Traffic Fear - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 12-28-2011, 08:29 AM Thread Starter
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Traffic Fear

This problem is getting ridiculous, but for the first time in a while, I feel unable to handle a way.

My mare has been afraid of traffic for a long time. But the thing is: only some traffic. One day we can pass by a flippin' dump trunk, the next she gets spooked by a little car. There seems to be no telling what days she's going to be spooked and which not.

I am pretty sure that, like most every other problem I've ever had with her, I'm the cause. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was something stupid I did that taught her to be afraid of traffic in the first place. I know I must be giving her signals. I know I must tense up, even a tiny bit (and even the times when I feel like I'm staying calm), and cause her to respond accordingly, but I just mentally can't overcome it.

I keep thinking that even if I do relax, she'll still be scared, and I feel like I need to be prepared and keep myself safe (be tense) rather than just put my faith in something I don't believe in (her walking calmly on). I know this is completely wrong and completely ridiculous, but my unconfidence leads me to think some pretty ridiculous things.

I tried the advice from Cherie's trail riding thread (which I've been utilizing for everything else with fantastic results), bringing her head out and pushing her shoulder in and the one day I did it properly, it seemed to work, but normally I'm too tense to even try it.

Her 'freakouts' are not major: usually, her head will just go up, her back will hollow out and she'll prance a few steps but not go anywhere, sometimes she'll go sideways about 5 feet. Her spooks haven't been more severe than that for a long time, but I'm a chicken and the type of person who thinks any spook is a bad spook.

On our other older, well broke, quiet and experienced pony, I can ride in traffic with zero fear. I ride her with transport trucks, motorcycles, big tractors, everything, without a moment's hesitation. But when I get on my other horse, I lose it.

So, #1: How do I get MYSELF over it, first of all? How do I calm down enough to keep her calm?

#2: Since an even moderately quiet horse around traffic will contribute to keeping me calm, do you think it would be a good idea for me to pony my horse out off of the quiet, traffic safe pony? I don't usually have anybody competent (not saying I am, either :roll:) to ride with me, but I think that if I just took a few hours and went road riding with a super laid back horse, it might help my mare. Because no matter how much of it is my fault, I think that now she does have some fear of it that goes beyond just my tension.

Thanks in advance.

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post #2 of 9 Old 12-28-2011, 10:08 AM
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So, #1: How do I get MYSELF over it, first of all? How do I calm down enough to keep her calm?

#2: Since an even moderately quiet horse around traffic will contribute to keeping me calm, do you think it would be a good idea for me to pony my horse out off of the quiet, traffic safe pony? I don't usually have anybody competent (not saying I am, either :roll:) to ride with me, but I think that if I just took a few hours and went road riding with a super laid back horse, it might help my mare. Because no matter how much of it is my fault, I think that now she does have some fear of it that goes beyond just my tension.


1. when it comes to yourself only you can decide how to calm yourself!!!

i know for me all it takes is to tell myself " WHAT ARE YOU SCARED OF, SUCK IT UP", and/or if that doesn't work i remember my first lesson with a trainer when i was younger who said "KAIT IF YOUR SCARED GET OFF YOU ARE NOT GOING TO HELP YOURSELF OR YOUR HORSE BY BEING SCARED. THE ONLY WAY TO HELP BOTH OF YOU IS TO RELAX" but thats just me!!! i do better when i push myself by making myself feel guilty and it usually helps me put more trust in my horse. but thats just me and not for everyone!!!!!!

so all you have to do is figure out your motivation and calmer to get you in the right mind set. :) it could be yoga, it could be reading a book, it could be grooming, long walks, whatever helps you best.

