I'm looking for some advice. :) A bit of background- I'm in college and have been riding for about four years. Never owned a horse but have leased and ridden various friends' horses (from small ponies to large warmbloods). I have had a bad experience with a "crazy" mare (who has significantly calmed down since my riding her). Took a lesson on her and got bucked off, hurting my back. I have since taken a few more lessons on her and would be comfortable riding her, especially now that she's calmed down soo much. So that's my 'scary' experience. I am not a super confident rider, and I tend to get very nervous if the horse has a tendency to spook or misbehave.
Anyway, I go to school in a "keep your horse in your own backyard " area so there is only one boarding facility nearby. I am half leasing an OTTB who has not had consistent training but does have basic training. He is very spooky. I am working on being more confident and trying to understand him. Last year, I always rode with his owner present (she drove me out and did homework, I didn't have a car) so that was kind of a security blanket especially if there was a problem.
Fast forward to this year: I spent some time just hanging out with him and that definitely helped. He got put in a pasture by the rode so he's more accustomed to cars and those kinds of noises. He was doing so well. I rode him out in the arena adjacent to a large "herd pasture." He loves to greet the horses and run with them and his owner would let him do it. I held on to him and looking him straight in the eye. He calmed down and we started our ride. He got a bit antsy a few times but we managed to get through it. I was soo proud of both of us! The next day it was raining. I hooked him up to the lead rope in the barn against the wall (there are no grooming stalls), he started getting very nervous at the sound of rain on the roof (btw, he's been in a barn during rain before). I have no idea what freaked him out but he started freaking out and pulling on rope. I talked him down but I was terrified he would hurt himself, yank the rope and run, or hurt me somehow. He remain head high and scared. I got him to calm down a bit and then led him out to his pasture, where he was fine. Since then, I'm just really scared he's gonna freak out about something and seriously hurt himself or me.
This horse can freak out for no apparent reason and he doesn't have the best ground manners (always walking around when tied for grooming, trying to fix it- advice appreciated!). I don't know if normal "desensitizing" methods would work on him, since he's basically scared of his own shadow. What can I do about this? How can I bring up my own confidence? Having injured my back before, I'm just scared of getting hurt and no one is ever around. I'm so much more aware of potential dangers. I want to keep riding him because I think it will make me a better rider and more confident (once I get over my fears). It's just that every time he get scared, I get scared. :(
How old is this gelding? How long did he race, and if he was retired early, do you know why? How many other people ride him? The life of a racing horse is not a pleasant one, and they bred to be a bit more excitable naturally. Your energy will influence this horse greatly and I completely understand that you are uneasy. You've gotten hurt before, and horse related accidents happen often, so be very careful. When you tie him up for grooming start by massaging him. Find out what he likes. Some horses love their faces to be caressed, some their belly to be scratched, some like their muscles massaged. See what gets him to respond and get in a relaxed state, then start the grooming and tacking up after his head is low and he is relaxed. Talk to him at the same time in a low calm voice, and let your voice be a calming white noise. Is there a particular part of the grooming or tacking that he seems uneasy?
Do you lunge him prior to riding? It can help to get out the initial jitters. Wait until he is licking his lips and lowering his head until you end the session. Sort of like when a person goes for a brisk walk or jog, when you are done you feel so much more relaxed and at peace.
Exposure training will help with spooking on the trails or outside of the arena. Can you put foreign objects in with him (yoga exercise ball, pool noodles hanging from rope, plastic bags tied to the fence, chairs, large plastic kid play equipment, etc.)? Tie a plastic bag to the end of a whip and hold him loosely on a lung line and start moving the bag. Slowly progress over several sessions to get to the point where you can rub him with the bag and he is not phased.
Some horses are just spooky naturally so above all be safe, wear a helmet, ride with a saddle, use quick release stirrups, and don't let your guard down for a moment. I recommend not riding alone or at least have a cell phone on you for emergencies. Use common sense and if you feel this horse is not a good fit for you then find one that makes you feel safe. Good luck.
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