Trail riding the easily startled horse... - The Horse Forum
LinkBack Thread Tools
post #1 of 22 Old 01-04-2014, 11:51 AM Thread Starter
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Pennsylvania
Posts: 938
• Horses: 2
Trail riding the easily startled horse...

I haven't had a lot of opportunity to trail ride in the past as previous boarding stables did not always have trail access. Where my horse is now has plenty of options for trail rides and rides outside the area. For those of you that trail ride on a regular basis, how did you go about desensitizing your horse to the unexpected on the trails? My horse has been on a few short trails rides before, and she's generally very good away from home and outside the arena. She's not really afraid of things that I present to her, but if she is startled by an animal jumping out in front of her or an engine backfire, or something that is completely unexpected for the both of us, she just leaves. She sits down and bolts and there goes my horse. There's no time to react or one rein stop her, she's just gone in an instant. What methods can be used to get a horse used to unexpected sights and sounds (without them completely stressing out or becoming wary of you)? I have heard that it is possible to train your horse to "spook in place". Is this true and what exercises would you recommend to get my horse to keep her cool when something unexpected happens?

kiltsrhott is offline  
Sponsored Links
post #2 of 22 Old 01-04-2014, 12:35 PM
Join Date: Dec 2012
Location: Montana
Posts: 2,162
• Horses: 2
With my horses I take anything and everything I can to work with my horse on. Plastic bags, ribbons, flags, weeds, tarps, sticks, water bottles, etc.

On Chocky's first trail ride ever we found out he was scared of water bottles when my mom took a drink and the bottle went, crackle crackle! Chocky skittered sideways and my moms water was suddenly empty, ahaha!! As she rode she made the sounds more often and when he least expected it and also worked with him in the arena a few days after and he got pretty good with it!!

There were some logs and the water and rocks and sand and such that he was afraid to walk over, but when another horse just waltzed on over it he saw that he didn't get eaten and walked over it like it was nothing.
When we came across something he was unsure of, we would either 1. stop and let him investigate or 2. ignore the object and make him keep walking on.
We went trail ridin on the reservior beach and there was a place where ever step the horse took he sunk to his knees and hocks. He was unsure but we kept him moving and he didn't mind it too much. We walked long side them instead of riding.

So just bring anything you might see on the trail and work with him on it. If you ride the trail and come across a scary object then
1. ignore it and ask him to continue walking on. If he doesn't want to walk on, make him work more by doing circles and backing. My horse wouldn't go forward once, so I turned him around and we backed the trail for quite a while. Then he said he would be good and we walked straight again.
2. Let him stop and investigate.

Good luck and I hope this helped!
kiltsrhott likes this.

🔫 Don't Tread On Me 🐍
amberly is offline  
post #3 of 22 Old 01-04-2014, 12:42 PM
Join Date: May 2011
Location: Georgia
Posts: 586
• Horses: 0
Going with a seasoned trail horse is a big help to start out.
Oreos Girl is offline  
post #4 of 22 Old 01-04-2014, 01:01 PM
Join Date: Sep 2011
Location: Eastern Ontario
Posts: 1,166
• Horses: 3
My gelding is like that, except he's scared of everything ...

I do a lot of ground work with him on the trails. I lunge him, I bring things that makes noise and it has helped a lot. I know quite a few people may think it's all quackery, but I've also been getting into aroma therapy with him. Two that re supposed to be good for calming horses is Lavender and Cedarwood. He likes Lavender the best, but the Cedarwood seems to give off better results.
kiltsrhott likes this.

Thank you for feeding us years of lies. Thank you for the wars you left us to fight. Thank you for the world you ruined overnight. But we'll be fine, yeah we'll be fine.
BornToRun is offline  
post #5 of 22 Old 01-04-2014, 01:01 PM
Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Oregon
Posts: 5,482
• Horses: 2
Work on desensitizing your horse in the stable. There are both videos and books available that show things you can do. These are generally easy to do and wont cost much like sacking them out and making them walk over a tarp. As your horse settles down and gains trust you can get more involved like tossing a tarp over the top of them and dragging it back off again.

Now for the trail. First and foremost your horse is watching/feeling you in that saddle. That means she's taking clues from you so if you expect your horse to jump and prepare yourself for that jump your horse will look for a reason to jump because you think there's a reason to jump. Got that? Ok, so you have to force yourself to relax no matter what the situation. By relax I mean show no outward signs you're prepared for anything. No tension in your legs, no tension on the reins no tension in your butt, no tension. The trick is to be ready for anything but not transmit that readiness to your horse. The second you tighten up because you spot something that might spook your horse is the signal for your horse to spook. By not tightening up it tells your horse nothing to see here, move on.

