Anti-spook Training...Make it Fun?
So, my horse is a little spooky. If there is ever anything new in sight of the arena, he has to prance past it, snort at it, or give it 10 feet of extra space. If the scary thing moves at all, his reactions are worse. He generally only reacts like this when undersaddle. He also is pretty head-shy (but not while being bridled--thank goodness), which I've heard can be connected to spookiness.
So far, I've been basically just reactive to this issue. He was afraid of our barn dog, so I worked with the two of them a bunch and we played in the arena. Now they're best buds. He wouldn't let me brush his head, so I just incorporated head-brushing into our daily grooming routine and gave him a treat or a "good boy" every time that he lowered his head at all. He'll now lower his head for brushing.
I would like to get him to be less spooky! I've heard of people rubbing plastic bags over their horses to acclimate them to noises/motions all near them. I tried this one time, and he didn't move a muscle until I got up near his head. On his legs, belly, directly behind him, trotting over them...all fine! So this made me really think it is linked to his being head-shy.
Do you guys have any tricks of the trade to help a spooky horse? Maybe something fun? Or something quick and simple that I can add to our daily routine?
Help! It's starting to get annoying...plus we may be going to a show this summer and I want to be safe.
I'm working on a Pm for you. It is pretty long and from 'my side', so bear with me. I hope you can use it.
Some horses are just naturally more spooky than others but it sounds like some of these could be because of his previous experiences. It sounds like Lady Dreamer has got how you can help him improve so I'll leave her to it! :D
Maybe not. What I suggested(since I am not the best at wording things) I thought might be taken out of context. I actually lost a friend of five years over the topic of "scary objects" so I am a little leery of putting it out there.
What I suggested (in more words) was having an assistant with a driving whip(or a lunge whip without a string), with a plastic bag on it, standing in the middle of the arena. The rider is to ride down the rail, while the assistant moves the bag up and down. When the rider is close, the assistant is to stop moving it and let the horse pass. The object is to never be used to the side or behind the horse. That is a brief summary of what I had.
I work with saddlebred show horses. Certain objects are treated differently than in other diciplines. Like instead of ignoring a plastic bag, we want them to LOOK at it.
If you have something please share it. It may help her more than mine.
Thank you for the informative PM, LadyDreamer! I see how offering the reward of "scary object goes away when I face it" is important. More to make him use his brain when faced with something scary rather than just desensitizing him to it. Because, of course, I couldn't possibly desensitize him to everything out there!
The only thing that I can think from his past that would make him spooky is simply that he wasn't exposed to much. He lived on a private farm with one other horse and his scenery never really changed.
You are very welcome. Just sit with him if he spooks, and ride it out and go on with him.
"If a horse makes a mistake, just go on with him or he will start making mistakes to stop." -Dick Obenauf
You are right you can't prepare for EVERY little thing. At one show I go to, there is a freaking megatron at one end of the ring that they had to turn off because a lot of the horses reacted poorly to it. I mean who has access to 20' televisions to work your horse with. Hah.
Let's see, other "objects" you could use. A person taking off thier jacket close to the rail. Have your assisstant swing the coat off like an idiot. No one in thier right mind would do that, but you never know.
Party flags, or those strings of colorful triangle flags that you see on car lots. You could put those on the top of the fence or at rail height. Maybe after some work. If you are outside, the wind would blow them, but they wouldn't go away. On the other hand they would remain constant and harmless, which also has its good points.
I wish you luck.
LadyDreamer is right. I think it is a matter of desensitizing him to things he may encounter although you can't predict everything you can help him learn that not everything is scary.
You'll need alot of patience but i've seen horses spook less after a while of constant work although they never stop completely.
Like LadyDreamer said you need to just sit out his spooking and then get him to walk up to the object he is afraid of and let him look at it and maybe sniff it to show him that it is not going to hurt him. When he relaxes and isn't bothered by the object you allow him to walk away from it and you continue with what you were doing.
I'm not really a fan of C.A. but they work as far as noises go and getting your horse used to them. I pop the CD in every time I go to groom and every day I turn it up a little bit more and a little bit more, and now he could care less.
edit- I just thought I'd mention, my horse still spooks at noises though but not very often, he was like the type of horse who will be walking along the road half a sleep relaxing and oh jeeze a leaf will tap the cement as the wind blew a quarter mile down the road and he will squeal and start jumping around and try running home. Now he's not so much but he still spooks, like the other night my inconsiderate barn manager ripped the barn door open like it was glued shut and it squeaked and slammed against the metal wall and my horse just about had a heart attack and drug me across the barn. I mean, hehe, he still spooks! But he's a lot better!
This might help more than I did. There are some good explanations.
I would try to bring different desezsitizing things to the barn with you, like tarps, flags, big bouncy balls. Anything that you would think would spook him. Work with him on the ground with these things, sometimes you may find it to be fun. Like some of the other posts, you can't desenstize them to everything, but sometimes, that is not the whole point. Sometimes it is just a matter of your horse to trust you enough to get him/her through something scary.
As for the head shyness, I would take something that resembled a bag, like a white rag. start by rubbing the horses neck with it moving it closer to the head. When you hit a spot that makes him nervous, stop and continue to rub him in that area until he relaxes and stops moving his feet. Once he relaxes and realizes it is not going to kill him, retreat and rub somewhere else. Then repeat it trying to move closer to the facial area, ears chin, etc. Once you are able to rub hi whole face with the rag that doesn't make much noise, try it with something that does, like a plastic bag. Obviously, don't put yourself in any danger when doing this. Most horse, will tolerte it and actually learn to enjoy it. I was told once that horses love to be rubbed over there eyes and I never believed it until I tried it on my horses and they both love it. Of course neither one was really head shy.
Doing it this way may take a little longer, but sometimes it is better to take time with something so important. Hope this helps. I also found a good clip from CA about this and will post it for you.
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