't see very well so it's hard to tell if it's something to go towards or run from...well you get the point

The thing to fix this is to change her fight or flight options around a bit so that her automatic response to terrifying things is to either stop(since that;s a safe thing) or to investigate. Encourage her to go towards things that scare her, and be on the look out for opportunities to introduce her to new things and encourage curiosity.

I would also get her eyes and ears checked.

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post #4 of 7 Old 04-04-2012, 02:51 AM
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Yeah I agree about it possibly being a vision problem, or maybe even a hearing problem. Definitely check that out.

It could be a number of things.. though I'd do some ground work with her to re-establish that she needs to look to YOU for guidance and not be scared of things popping out.

I hope you find some answers.

"Strength is the ability to use a muscle without tension"
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post #5 of 7 Old 04-04-2012, 09:20 AM
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you have to remember. it IS spring so things are changing, and horses get fresh during season changes. mine especially! maybe she's just feeling fresh. i know my horses get super spooky during a season change.

Baby, Sparta, Carmen, Henry, Hooch, Mercedes, Butterscotch
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post #6 of 7 Old 04-04-2012, 03:29 PM
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Wallaby I feel your pain my horse has done a few good spooks and at the stupidest things like a huge rock we pass daily. And my daughters horse did a good one the other day came bolting down the hill at a dead run. We still dont know what spooked him but it was kinda funny well at least to me i wasnt riding him. I think the horses have spring fever and are just feeling full of them selfs.Our horses have been spooky and just plain silly acting but are getting better with every ride. Took them on a 3 hour ride yesterday by the time we were part way through it both horses calmed down.
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post #7 of 7 Old 04-05-2012, 01:13 AM Thread Starter
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So many good thoughts! I worked with her a bit today and it went pretty well, more on that later. First, I'll attempt to address some of the great questions that were asked. :)

Originally Posted by tinyliny View Post
In your case, I think it must be a vision thing, no?
I'm not sure. The vet, when she talked to me about Lacey's eyes felt like the only times Lacey is compromised, vision-wise, is at dawn/dusk and in the dark. She didn't say anything about majorly limited vision or anything. However, that's all just guesstimation on the vets part since she had never seen/heard of anything like what she saw in Lacey's eyes. I d know (since I'm a "jerk" to Lacey) that Lacey can see relatively well, at least. There's a marked change between Lacey+blindfold and Lacey without a blindfold. :)

As you are riding , try to discern if she is more spooked by things that move suddenly , on any one side of her head?
Good idea! I have noticed her spooking more to random stuff on her right, but she does carry her neck slightly tilted to the left so that eye is the one that sees everything... Oh weird. I had never thought about that. Maybe something is going on with her left eye and she's compensating with this head tilting and everything... The vet did say, a year ago, that she didn't see any real age-related changes in Lacey's eyes aside from the obvious, what she called, "webbing" over Lacey's cornea. But, that was a year ago. I think I'll have her recheck Lacey's eyes, and have her really thoroughly check out the left one, when she comes out in a few weeks to do shots.
Actually, now that I think about it even more, last fall, not 2011 but 2010, she scratched her left eye on something, it got swollen, the vet came out, diagnosed her with a scratched eye-whatever, I put ointment on it for days, the swelling went down, she seemed fine, we moved on. I wonder if that's somehow vaguely related...

and is there much sound? Do sounds unaccompanied by movement scare her?
The things she spooks at are "silent killers". I can't recall her every spooking to a noise. Even a few months ago where we ended up riding directly behind a garbage truck that was one of those "no garbage men except for the driver" ones, with the robotic arm thing, she was as cool as a cucumber.
Generally, movement without sound scares her. If there's a sound, she's totally fine.

I would not doubt, however, that the more she spooks, the more you are concerned and the more you unwittinly convey concern and hesitation, which just plays into the whole thing. And, it's practically impossible to just say, "don't feel nervious" when, as in my case, it's happened 5 or 6 times that the spin put me quick on the ground (not counting the ones I rode out).
I'm completely sure that's part/a lot of it. She really seems to rely on me for confidence/guidance so when I get nervous, she's nervous. Thankfully I've never fallen off her, just come close, so I really don't need to have that worry. Even though I can stick on her pretty well/she's a champion at keeping me on, the fear is still there. I think, tomorrow during our ride, I'll work on reminding myself that I'd have to work awfully hard to fall off that horse whenever I start getting anxious.

So, not a bit of help here. just musing with you.
Psh, I found it helpful! And you helped me put possible pieces together (the neck turning, the spooking on one side, etc)! You're the best. :)
Crimson- Her response to scary moving+noisy things is generally "Ima chase that thing down!! Fear me scary thing!" Like one time at camp, we happened upon these people cutting down a tree on private property, I yelled at them and they ran. Lacey literally bolted after them, ears back, teeth bared, and she would have gotten then too if I hadn't made her stop. She wanted to annihilate them so bad.
I also definitely encourage her to look at things. Like with that dog, I saw it so I turned her towards it hoping she'd see it and not need to panic. However, I think the dog was scared because it didn't move at all and she never spotted it. I knew she never saw it but I wasn't expecting a reaction like the one I got! haha
I'll get her ears checked too, I hadn't considered that. I guess, with her age, some hearing loss is to be expected but who knows how much loss she might have.

Thanks Skye, good idea. I worked with her a bit today and I actually found something that makes her a bit nervous that we can actually work on from the ground!
I discovered that she DOES NOT like those 5 gal buckets in 2 rows of 2 placed together with about 4 feet between them. 4 feet was her minimum "I will not panic" distance, anything smaller was really scaring her. I'm really excited about this becuase she's so laid back about everything that finding something she needs real work on/that she'll be vulnerable about is difficult.
Anyway, my plan is to get her comfortable with her 4 ft minimum, then slowly start closing the gap until she's confidently walking through a pretty small space. Then I'll start adding more buckets and other things to challenge her comfort zone a bit more.
She's always been claustrophobic about tight spaces but whenever we're in a tight space, she's always SO over her limit that no work can be done on getting her over it because she's so not on the planet anymore. I never thought she might be claustrophobic about buckets so I never tried it before, this'll be great. And it'll be great for her confidence in me, since I'm setting her up to succeed.

True story lilkitty! I'm trying to keep that in mind.

I'm envious of your long ride, spirit88! I wish I had access to a good long "get Lacey's mind screwed on straight" ride, she could sure use one!

Fabio - 13 year old Arabian/Lipizzan gelding

Rest peacefully, Lacey.
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