I'm invisible when he spooks
This is my first post so, first of all, HI!
OK, down to business. I've been working with my 4 year old QH for a little less than a year. He was a rescue and hadn't had a whole lot done with him before that. I've been working with horses for 25 years, but this is the first I have started more or less from scratch. I started him under saddle in January. As he has a messed up foot (from a long-ago trailer accident - but he manages very well with it), I plan to use him as a trail horse only. I use sort of a mish-mash of NH techniques from different people and methods - but most of it pretty well resembles Parelli philosophies.
We have an awesome bond. His attention is always with me when I am working with him. When he sees something new and scary, he typically spooks in place, investigates the object, and quickly stops caring about it. He's very curious. However, when he finds something really really scary (for him, a donkey is a good example), all of a sudden it seems as if he no longer knows I'm there. Since the idea is for him to look to me for the next move, I'm not sure how to fix this when he's so panicked. He is just desperate to take off running. Otherwise, he tends to be a pretty relaxed guy, even out on his first short trail rides. I'm doing my best to de-sensetize him to everything I can think of, but obviously we're bound to run into unfamiliar things now and then on the trail, and I don't want it to be a big, dangerous crisis every time.
What can I do to improve our connection further so that he looks to me when he's losing his mind in terror?
The main thing is to get your relationship really really good, first on the ground then in the saddle. The more your horse trusts and respects you, the less he will act like a prey animal in strange circumstances.
A big key when dealing with a spooky horse is that you need to be able to GET NOTICED. When the horse goes into that prey animal mindset they are only thinking about saving #1, so you need to MATCH his energy and then ADD a little bit more in order to get noticed, otherwise he won't even know you are there. Backing up, going sideways, disengaging the hind end, changing directions are all good ways to get a horse back to you mentally. Basically you are telling him, "You wanna get worked up and move around a lot, let me help you!" When he shows signs of calming down, you do to. You want to let him think he's training you to stay quiet ;)
Another thing to be aware of are his thresholds. Never ever force him past a threshold, that's asking for trouble.
As someone new to all of this, I do have one observation that's come from, incidentally, my dogs. I have Whippets who have a really strong prey drive. If they get fixated on a moving animal, it's next to impossible to get their attention. The key for me is to recognize when they're moving toward that fixation mindset, and prevent them from going there. Perhaps this doesn't apply if your horse is spooking at something completely out of the blue, but I was leading a horse recently who spooked when we neared a junk pile with a tarp over it. I didn't notice the junk pile, but if I had been paying attention I probably would have, and as we neared it I might've been able to help the horse through that moment better.
Just a beginner's thoughts, so disregard if this doesn't seem right to you.
Flexing my horse's neck always gets his attention and keeps him focused on what I'm telling him. Turning in circles, etc. Keep him moving as much as possible. Good luck! :]
Thank you all so much - those are great suggestions.
Spirithorse - I think that threshold is what I worry about the most - I'm not always sure if I'm pushing him too far. Of course it's different for everybody, but can you think of any clear signs that indicate I've crossed the line?
CJ - I have greyhounds, so I can totally picture what you're talking about. I'll see if I can think up a way to apply it. I find that many times if I am not worried about him spooking, he doesn't, but if I start worrying, then he starts worrying. But on the other hand, it's also good to be prepared...so I guess it's just all about the balance thing, as usual! That's an interesting thing to think about...thank you!
Barrelracer - I've always heard that keeping his feet moving is a good way to deal with an antsy horse, but it didn't occur to me to use circles and such while he's freaked out. It sounds like a good energy re-direction to me - I'll try it!
Glad to be of help! :] Hope it works for you!
You will know when he is reaching a threshold because he will hesitate, start to slow down, get tense, snort, etc.
If he overreacts, overreact with him. Just like Spirithorse said.
You need to enforce that he should stay out of your space. But make sure you're not in a place where he can't avoid running over you.
Eliz - Ah! I like it. Thank you! I do make sure I take him places where there is space for him to be safe if he freaks out - unfortunately around here that really limits my choices for trails. But we make do. Better safe than scenic! :)
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