Your horse and your safety: When spooking - Page 3 - The Horse Forum
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post #21 of 50 Old 10-28-2015, 04:56 AM
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It is all very well quoting from books, practical application is another matter.

A horse that knows it's rider is firm and fair and willing to take leadership is not only going to take correction with an acceptance it is also far less likely to spook in the first place.

Of course all horses are programmed to spook, some worse than others.

William I am fairly sure was looking for attention. Negative attention was better than nothing. When I made a game out of his spooking and all we did was laugh, though I did correct, he stopped being so reactive.

Most change I think was because I never worried about it - even when he spooked at a lorry when it's air brakes hissed and took me to the top of a very steep bank and was cantering, I never felt unsafe.
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post #22 of 50 Old 10-28-2015, 07:35 AM
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I like to differentiate between spook and what the horse does after a spook. A spook is a startle reflex. You can't control a startle any more than your horse can. I've had any number of snakes run across a trail in front of me when I'm out running. I still startle every time, and depending on how it strikes me on a certain day, I might just shudder a little or I might jump clear off the side of the path. Same with birds flying up under my nose.

How can we train a horse not to spook (if this is the definition of spook)? The most we can do is take them to similar settings so they know what to expect from their environment. How can it be fair treatment to punish a horse for startling? If someone hit you after jumping when a snake startled you, how could it make you jump less the next time?

But when many people say "spook," they mean what the horse does after the startle or fright. This is what can be improved upon.
I believe how you deal the aftermath of a startle depends entirely on your horse's personality. You can definitely make the reaction worse if your horse is timid and insecure and you react strongly. The horse can perceive this as a confirmation that the situation is bad and it will reinforce the magnitude of their reaction. For the timid, very fearful horse, I usually completely ignore their reaction and go on with life. If we end up 30 feet away from the startle, that's where I calmly resume riding. This is also my approach with a horse that doesn't normally spook much but one day they meet their nemesis. Ignore it, continue on with life.
There are other types though. A very assertive horse might decide that now is a good time to take over the relationship and make the decisions. That is one type of horse I might give a spank or a slap, if after a startle they are immediately calm and not frightened, but yet do something like throw in a buck or continue running sideways.
With practice, horses learn to react less violently after a startle. Some horses begin life not reacting much, others have to learn over a period of months and years. If a horse was born startling to a lot of things other horses ignore, in my experience they'll keep having that reaction throughout life. But in my book it's not a big deal to go through a ride with a horse that startles five times as long as they don't buck or bolt or spin or rear. That's what the horse can learn from us.
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post #23 of 50 Old 10-28-2015, 11:57 AM
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Originally Posted by gottatrot View Post
I like to differentiate between spook and what the horse does after a spook. A spook is a startle reflex. You can't control a startle any more than your horse can.
So much YES! This is such a good explanation of what I have been trying to explain to DH. "his" horse, Chief startles from time to time and does a little shudder and splay leg step. Then is done. My boy, Cruiser startles then flips out with spinning and bucking. DH has a hard time understanding why I get after Cruiser but not Chief. Your explanation is exactly the words I have been looking for!
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post #24 of 50 Old 10-28-2015, 12:11 PM
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"It is all very well quoting from books, practical application is another matter."

I've never understood the rejecting of books by riders. If you hire an instructor, and she tells you "Heels down", you are doing something good. But if you buy a book by someone like George Morris and read about position, that is "just a book". If I asked for advice on HF about spooking and bolting - and I did - then that is good (although much of the advice I got proved to make things worse, not better). But if I read a book that has stayed in print for over 100 years - which suggests it has something of value in it - then reading THAT advice is just a mental game. Apparently written advice conveyed via pixels is useful, and written advice conveyed via ink is not.

To quote another rider in another book:
"Because of the widespread preconception that you can only learn, in a sort of intuitive way, by doing, and that reading or even thinking seriously about riding is rather pointless, too many young riders are doomed to groping too long in a forest of problems solved long ago. I can recall my astonishment, when I first began to collect books on the techniques of riding, at finding, in books written two or three centuries ago, minute descriptions of "discoveries" that I had made for myself only after a long period of trial and error...Once we become interested in learning about riding, and are not content to repeat interminably the same errors, there is much that we can learn."

- William Steinkraus, Riding and Jumping, 1961.
But I think I've had sufficient "practical application" in spooks and bolts to offer both my experience AND quotes from the books whose information has worked when I applied it - unlike some of the advice I got on HF! However, if I give my opinion, anyone can reasonably ask, "What does he know?" If I offer my experiences, backed by expert testimony, then it might carry more weight.