2. i would not pony the horse if you think she is scared beyond just your tension and fear. i would personally go for road walks.
just saddle the horse up and lead it down the road by hand. when the car comes you just signal for it to slow down (hopefully they do) and either way pretend nothing is wrong. if even the slightest hestiation from the horse then just talk to them and encourage forward movement. do not stop or teach them to step to the side to see the car or moving vehicle. that could lead to the horse turning to see the moving object when being ridden. remember forward motion is key. and after the car passes lots of praise :)

when you have your horse walking calming on the road past moving vehicles when she doesn't bat an eye , then you know you have nothing to worry about when your riding. it could take one walk or more but it is important to have the horse remember moving vehicles will not eat them. and it will most likely help your confidence in this area as well because you are showing the hrose from the head that you are fine and it will be ok. and it will settle your nerves quickly after one successfull try.

if you live on a road where few cars pass then ask a friend, parent, neighbor whoever to just drive past you guys a few times in different directions. that way its planned in your mind you know when to expect it and the horse doesn't.

goodluck :) if nothing i said helped then just know i send lots of hugs your way :)
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post #3 of 9 Old 12-28-2011, 10:12 AM
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It sounds like your both contributing. When you come to traffic and tense up even just a little bit, she gets nervous. If i were in that situation i would work with traffic a lot. You need to put a lot of confidence in her and not worry about the traffic.
Also i think that bringing her head in and pushing her out helps. If my horse spooks at something i try and get her used to it the best i can. I would work her by the traffic in circles nearing to it, if at all possible. And slowly get her used to it. The key is helping her move and keeping her mind focused on what your asking.
Ponying may be a good idea, but if you can't control her it may end up in a bad situation. Just remember to RELAX and don't focus so much on her spooking, instead focus on the weather or singing a song. The more calm you are, the better she will be.
Hope this helps!

To ride a reining horse is like dancing but a lot more fun
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post #4 of 9 Old 02-14-2012, 06:18 PM
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I am glad that I found this is a problem for other people and not just me. I have been out of the game for a long time and got myself an older horse who was supposed to be experienced. He is a dream in every way but one, he is scared of cars, but only if I'm riding him. I can honetly say that he calms down really quickly and I manage to keep on him so both pluses. I have done desensitising and nothing phazed him, not even a little. Even a tarp on his back with the wind blowing while I was riding him! If I walk along traffic with him, he is fine. It's only when I am on his back and only after the car gets out of his line of vision.

I trail ride on the only thing available to me, the gravel roads. Here in Southern MN, they plant right up to the road in some spots. So that means there is a drop off from the road to the field with no ditch to ride on, only the side of the road. There is no room to move over, no room to do circles, no room for anything. I sometimes think the only thing that stops him is the fact that the field is plowed and he can't run.

I have read that stopping and letting the car pass only confirms the fear. Getting off does the same thing. If I'm at a place, usually a driveway or field approach, where I can stop him and turn him towards the car so he can see it pass, he's fine. This is seldom possible.

He is gaited, 14 and good about everything else. The last ride I had with him was the worst. I have had him less than a year and am starting to wonder why I thought this was going to be fun. I'm not scared of him, just dissappointed that it isn't what I had expected.

I do not have anybody to ride with, I can honestly say I only ride once a week during the winter, I don't have a round pen as he is boarded. I can't wait to find our own farm which I plan to have a pen and ride 3-4 times a week, but now it's not possible.

So my question is am I really restricted to riding in the pasture? Do any of these things work, the walking towards a driving car, standing while somebody revs an engine.... Can you really take a fear away that ignorance on my own part probably put there in the first place?

I have tried ignoring the car by not stopping, I have tried getting him in the field away from the danger, but the only thing that really calms him is if he sees the car going by, maybe he needs to see more cars going by and not eating him??? He lives in a pretty secluded area.
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post #5 of 9 Old 02-15-2012, 02:50 AM
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I agree that both you and jenny are the problem (not said in a nasty way!)
Horses and dogs and come to that, children, are far more sensitive to emotions than any adult is.

There is an old saying when it comes to jumping and that is "Throw your heart over a fence and the horse will follow." and this is very true, if the rider makes up their mind to jump a fence the horse will go over it, if they are nervous then the horse will refuse or run out. It is much the same with traffic.
Here in the UK there is a lot of traffic on the roads, horse have to be good with all vehicles and that is down to the rider.