Also they are watching where you watch so if your head is on a swivel, stop it. When you are rubber necking going down the trail your horse starts thinking there's a bad reason your on such high alert. So your horse starts looking under every brush, tree and blade of grass for monsters. The trick here is to look with your eyes but not your head. Keep your head pointed down trail at all times.

So we move onto desensitizing during rides. I start small and move up using whatever happens to come my way on the trail. See a branch hanging over the trail, pull it a bit and let it snap back. As she settles down with that pull branches harder. Break off a small branch and start swinging it around in small motions. As she settle down with that get bigger branches and bigger motions. Grab a small dead branch, break it off in small pieces and toss them past her head. As she settles down toss bigger pieces and toss them farther. See what I'm doing here? Use whatever comes your way on a trail, start small and work up in size/motion until your horse no longer reacts.

Another thing to work on is leadership. When a horse is out front of a "herd" or alone they are the lookout so are more alert to what's going on around them. So you have to work with them both in front and behind other riders.
Darrin is offline  
post #6 of 22 Old 01-04-2014, 01:10 PM
Join Date: Dec 2013
Location: Gerald, Missouri
Posts: 211
• Horses: 0
I like the post from Oreos Girl about going out with a seasoned horse on the trail. I would go one step further and recommend that you avoid going with another horse that spooks a lot. Spookiness is transmitted from one horse to another in my opinion.
Celeste likes this.
Herosbud is offline  
post #7 of 22 Old 01-04-2014, 01:24 PM
Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: southern Arizona
Posts: 9,557
• Horses: 4
I recommend this sticky thread (now at 139 likes):

This is how we train a fearless trail horse!

"There's no time to react or one rein stop her"

There generally is time, but not much. Sometimes there is a slow buildup of pressure, when you are going toward something the horse is aware of and not happy about. Sometimes it is pretty much instantaneous, like a garage door opening at a house, or an invisible pink rhino spotted by your horse. But even then, there is a brief moment where the horse gathers itself and either leaps forward or spins around. By some magical method I've never quite figured out, you need to be relaxed enough to give your horse confidence, but alert enough to catch the horse in that brief moment of time.

A hard 180 can help if done before the horse is fully moving forward. Lots of folks like a ORS, although I'm not a huge fan. I think switching to a curb bit helped me, but a lot of folks will tell you that means I'm a terrible rider/person. I think it also helps to work on your horse's stop while in a non-threatening environment. After all, if your horse's stop isn't immediate and correct when trotting in an arena, you can't expect him to stop well when scared almost out of his mind. Practicing stops by the hundreds and even thousands - and good stops, not sloppy ones - can eventually build up a habit of obedience that even fear won't overcome. If the horse has to think 'this means stop', then the response isn't automatic enough to help you with a spook. It needs to be such a strong habit that the horse will do it without any thought at all. In a true bolt, IMHO, horses don't think - but they will respond to very strong habit patterns.

At that point, when your horse stops in spite of its fear, it soon learns that the scary thing goes away when it stops...and thus it learns to stop instead of bolt. At least, that is my experience with ONE horse who bolted a lot. Cherie's advice in the thread linked above is based on vastly greater experience. The first time I read it, I thought it was hooey...but that hooey keeps looking better and better with time... me and 138 others!
kiltsrhott likes this.

"Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing...well, ignore it mostly."

Last edited by bsms; 01-04-2014 at 01:31 PM.
bsms is offline  
post #8 of 22 Old 01-04-2014, 02:08 PM Thread Starter
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Pennsylvania
Posts: 938
• Horses: 2
I really like that sticky thread! And the aroma therapy idea is interesting. I've never thought of it before. Maybe I'll try it out of sheer curiosity!

