How would you handle it?
I rode this morning, first time in a week, and the horse I ride -- a PRE gelding who isn't a spooky guy by nature -- decided, once I got on, that the arena was TERRIFYING and didn't want to MOVE. Now, this is his arena that he's always being ridden in. Nothing had moved, nothing had changed, the weather was calm, and there was no wind. And it was the WHOLE arena, basically.
I hate spookiness. I hate spooking. I'm a nervous rider. I don't want explosions. I'm much more of a... negotiator.
So, I did manage to get him from terrified and WILL NOT MOVE... to a state of moving around the entire arena, on a loose rein, relaxed. But to get him good both ways took 50 minutes, and it wound up being an all-walk ride. It was a solo ride -- not a lesson, not a clinic, not a show -- so I had that option.
How I did it:
He only wanted to be in one spot, where he seemed less anxious. Trying to move him away from it led to backing up and trying to spin. So I said, okay, you can be in this spot, but you have to move forward(ish). So I had him circle on that spot. As he got more comfortable, I made the circle incrementally larger. When he got stuck, I would keep him more or less pointed where we were supposed to be going, and I'd keep my leg on until he took even one step in the right direction, then release and pause and give him a pat. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Eventually we got it perfect one direction... and then had to start from scratch the other way. But... we got it!
I had spurs and a whip available to me, but I didn't use them. I didn't use any more pressure than I normally would to get him to do something. And I asked for baby steps of bravery instead of trying to force him to do anything. Despite the fact that I'm confident he had the *potential* for it in him, he did NOT shy, spin quickly away from anything, bolt, or do any kind of big spook. And I think he didn't do those things because I didn't MAKE HIM go around where he was uncomfortable, so his anxiety never went over the top.
I don't feel that a 50 minute walk ride is a waste of my time, but I know some riders who would have said "oh grow up" and put a lot of pressure on him to push him around to where he "should" be going. At the other end of the spectrum, there's the strategy of hopping off, and leading him around the whole ring on foot to maybe speed up the process of getting him used to everything. (Except he's SEEN "everything" hundreds of times.) Or lunging him. (A few months ago I would have absolutely gone with the hopping-off method and would not have felt okay riding through this.)
I personally feel like I handled it well. I know a lot of my coaches from the past would have rolled their eyes. But I didn't "let him win." I got what I wanted, and both of us minimized our anxiety. Sure he's seen the ring hundreds of times, but there's a saying: ride the horse you have today. And the horse I had today was NOT COOL with it. So.
What would you have done?