Spooking at Cars - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 11 Old 08-10-2013, 04:22 AM Thread Starter
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Spooking at Cars

First, a little background - my horse is a 19y/o QH gelding, and he's fairly close to bombproof. He's just a plodder, and his spooks are usually no worse than a skitter to the side, or planting all four feet.

Now, the problem. I've had him for a few months, and never had much problem with him when riding on roads. He had a major spook at a semi-trailer at one stage, which led to my first fall from him. After that, things were still good.

Recently, cars have started spooking him, but not every car. Like, every second car. Last week he had a big spook at a ute with a bullbar and ploughed into long grass, which hid a hill and he ended up down on his knees on top of the hill. Thankfully, no damage was done, and I stayed on. After that another ute went past, and he didn't care.

Today, I fell off twice in one ride, which is a record even for me. I can understand both of them - the first he was overwhelmed, what with excited horses in a paddock ahead, a ute coming towards us, and a stock truck coming from behind. He was caught unawares, did a 360, and I hit the dust. After that, whilst I was talking to the kind people who'd caught him after he'd gone running for the nearest paddock with horses, a car went past and he freaked. Minutes later another went past... and he was perfectly fine.

The only thing that has changed is the presence of the horrifying alpaca. It set him off at the start of our ride today, and was the cause of my second fall (I knew the metaphorical sh*t was gonna hit the fan, and my emergency dismount was quick enough). Since then, he's been on edge whenever we're out of the paddock. I took some time after that fall to make him stand in the presence of the alpaca until it lost interest, and I rewarded him once he stopped huffing and fussing.

I guess what I want to know is, is there anything I can do to work on the spooking to every second car? I've tried turning him towards them, keeping him working, circling him, stopping... and I can't work out if there's a connection between his position and the direction of the car. He seems worse when the car has actually gone past, with the 'whoosh' of air. But it doesn't always happen. I dread the day that he spooks into the traffic.

Should I have a friend drive back and forth past him at different speeds to see if that helps? I can handle his little spooks, it's the big ones at inconvenient places that I want to stop.
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post #2 of 11 Old 08-10-2013, 05:36 AM
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With his age, I wonder if there is something going on health wise. Like hearing or eye-sight problems. That and you said he used to be fine and this is suddenly an issue.

Other than that I have no advice to offer unfortunately. Good luck! I'm sure other members will chime in with more useful advice! :)
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post #3 of 11 Old 08-10-2013, 05:39 AM Thread Starter
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I was wondering about eyesight, which is why I was considering setting up scenarios with cars coming at him from different directions to see if there's a particular spot where he can't see them from that spooks him.
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post #4 of 11 Old 08-11-2013, 12:24 PM
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Originally Posted by LovesMyDunnBoy View Post
With his age, I wonder if there is something going on health wise. Like hearing or eye-sight problems. That and you said he used to be fine and this is suddenly an issue.
Other than that I have no advice to offer unfortunately. Good luck! I'm sure other members will chime in with more useful advice! :)
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My first thought, exactly! I think I would have him seen by a vet just in case.

If you ever find yourself in a fair fight, it's because your tactics suck. ~ Marine 1SGT J. Reifinger
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post #5 of 11 Old 08-11-2013, 12:33 PM
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I agree with the possibility of sight problems. Couple that with the falls and it could cause the problems you're dealing with now.

I'd have a vet look him over and see how his eyes are doing. Also, it couldn't hurt to have his back checked. It's possible that he tweaked something during one of those spooks and now it twinges when you or he moves a certain way.
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post #6 of 11 Old 08-13-2013, 12:11 AM
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I'd check his eyes with a vet to make sure he's seeing okay, and possibly rule that out before going further. I have the same problem with my mare of similar age. Nothing drastic, but a few big steps in the opposite direction than I was expecting on multiple occasions. Mostly with cars coming up from behind, and some rattly trailers will get her going. What I have been doing is just continuing to ride on the road. If you have someone who could help you, get them to drive around you and desensitize your horse. Once he is more confident, have said helper rev up past you, lay on the horn, yell out the window, etc. Any crazy thing you could think of, and slowly build up to the craziest until it doesn't bother him. And don't be afraid to get off him and lead him to start off, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

My mare doesn't have a lot of go, so half of my ride is focusing on keeping her walking for more than a few steps. I liked to turn her in the direction of the car to start out, make sure she sees it. She is a creature of habit, so I work on more and more just moving her head to acknowledge the car without stopping or turning. I have seen improvement, with only a few missteps, so with persistence you will find your reward. If nothing is wrong with him physically, then the only thing that will give marked improvement is exposure. Good luck!
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post #7 of 11 Old 08-13-2013, 03:01 AM Thread Starter
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I had a short ride out today, with my mother walking alongside me because I was a little nervous.