I breed TBs for jump racing and when I first take them out on the roads, which around me are very narrow (single track in a lot of places) and twisty. It is nothing to meet a farm tractor and trailer loaded with bales of silage, some of the polythene wrap blowing in the wind. I am usually long reining the youngster and only have a dog to help me.
I never, ever think negatively that the horse will not like it. I think positively that "This is a new adventure" and just give the command to walk on allowing them to look but not turn around. Here the dog comes useful because I send her on ahead, thus giving the horse a lead without it realising it. The youngster will walk past with often only a two feet gap between the vehicle and the bank. It works because I expect it to and the horse has trust in me.

Now, fear is a funny thing, it can take over your life and only you can make yourself get over it! So, try when riding to use your mind to command. Out riding or even in the arena, turn across the arena and think which way you want to go when you get to the other side. Think in a picture by visualising something in the direction you want to go - you will be surprised at how attuned your horse is.

When it comes to traffic, you have to do the same, think nothing of the vehicle but only of the horse being calm.
Now, if your horse has been bad with traffic it becomes a fun habit and they will continue to do it so, this is where you become determined and if it does spook then you get cross. You make the horse realise that this is not acceptable and should it go to spin around or dive off to the side then you shorten your reins and give it a hard boot and make it go back to going forward. When it goes pass with no problem, then you give a scratch on the withers in way of praise.

Play the traffic game with the horse, get a friend to drive a vehicle towards you, slowly at first. If the horse spooks then you get cross, without getting angry, and make it go to the vehicle and ride around and around it and making it touch the car with its nose. Keep doing it until the horse takes no notice of the car going past at 60 m.p.h. throwing up dust and it takes no notice.

Think yourself through it.

If that doesn't work, drink a bottle of gin before riding so you are totally relaxed!
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post #6 of 9 Old 02-15-2012, 03:08 AM
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post #7 of 9 Old 02-15-2012, 04:20 AM
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Just a few thoughts that came in my mind. I always show PK all kind of traffic or construction zone to know what he likes or not. Tried it with cars, even with my Corvette (V8, dual exhaust) but he never get nervous. One day while riding along a back road a van passed by with maybe 25mph. PK turned immediately and wanted to follow this van. Why? I cannot tell you. Horses do notice mechanical moving objects (read cars, trucks) completely different than we do.

The other idea is, are you sure your horse has a 20/20 vision on both eyes? A friend in the barn where PK lives has a horse that left his left eye two years ago. And always when something unexpected comes he cannot see with his right eye he gets nervous.

Make it a great day!

Jo & Pretty Kohilent
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post #8 of 9 Old 02-15-2012, 09:21 AM
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@Foxhunter post #5: Most of what the Foxhunter says is in my line of thinking also. The statement made,"never, ever think negatively that the horse will not like it" is so very much a favored mind response for a postitive outlook. Active mind visualization is a very tried and true tool for working with horses. If we the rider,handler perceives/visualizes a fearful response to a stimuli we most likely will not be surpised. On the other hand if we perceive/visualize a postive mind approach to something that might make the horse afraid the horse will be a willing and able to follow through with confidence.

"When it comes to traffic, you have to do the same, think visualize/nothing of the vehicle, but your horse being calm".

In all cases of a horse being spooky is that they are looking for the safety and leadership of one who is higher in their social order. That means us their two-legged leaders or Alpha companion/leader.
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post #9 of 9 Old 02-17-2012, 05:34 PM
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Thinking positive sounds great and I have tried that. He spooked worse than ever. I was walking along the side of a road, didn't move my hands at all to pick up any rein slack, didn't stop him to look at the danger, just kept riding as we had done the last half mile or so. I didn't even look at the car and couldn't even tell you what color it was or if a man or woman was driving. He spooked worse than ever, jumped sideways down a 3 foot ditch and into a plowed field. I lost both stirrups and was looking at the nice soft dirt in which to fall.

I am currently doing ground work in and out of a round pen. I think he thinks he needs to take care of me and he is not a lead horse. I am working on teaching him that I'm the lead and he has to trust me. So far it's working, but I don't know when I'll brave the traffic again. I'm too old for this!
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