Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: Eastern Montana
• Horses: 0
My daughter's horse was terrible for spooking at little nothing things when we first got him. A couple of his spooks included spooking at a dog, dragging my daughter and running through a BW fence. Another was spooking at something at the end of the arena and running to the other end slamming into the fence. Both luckily with little injury. We decided to follow Clinton Anderson's Method and started him on the Fundamentals program. Within 3 weeks to a month we had a changed horse.
One of the principles he uses to get horses over spooking on the trail is to REALLY put them to work when they spook. This means going on trail rides in situations where you are there with the express purpose of finding things for him to spook at and then working on it. I would only go with another horse if that other horse is really calm and dead broke.
When he spooks put him to work either in tight circles or serpentines, something where it is uncomfortable and gets his blood pumping. He can only think about one thing at a time and his mind will be taken up with working and less on spooking. Once he feels relaxed and little softer, let him go past the scary object again...if he spooks again, repeat. It may take several rounds but eventually he will begin to realize that unless his rider tells him RUN! It really isn't worth spooking at something....it is WAY too much work.
I can't stress enough doing this in an area where there is plenty of room and good footing. Don't pick a cliff face or narrow overhanging trail where things can go wrong in a hurry. Be SAFE! You may even try beginning this in an arena by introducing something that you think may scare him (such as a tarp...my daughter's horse's nemesis) and start to get comfortable with it in a controlled environment.
Also be sure they are as soft in lateral flexion as possible and that he and the rider both know the one rein stop. It could save your bacon in an emergency. Eventually with a repetitive pattern of "spook...go to work" they seem to get a mind set of "Please don't let me see something to spook at...I don't have the energy". Another part of this pattern that is part of the CA program is alternating sensitizing exercises with desensitizing exercises. Like lunging followed by rest and slapping the stick and string on the ground. At first he may not like it but keep it up until he stops or shows some sign of relaxing. As soon as he shows a sign of relaxing, immediately take the pressure (slapping the string on the ground) away and rub him. I do 10 strikes of the string on the ground (working up to as hard as I can over time) in 3 sets on both sides, basically 30 strikes on each side. And as long he stays relaxed that is it. He gets rubbed anytime he shows a sign of relaxing...licking lips, deep breath, cocking a leg etc. If he gets worked up on a set then that set doesn't count and I do it over.
Over time I introduce new things that may scare that I KNOW won't hurt him. Plastic bags, pool noodles, toy cap guns etc. using the same process. In between sensitizing exercises do desensitizing. They eventually learn that to make scary things go away all they need to do is relax or look to you for guidance. It is also really important to keep your body language relaxed and soft while doing this so they get the cue from you that they need to relax.
Clinton has a really good video that is not too expensive for solving spooks on the trail. It would be a good investment and I am sure it will make him a better horse. Good luck and stay safe.