Ok, so this isn’t really going to be a journal… Just a place for me to put down my thoughts on riding/training when I have something on my mind, like now. Also to maybe get a few opinions and see if anyone agrees with me :]
So here’s my topic for now… Spooking on a trail. I ride most often with my best friend Sam. She has a pony called Pepper, who is about 9 but has never done anything. He has a very nervous disposition, he is very willing to do what you ask but when he doesn’t understand he has ‘brain explosions’ as we call them. Basically he flips out. Once he gets what you want and does it, he calms down again. He is a very forward horse. I have two horses at the moment, an arab pony, Wildey, who I basically learnt everything on, and a new horse, Bundy, a 6yo ASH who again hasn’t done much, but I’m planning on doing a lot of mounted games, some bred shows, some Campdrafting/polocrosse. We ride out on trail all the time on pepper and bundy (we got them both about 6 months ago)
Here’s the thing. I often disagree with a lot of the way Sam handles things with her horses… She’s not abusive or anything, but she doesn’t have a lot of patience and is not consistent. But I can’t give her any advice as she is very stubborn and hates taking advice, just like me lol! About a year ago she fell off (her horse spooked at nothing) and broke her ankle, had about 6 months off riding. There is a big difference in how we handle our horses spooking on the trail. Personally, if my horse is spooking at something, I will ignore it. I will flex their head away from it, keep their body straight with my leg, and ask them to walk/trot past on the path we were originally on. Basically, I want them to pass it with no reaction. My reasoning behind this is that I want my horse to trust me not to put them in a dangerous situation. I want them to be confident enough in me that they will carry on past a scary thing with no reaction. Of course they can look at it, but the second their body leaves the path we are on, I put them back on it. It’s a lot safer, my horses tend not to do the ‘jump/spin/run’ spook unless there is something definitely horse eating. I don’t make them approach the scary thing. Occasionally on a trail I will get Bundy to walk over a bit of carpet etc. But rarely. This approach worked wonders with my arab, he was typically spooky as they are, but he learnt to truast me and rarely spooked and still rarely spooks.
Sam’s approach is to immediately stop pepper, growl at him, and take him up to the said object until he sniffs it and relaxes. I can understand that there is a fear element, as she broke her ankle due to her horse (a different horse) spooking. Once Pepper has sniffed it and relaxed (can sometimes take a long time, as he will often have one of his above mentioned brain explosions) she moves on. However, she is not consistent. If he continually does it, she gets mad at him and each time he spooks she will give him a kick to move him out of the spook and growl at him. This makes pepper more nervous. The way I view this approach… It is teaching Pepper that when he is scared of something, the appropriate response is to stop and look at it. She is conditioning in him the same response that she is trying to prevent… Also, it is increasing peppers nervousness and decreasing his trust in his rider, as every time he legitimately feels scared, he is told off and then made to approach the scary object. He is a horse who really needs consistency to get him through his issues… He has gotten a whole lot better, but I think it is mainly due to simply being ridden and shown thing and taken out and about.
So… that’s my rant! Anyone have any thoughts? How do you handle spooking on the trail?