Or not. Folks can do what they think best. But I admit I'm astounded by the idea that it makes sense to read posts on HF, but doesn't mean squat to read books by great riders with experience involving thousands of horses.

"A very assertive horse might decide that now is a good time to take over the relationship and make the decisions." That would have been Mia. And Mia's decision was usually to spin 180 and run away as fast as possible. In a snaffle, I could spin her when she tried to bolt, and we would do 3-7 more spins, all of which confirmed in her mind that her fear was justified. Horses do not distinguish between excitement and fear.

That was why a curb bit proved so valuable with her. She quickly learned she could not evade it. Since she could not evade it, she stopped still - just long enough for things like bicycles, motorcycles, rattling cars, coyotes, etc to leave. Once she realized she could stand still and the scary thing would go away, her spooking changed from very dangerous behavior to spooking in place - maybe a jump sideways, which is not a good idea when you are surrounded by cactus - but mostly staying still and just a single jump (rarely forward) or a 90 deg turn away (followed by a turn back when I asked for it).

BTW - if I remember correctly, it was advice from gottatrot that encouraged me to try a curb bit on Mia. If so, thanks - it was the best single thing I tried during seven years of riding her.

The "must save my life" reaction (spook) was very dangerous. A "what was that" (startle) reaction is minor. With some patience and work, Bandit has gone from fighting to get away to listening. He may dive left or right for a moment, but then he pauses and I can tell him to do what makes sense to me. That may be annoying, but it beats his spinning around and nearly falling down a hill shortly after I got him.

Even level-headed little Cowboy startles. When a large buzzard swooped down over our heads the other day, I could feel a jolt in his back. But then he went "Bird. Not a threat. OK." When we were shot at a few weeks ago by idiots in the desert emptying their guns without even using a target, let alone worrying about a backstop, he was SCARED. Since the other rider could see the vegetation on either side of us being moved by the bullets, scared made sense. But he was trying to think, and eager to take direction from his rider (me).

Cowboy doesn't actually LIKE me. We do not have "A BOND". But if things get dicey on a trail, he expects his rider to take charge and give direction, and he WANTS someone else to make the decisions. He was afraid but listening. That is my goal with Bandit. Mia was getting there, and Bandit is getting there faster than Mia was - difference in personalities. What works great with one horse may be a disaster with another, so having more than one trick in your bag of tricks helps.

When the poop hits the fan, having a horse with "A BOND" or who 'loves you' doesn't get the job done. Having a horse who has learned that humans make good decisions - THAT will keep the horse sane and listening. IMHO.
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post #25 of 50 Old 10-28-2015, 12:25 PM
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I never said that books weren't a good form of learning but there is a heck of a big difference between reading something and knowing that you are applying it correctly.

Having the eyes on the ground counts for a lot more.

You can be Roding and honestly believe that you are doing it right but not betting the wanted result. Someone on the ground who knows what they are doing, can say, put a little more weight on your left butt, or look up, you are dropping your hip/shoulder/hand because you do not realise that you are doing it.

You cannot get that from a book.
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post #26 of 50 Old 10-28-2015, 12:39 PM
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A good live instructor is better than a good book. Many do not have access to good live instruction, or they cannot afford it. A good book is better than a marginal instructor.

On HF, I was told early on I should just whip Mia forward - as hard as necessary! Teach her who the boss is! That advice sucked pretty bad, too!

I once had an instructor - yes, a live instructor watching me ride - tell me the way to collect a horse (Mia) was to urge her forward with my legs, hold her back with my hands, and then Mia would bend up in the middle like a slinky. I PAID someone for that advice - $30/hour!

If we must all rely on live instruction, then HF might as well be shut down. No reason to read advice from people who, unlike George Morris or James Fillis, have no known track record. Where I live, a person could spend many thousands of dollars on live instruction worth pennies...
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post #27 of 50 Old 10-28-2015, 01:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gottatrot View Post
I like to differentiate between spook and what the horse does after a spook. A spook is a startle reflex. You can't control a startle any more than your horse can. I've had any number of snakes run across a trail in front of me when I'm out running. I still startle every time, and depending on how it strikes me on a certain day, I might just shudder a little or I might jump clear off the side of the path. Same with birds flying up under my nose.

How can we train a horse not to spook (if this is the definition of spook)? The most we can do is take them to similar settings so they know what to expect from their environment. How can it be fair treatment to punish a horse for startling? If someone hit you after jumping when a snake startled you, how could it make you jump less the next time?

