spooking on the trail - The Horse Forum
  • 3 Post By trailhorserider
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post #1 of 8 Old 12-05-2011, 01:03 PM Thread Starter
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Location: central Wi
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spooking on the trail

I am sorry if something like this has already been posted, and this is kind of a repeat topic. If someone has already discussed this, please let me know where I can find it. I was out riding my usually calm 11 year old paint horse this weekend by our house. There is a walking trail that goes by the area and is seperated by some thin woods. My horse saw some people walking and he got tense and was watching them through the woods. I wasn't close enough to say hello to the people so he would see that it wasn't anything to be afraid of. We went on a little bit more along the trail and someone went whizzing by on a bike or something on that trail and he spooked and took off galloping down the road. I had to stop him with one rein and he was huffing and puffing and spinning around like crazy. If I would have let the rein go, I know he would have took off running again. Finally I got off and tried to get his attention back with some of our ground work, and he calmed down a bit, but not as much as I would have liked. I got back on and proceded with our work out in another field and he didnt spook at anything else, but I could tell that he was still tense the whole time. Is there anything I can do better in the future to calm my horse down from something like that? When I have him flexed all the way around and he's still very upset, I feel like he will never calm down. Should I just wait it out or is there something else I can do to settle him down in a situation like that?
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post #2 of 8 Old 12-05-2011, 01:15 PM
Green Broke
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sounds like you pretty much did the right thing, get him thinking instead of reacting, when you get him under control with the one rein, do some more circles and some figure eights around trees beside the trails. Figure 8's especially when they have to watch out for trees seems to be more calming to them than circles. I kinda handle it like punishment and am forceful in my voice, lettign them know that spooking is BAD, I dont do the oh bo bo its ok calm down now pat pat pat,,,, I do the more NO Knock that crap off, get around that tree, There are some trainign tips you can do in the round pen that worked very well for my afraid of his own shadow horse. I back him up, then run at him waving arms, sliding lead line through my hand, as soon as he stops moving I stop. I do the same with wierd items, like plastic bag on end of stick, beer can with rocks, waving hat, As soon as his feet stop I stop.. He still gets wierd about stuff on the trail but what I have done is teach him to freeze in place. Way more safer than his old habit of rearing and Hi ho Silvering in the opposite direction over a turkey feather in the trail.
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post #3 of 8 Old 12-05-2011, 01:33 PM
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I never get mad at them for spooking. I figure if they are legitimately scared (and I feel when my guys spook they are legitimately scared) then punishing them for it will only make them more nervous. I try to talk to them calmly and pat them on the neck and tell them they are okay and then ride on like nothing ever happened.

It sounds like you handled it as well as you could have. Once a horse gets nervous I have not found a magic cure to un-nervous them. I just keep riding and hope they relax as we go.

And after a spook, I try to relax my muscles and ride on a loose rein. Even if I got an adrenaline rush when they spooked, I try to convey relaxation on my part and make sure my legs are not tense and my reins are not tense. It can be hard but I don't want to convey nervousness to the horse. I want to be cool, calm and in control.

I have never found punishing them for spooking to do any good. I guess it can work for some people, but I think horses are sensitive animals and to punish them for being scared, well, I personally don't see how that can do any good. Maybe it's because I have owned some "hotter" horses. Try punishing a high strung Arabian for spooking and see if they ever calm down afterwards.

So I just regain control, tell the horse all is well, and keep on riding.

Last edited by trailhorserider; 12-05-2011 at 01:39 PM.
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post #4 of 8 Old 12-05-2011, 03:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Joe4d View Post
I kinda handle it like punishment and am forceful in my voice, lettign them know that spooking is BAD,
As soon as his feet stop I stop.. He still gets wierd about stuff on the trail but what I have done is teach him to freeze in place. Way more safer than his old habit of rearing and Hi ho Silvering in the opposite direction over a turkey feather in the trail.
Spooking isn't good but most of the time it's not a voluntary response. Horses are fight or flight animals. You can't punish them for their natural instinct.

Are you suggesting when you are deep in thought and someone startles you, they should make you move until you freeze in place?
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post #5 of 8 Old 12-05-2011, 03:29 PM Thread Starter
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I agree that spooking is not likely to be something a horse does to be naughty, but rather a natural prey reaction to something frightening him. However, I think that a horse can be conditioned to snap out of it more quickly once he realizes their is no real danger. My horse is generally pretty level headed and spooks only for a moment before turning around to see what happened. This time, he was off to the races! So, is there maybe a point where a horse decides to continue the negitive reaction, for some reason, even if he is no longer as frightened by what happened? And I have heard of horses being less spooky in certain places if they are asked to work harder when they spook in that area, like they think twice about spooking.
I tried to make my horse hustle his feet and refocus on me, but I never really felt like I got him back to the usual calm responsive horse I am used to. Actually, I spent a lot of time that day working on cantering and even galloping. Even when he was dead tired, I couldn't walk him home on a loose rein because he'd try to trot off. This topic has made me think a lot because it took me less than a day to get this horse to allow me to shoot off his back. Yet, seeing someone pass by in the woods turns him all ballistic. Maybe he just had a bad day. He's gotta be allowed to do that now and then.
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post #6 of 8 Old 12-05-2011, 06:05 PM
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Once he spooked you did right. What you need to try and do is distract him before the spook. Once you see or feel him start to tense up, ask him to do something to take his mind off whatever is bothering him. This is the perfect time to circle, do figure 8's, etc. What you don't want to do is stop and give him time to think about that bugaboo that wants to eat him.
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post #7 of 8 Old 12-06-2011, 08:06 PM
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You handled the spook well. The only thing I would have done differently is not get off. If the horse is that wound up, it's safer to be on them than next to them. For reasons I have yet to figure out, frequent changes of direction seem to calm down snorting, frightened horses. Next time, once you get him under control, just walk him back and forth on as loose a rein as is safe until the walk goes from a prancing attempt to run to a relaxed walk. I would only get off as an absolute last resort, such as when your 5 year old OTTB comes across a spitting Llama on a busy road and spins around like a fire breathing dragon for the better part of 5 minutes while onlooking cars watch the drama and you envision your certain death when his 17th attempt at a bolt is successful....oh wait, that was me. Yes, you did well. Long live the one rein stop!

You just have to see your distance...you don't have to like it.
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post #8 of 8 Old 12-06-2011, 09:39 PM
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what I am trying to do is desensitize them and teach him not to bolt at stupid stuff, you cant change his instincts but you can change his reactions to some of those insticnts. I know I have seen my horse come along ways. I dont subscribe to rewarding my horse for bad behavior. If something is spooking him but he keeps on going up the trail anyways, thats when he gets the pat and good boy,,,, If he jumps or refuses to go, he gets the verbal admonishment, and some circles or 8's around some trees. Now he doesnt even get that. as he has learned. All he gets is a bit of heal,, and maybe a bit of a growl,,, "hey knock that off" 5 months ago this was a horse that would go straight up in the air spin around, and try to bolt till I one reined him, over a turkey feather in the trail. My horse is 9 so no reason your 15 yo cant learn to get better.
Basic horse, make what you want easy, make what he wants hard.
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