Thanks everyone for your input! I did try a magnesium calming supplement back when she had ulcers (before the ulcers were diagnosed) and it didn't help, but I guess if she had ulcers and a magnesium deficiency, she still would have been in pain from the ulcers and I may not have noticed any benefit from the supplement. So I'm adding smartcalm ultra to her next smartpak shipment and I'll see if it does anything. I'll try other possible solutions from there.
Practicing a one-rein stop won't really help. She has very good brakes and doesn't run through her bit at all. When she anxiety-panic-spooks she sits down and scoots sideways or surges forward very quickly. I'm lost in the sit. She just drops out from under me and I have no horse between my legs anymore. I'm on the floor before I even know what happened. I have no time to react.
Then once I fall off she's mentally gone. She's quite the people-pleasing horse and really tries to take care of her rider. She gets really upset when she thinks she's done something wrong. This is a good quality when trying to teach her new things or when giving her commands. She never fights me, and bends over backwards trying to understand me. But when she makes a mistake, she gets very upset and depending on how bad the mess up is in her mind, she sometimes comes entirely unglued. I've never gotten upset with her after a fall. I sometimes get back on and sometimes don't, depending on how I feel and how she seems to feel. I did not continue my lesson after the last incident, and she still held onto the fear for weeks after.
Probably part of the reason this only turns into an issue once every couple of years is I can usually see it coming and avert a crisis. Ursula does usually get tense, and visibly nervous before she explodes. Usually diverting her attention or working her through it with an exercise she's familiar with is enough to take the edge off, but every once in a while, I'm caught off guard. During our last incident, she started off the lesson pretty tense. I had rushed to the barn from work and brought her in early to get her ready for the lesson in time. She was out of sorts from the change in her routine and the rushing around. We took some extra time to warm up before diving into the lesson and she had seemed to settle, but I guess I was wrong and she lost it in the middle of an exercise early in the lesson. Some of the other stuff that's happened, has been stuff that would have spooked her anyways, and I get it. That lawnmower backfire was enough to scare me. I'm not expecting her to be dead to the world around her, but it's the fact that once she is scared, she can't let it go, and whatever scared her becomes a source of long-term anxiety. Each incident becomes a drawn out issue that lasts for weeks or even months. It sets us back significantly with our riding, and has made it impossible to make significant progress. I guess there is a lesson to be learned here. The next time she's anxious at the start of a ride, I won't get on. We'll just ground work it for the day. This should help us avoid at least some disasters.
I described an issue with dismounting in my first post and I may not have been clear. It was an issue only during a dismount. She's never been bad for mounting, and it's been years since she's had any issue with dismount. She stands very still for both. The recent issue with the mounting block did not involve mounting. We had been mounted for a good 20 minutes and she violently spooked at it while riding passed it.
I am aware that any horse is capable of spooking sometimes. It happens. They all do it. I've been unseated by a spook or two on other horses, but never has it become such a pattern with another horse, and never has another horse held on to their anxiety like Ursula. Another issue I have is how violent her spooks are. No one can ride through that. They're absolutely explosive in nature, happen very fast, and she's a big horse. It's dangerous, and her brain totally shuts down. I'd rather ride a horse that snorts and shies at random stuff every day than a horse that's usually very good but periodically loses her mind in dangerous fashion.
I will admit, my confidence is shaken every time this happens. I have taken lessons on other horses in the past when this happens, to help myself overcome it. It helps, but obviously has not resolved the issue for Ursula.
It takes a lot to unseat me. When I was a kid, I was often the one put on the problem horses, or new horses. I'd help with backing youngsters. I've seen my share of bolting, bucking, rearing, and general misbehavior, and yes, I've been dumped because of it at times, but it was always a one-time thing with an explanation in lack of mileage and exposure, a freak accident, or something else, and after a few minutes, the horse would be back to normal and we'd be on our way. This is different.
She sounds a lot like your horse,
. We have made a lot of progress over the years. Some things she has learned not to get upset about at all, but most of what I've done is teach her to better handle the anxiety. She still gets nervous fairly often. The first year I had her was a mess. I couldn't take lessons at all because she was terrified of the person on the ground. She freaked the first time a took a lesson and my instructor touched her neck. She still gets really anxious when someone else is in the arena while we ride, but usually keeps enough of a lid on it for us to get through a 45 minute lesson, and the instructor I have now knows to approach her with caution and pay close attention to her body language. We live near an army post and the artillery drills don't bother her, but don't let someone on the ground touch her while she's being ridden. She can handle a deer popping up in her face on a trail ride, but the same pink mounting block she's seen 1000x is terrifying.
A friend of mine runs a riding program. Many of her students are adults, and she was looking for a larger horse to add to the program. I told her she could use Ursula for free if that meant Ursula would get some training and experience. She declined, admitting that Ursula scares her and she would not trust Ursula with her students. She will not ride Ursula herself. About half of the trainers I've worked with will not get on her themselves. The instructor I was with a few weeks ago is one of them. She is the one encouraging me to find a different horse. This upsets me because when she is good, she's amazing, but when she's scared, she is absolutely terrifying. She is simultaneously the best and the worst horse I have ever ridden.