More nervous than I'd hoped.

When I heard a vehicle coming, I tensed, which didn't help matters. When I saw that it was a small stock truck, I **** near jumped straight off him. My mother talked me through it, and I got him off the road into the grass and allowed him to eat, which worked when my mother was riding him the other day. But I must have hyped him up, because he wouldn't eat or stand still. He didn't really shy, but he fidgeted, swung me into a tree, and circled. I lost my balance at one point and was hanging over a barbed fence -eek! But at that point the truck had passed us, and he'd stopped because he'd gotten us tangled in the tree. Could've been better, but I think I was the biggest problem.

We were on our way back when another car came. By that stage I was so worried about what could happen, I jumped off and just stood talking to him. He flinched at the car, but was otherwise fine, so I was all over him with praise and pats.

I'm planning to stick to paddock riding until I get my feel back - riding today, my seat was off. I kept adjusting how I was sitting, but I couldn't find the spot that had kept me glued to the saddle up until recently. I'm quite ashamed that those falls spooked me so badly...

But on the good side, I rode him up to the paddock of the horrifying alpaca and back with no troubles, so we ended on a brilliant note.

There have been a few times that I've wondered about his eyesight. If he is having troubles, what would the prognosis be? I hate to think that he'd have to be retired. I've been meaning to get a vet out to check how his teeth are going (he's not showing any signs of discomfort, but I have no idea if or when his teeth were last done).

Sometimes, he does seem to cope better when I have him working as they go past. Maybe he thinks that me pulling him up means that something is wrong? This is why I want to conduct a few experiments, to find out if there's consistency between when he spooks.

A part of me wondered whether he may be colourblind or something like that. The alpaca that terrifies him is black with a white face, and he does sometimes worry over black and white cattle... But one of his past girlfriends was a black and white mare, so I don't know what to think (except sometimes I think he thinks she's come back to haunt him!).
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post #8 of 11 Old 08-30-2013, 09:34 PM
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I think with his age he may have a vision or hearing problem you are not aware of.
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post #9 of 11 Old 09-03-2013, 12:07 AM
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You need to stop riding him along roads with traffic until you get a handle on this. It will get you, him, and maybe someone else killed.

Firstly, something is going on with him. Maybe it is his eyesight. Secondly, he's learning he can get you off by shying.

I would take him to a road with a lot of varied, but not necessarily constant, traffic (cars, trucks, motorcycles, bikes), position him facing the road about 10 yards or so back from it, and just sit quietly on him and let him watch the cars go by. He will probably give you fits for the first few minutes, but after that he will likely settle down and realize nothing bad is going to happen and you are not going to get off. Make sure you do it in an area that gives you some maneuvering room, so you can handle the spooks and get him back to the starting spot without danger of getting out in the road or getting tangled up in anything. Then, after he settles down, ride him back home. Done for the day. Do that until you are no longer feeling anxious and are confident your horse is handling the traffic ok.

This will also help you get a handle on yourself. He's feeling your anxiety as well as his own fear, and feeding off of it.

In reality, there is an even deeper issue, in that he hasn't been trained not to respond to fear, and to look to you for instructions and protection when he is afraid. It is a training/respect/obedience issue that goes deeper than just shying. However, the above has worked for me with several horses.

Tony Henrie
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post #10 of 11 Old 09-03-2013, 04:53 AM Thread Starter
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He's actually doing a lot better now.

I've had a couple of rides with my mother walking alongside, and the worst he did was a couple of quick steps forward. I was consciously keeping myself unafraid, or as close as I could get!

Then I went for a ride with the woman I agist with. The horse she was riding didn't give a darn about anything, which really helped. My horse did one little scoot forward, and got a little jittery at another time, but after that he was perfectly fine. The other horse worked wonders for his confidence, and mine.

I haven't gone out on my own with him again yet, but I'm getting there. We've been regularly taking him out on a nearby dirt road, where 5 cars at the most go past. I'll probably take him out alone soon, I just want to go on another couple of rides with the other horse to help boost my boys confidence, too.
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