I'm pretty sure the inevitable is just going to be exposure, even if I end up on the ground once or twice. The thing is, I have desensitized her in an arena, at shows, and even on trails. She's not afraid of tarps, blankets, water bottles, hula hoops, kids, dogs, cats, people running around in bright crinkly rain coats, and big hats etc etc. She's been totally sacked out with that kind of stuff. She has never not gone where I asked her to on a trail. I walked her down an embankment and into a creek without a hint of hesitation on her part. We've only gone alone at this point, and she'll even go where she can't see or hear her friends. We've ridden on the road for short distances and traffic is not an issue. This horse doesn't do the Arab, look and snort, then bolt. The only time she's really spooked violently have been, some sort of loud bang that came out of a trailer park, an animal that jumped out of the woods beside us, gun shots (which she's actually okay with now, as long as one doesn't fire too unexpectedly close) and a bee sting. None of these have been things she was able to think about or tense up about before hand. When I say there is no warning, I mean there is no warning. It's these kinds of things she needs to not explode about. Would it be appropriate to just bang some trash can lids together in the barn when she least expects it, or have the neighbor fire blanks near her paddock, or do you think she'll just get upset and jumpy? I'm not even sure where to start on getting her not to completely sit down on me the next time she gets stung by a bee. I've ridden plenty of horses in the past that would flinch when startled, but not immediately bolt. Though perhaps this is just her instinctual way of reacting to things and there's nothing that can be done...?

kiltsrhott is offline  
post #9 of 22 Old 01-04-2014, 05:34 PM
Join Date: Sep 2011
Location: Eastern Ontario
Posts: 1,166
• Horses: 3
You may find these of help to you

Thank you for feeding us years of lies. Thank you for the wars you left us to fight. Thank you for the world you ruined overnight. But we'll be fine, yeah we'll be fine.
BornToRun is offline  
post #10 of 22 Old 01-04-2014, 07:29 PM Thread Starter
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Pennsylvania
Posts: 938
• Horses: 2
Hm.. those videos were informative, but still not quite what I'm looking for. The problem I have with my horse is that she doesn't spook often but when she does, there is no warning. It would be the "pheasant jumping out of the brush" situations that the man in the video mentioned that are our problem. And I agree with him that "any horse would spook at that" but my horse's instinctual reaction in this situation is to sit down (literally sit), and bolt. It is near impossible to stay on when your 17 hand horse suddenly becomes 15 hands and then rockets out from under you. Granted, I've only hit the dirt once due to one of these spooks, but my riding instructor's daughter and my husband have been victim to them as well. Like I said, this isn't a regular occurrence. She's not the type of horse to avoid a corner of the arena or refuse to step in a puddle, or snort at something in the distance. She's the kind of horse that is calm, cool and collect 99% of the time, but when something does scare her, it's like a bomb going off. Instantaneous, no warning, your horse has left the building and you are sitting on the floor before you even realize what just happened type of spook. I like to call them "teleportation spooks". One second you're riding along, having a grand old time, and the next, there's no horse under you, and you have no recollection of what happened in between. I don't know if there's any way to prevent these kinds of spooks or gain control of them, considering the horse is gone before the rider has a chance to register what's going on, but if anyone does have any miraculous tips, I would love to hear them.

kiltsrhott is offline  

Quick Reply

Register Now

In order to be able to post messages on the The Horse Forum forums, you must first register.

Already have a Horse Forum account?
Members are allowed only one account per person at the Horse Forum, so if you've made an account here in the past you'll need to continue using that account. Please do not create a new account or you may lose access to the Horse Forum. If you need help recovering your existing account, please Contact Us. We'll be glad to help!

New to the Horse Forum?
Please choose a username you will be satisfied with using for the duration of your membership at the Horse Forum. We do not change members' usernames upon request because that would make it difficult for everyone to keep track of who is who on the forum. For that reason, please do not incorporate your horse's name into your username so that you are not stuck with a username related to a horse you may no longer have some day, or use any other username you may no longer identify with or care for in the future.

User Name:
Please enter a password for your user account. Note that passwords are case-sensitive.


Confirm Password:
Email Address
Please enter a valid email address for yourself.

Email Address:


Human Verification

In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.

Old Thread Warning
This thread is more than 90 days old. When a thread is this old, it is often better to start a new thread rather than post to it. However, If you feel you have something of value to add to this particular thread, you can do so by checking the box below before submitting your post.

Thread Tools
Show Printable Version Show Printable Version
Email this Page Email this Page

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
horse startled while she is tied sarahartworks7 Horse Training 4 07-20-2013 11:52 PM
Horse Rears easily..? Baylee Horse Training 9 05-23-2011 05:29 AM

Posting Rules  
You may post new threads
You may post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are On

For the best viewing experience please update your browser to Google Chrome