When a horse is scared...
How do you handle it? I have seen people at my barn smack their horse when they refuse to walk on because something is scaring them in the distance and it really bothers me. It got me thinking, what do you do when horses act that way? I guess I have never really had that problem. Since Willow was 3, I've only had to talk to her and give her a few little tugs on the rope before she walks on again. All the other green horses I have worked with also worked with that.
I have found that the best way for me to deal with something like that is just to let them look for a minute. Most horses will begin to relax when the scary object doesn't come after them or make any scarier movements. If they begin to really panic, I just work on getting their feet moving; back them up, circle them, or lead them in a different direction. Anything to get their focus back on me. Hitting a horse that is scared is probably the worst thing that a person could do because they then begin to associate you with pain and fear and will never trust you.
Agreed with smrobs. I would never strike a horse who is scared - I am not opposed to physical discipline, but I reserve it almost entirely for situations such as an obstinate colt biting or kicking. Horses are bigger then us, and unless you're really ripping into him with a licking for doing something dangerous, constantly slapping them is only going to annoy them and really not teach them a darn thing.
Whether I'm in the saddle or on the ground, I personally act like nothing is wrong. I don't tense up when I see things they "may" be scared of, and I don't bother looking at things they "may" be scared of. If my horse tenses up and bolts on the trail because a dog scared him, I quietly ask him to whoa and continue riding as if nothing happened.
The ground is much the same. If they're being blowy or snorty over something, I simply walk by the object without giving it a glance. I also prefer not to coo or talk to my horses in scary situations - by speaking softly and encouraging them, you're actually setting them up to believe this is a GOOD thing to be doing. They learn that spooking means a good reward.
If they're being absolutely ridiculous about something, I'll set up camp and start working them there. Ground manners, lunging, working their feet, anything to get their attention on me and off whatever they think is scary. It never takes long for them to figure out if they pay attention to me instead of the flapping tarp, they get to stop working so darn hard.
Good for you OP, in that you rarely experiences spooks. That tells me you are a confident leader, because really, the best way to deal with spooking is to prevent the spooking. It's amazing how easily this can be accomplished just by the owner/rider having confidence and not playing into the horses silly little fears. In my experience, a horse will very very rarely spook at little things like garbage bags or colorful pails if the rider/owner keeps themselves calm and unconcerned. Most people don't even realize that they're tensing up and looking at the object themselves and then want to smack their horse around for it.
Ooh, tough one. I personally would never smack a horse for being scared. That being said, it takes a very tuned in rider to know the difference between a horse that is truly scared and one that just being bit stubborn. I currently have a TB who has a subtle but definitely different feel to him when he is genuinly scared versus just being stubborn. For my horse, really scared only comes up about 5% of the time. I can't imagine smacking him at those moments since I'm sitting on an 1100lb rigid snorting bomb. That would just make the situation 100 times worse. I do make him stand his ground, but then turn away from the scary object at my choice and make him walk away from it. He's a good boy and makes the effort to keep himself together and not try to charge off like a nut. He's rewarded big time once he calms down and relaxes. I feel like he knows and appreciates that I didn't put him in danger. And let's face it, they can smell and see things that we cannot. If he's that concerned about it, who am I to tell him he's wrong.
For the latter stubborn issue, I still would never smack simply because it's just not a fair response for what the horse is doing. What is that possibly supposed to accomplish? When my horse stops because he's just being a goof, I escalate my aids until I get him unstuck. First a squeeze, then a kick, a cluck and finally a tap of my crop. If he still wont move forward, we make tiny circles until he decides I'm nuts and that it's just easier for him to walk forward. This moment is usually proceeded by a big sigh by my horse as he realizes I'm more stubborn than him.
I see I'm babbling now. Point for me is, never smack, but do have response for whatever action your horse provides. Knowing how much you can push the horse you're riding is key.
When I had Ty, he would spook at almost anything. What worked best for me was walking to the object letting him stop and look as he wanted to. When we got close enough, I would reach out and touch the object (the worst in his cast was a trike that was covered). I would act like I was petting it, turn around to him and say "see, it's ok". I would stand there doing it until he actually walked the rest of the way up to it and sniffed it himself. He didn't like something else getting "his" attention. But after doing this, he would walk by it without a problem.
Luckily, with Rosie, she hasn't spooked at anything yet. *knocking on wood*
I find that method works with most horses, but I also find it extremely annoying and time consuming. My horse should move past objects because I asked him to, not because HE'S decided it's ok. It would be the day I'd start getting off and reassuring him for every little spook. And to be honest, that could very well have been WHY he spooked so much. He was getting "good attention" for negative behavior. My Arab mare is a spooker, and if I let her, she'd walk up and sniff out every object. She's learned over the years that she can look all she likes, but she better keep moving forward, so she's stopped shying from objects.
^ I do the same when I ride. I rode a horse several times that was terrified constantly. You couldn't have people stood at the end of the school because he spooked, he saw things that other horses ignored etc. I never smacked him because he was guininely scared, you could feel it.
However it depends on your definition of a smack because I've found some horses get rooted to the spot and ignore a squeeze or a kick then with a tap of the whip they come round and their mind gets back in the game. When I led one pony he would stop and stare at things that scared him, he always needed a light flick with the lead rope before he could move on because his mind was so focused on the scary object he couldn't think about me talking to him or pulling on the lead rope etc. Sometimes some horses and ponies need that sharper reminder that you are there and a predator won't attack two of you. I once watched something that said crops are basically a human version of claws and when a horse gets a tap or a smack they think that it's a predator. Some horses need that because in some places predators hunt in packs so standing still would get them and the rest of the herd into danger, sometimes a smack or tap is just a reminder of that.
My horse scooter will occasionally spook, sometimes it the jump to the side spook, but mostly its the stand still with his head up ears perked spook. In that case, A simple " its ok" followed by a squeeze keeps him moving. But then again I've had my horse for a long time so when i give him the reassuring squeeze to move forward, he trusts my judgement and usually will settle down right away. Then again I've never told him to walk on to a "horse eating monster" lol.
I think it's ok to let a horse stop and look for a second, but i agree with the keeping the feet moving. If they stand still too long they could build up the scary thing in their mind as even scarier, and then it gets worse from there. Its also a tough call when you say someone smacks their horse when he spooks. I would never smack as a punishment for spooking and maybe thats what they are doing, but on the flip side, I have an Arabian cross who is very stubborn, and when he decides he doesnt want to walk past something thats scary, a simple squeeze or kick doesnt always do the trick, so i'm sure I have given him a smack or two behind my leg in my time. I think it is wise to make a horse walk past the scary thing if that was where you were going anyways. I think it teaches them that it was ok like you said. Changing direction to me would be lie saying " your right thats a very scary log (or whatever it is) lets get out of here" which to me doesnt really solve much. whoo. :P
These are all great ideas, if only I could enlighten some people with them! Grr! It frustrates me to see people who don't think twice about how their horse thinks!
I don't feel like it's right to smack a horse because of their natural instinct. When my horse is startled by something and is frozen, I will go up beside her (if it's safe), pet her neck, tell her it's ok and nothing is going to hurt her, then try to urge her forward. If she does not respond, I let her continue to look until A) She un-freezes or B) She does her little "Spook Dance" which in turn un-freezes her :D
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