But when many people say "spook," they mean what the horse does after the startle or fright. This is what can be improved upon.
I believe how you deal the aftermath of a startle depends entirely on your horse's personality. You can definitely make the reaction worse if your horse is timid and insecure and you react strongly. The horse can perceive this as a confirmation that the situation is bad and it will reinforce the magnitude of their reaction. For the timid, very fearful horse, I usually completely ignore their reaction and go on with life. If we end up 30 feet away from the startle, that's where I calmly resume riding. This is also my approach with a horse that doesn't normally spook much but one day they meet their nemesis. Ignore it, continue on with life.
There are other types though. A very assertive horse might decide that now is a good time to take over the relationship and make the decisions. That is one type of horse I might give a spank or a slap, if after a startle they are immediately calm and not frightened, but yet do something like throw in a buck or continue running sideways.
With practice, horses learn to react less violently after a startle. Some horses begin life not reacting much, others have to learn over a period of months and years. If a horse was born startling to a lot of things other horses ignore, in my experience they'll keep having that reaction throughout life. But in my book it's not a big deal to go through a ride with a horse that startles five times as long as they don't buck or bolt or spin or rear. That's what the horse can learn from us.
This is the best post that I have read on the subject yet.

Most definitely every horse is different but I like horses that figure things out for themselves. A good trail gelding that I sold to a lady automatically handled a situation well when a feral dog leaped out of the bushes and began circling them with it's teeth bared. The horse startled and then kept pivoting to face the dog on a loose rein. The lady was a good rider but admitted that she didn't know what to do and just prepared herself for what might be a rough ride coming up. The dog finally retreated and they headed back with the gelding on high alert. The contrast was a QH mare that I rode last year. It was spook, spin, and bolt at anything and there was no "thinking" on her part until you forced her to face the object and calm down a bit. Only then could you get her passed a harmless object. She eventually got to the point of nervously going passed something if I rode her strong enough but was never really reliable
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post #28 of 50 Old 10-28-2015, 01:33 PM
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When a horse is spooking because its tense its usually better to ignore it and do your best to keep riding forwards. Punishing a tense, over reactive horse only makes it more tense and sometimes adopting the other approach 'Good boy/girl' in a soothing voice can only serve to convince the horse that there is something there but maybe not to worry about it.
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post #29 of 50 Old 10-28-2015, 08:46 PM
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Well, I won't say that you not freaking out doesn't help them, but if their scared their going to either flee or fight. I've had my horse Duke since I was literally born and he still spooks at things, rarely, but he does. Now, I really don't think you'll get any more trust and bonding then me and him. So, now let me give you an example; one day I was warming Duke up in our yard, yes our yard . And my little brother came out and started jumping on the trampoline. It was totally fine by me, but Duke stood stock still and looked straight at the trampoline. Now, if I was in his shoes I would be totally freaked if I saw my bff's younger brother jumping up and down in mid air.... plus, it was squeaking. I just stopped him and rubbed his neck, reassuring him. I kept on warming up afterwards, but I could feel that his attention was fully focused on the trampoline, and not warming up. I got off and led Duke over to it, told my little brother to stop for a second, and let Duke sniff and explore it. Then I backed him up and let my little brother jump for a couple minutes, rubbing Duke's neck and calming him down while he stood right beside the thing; he was wary, but a couple minutes earlier I got back on and we started warming up again, but this time Duke was focused on warming up. He still kept an eye on the trampoline, but he was fully focused with me. Now, he and I have years of trust, so I understand people's frustration when they try to do this with their new, young horse. I say you should start putting horses around things that scare them when they are very young, to teach them that it's okay. But, if you just got an older horse, by old I mean like 1 year + then start bonding with them, obtaining trust with them... etc. But, the important part is you have to trust them; it's a two-way street. Now, you'll work through it together. Take small, baby steps, like stepping over a tarp, instead of just throwing him and a bear on the same trail. You get what I mean?
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post #30 of 50 Old 10-28-2015, 09:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Foxhunter View Post
It is all very well quoting from books, practical application is another matter. Agree completely, a lot is "lost in translation" with this example.

A horse that knows it's rider is firm and fair and willing to take leadership is not only going to take correction with an acceptance it is also far less likely to spook in the first place.

Of course all horses are programmed to spook, some worse than others.

William I am fairly sure was looking for attention. Negative attention was better than nothing. When I made a game out of his spooking and all we did was laugh, though I did correct, he stopped being so reactive.

Most change I think was because I never worried about it - even when he spooked at a lorry when it's air brakes hissed and took me to the top of a very steep bank and was cantering, I never felt unsafe.
The "I never felt unsafe" is ENTIRELY my point. When you as a rider or handler are calm and confident and in control SO IS THE HORSE. So is it that the horse "can sense your good motives"? maybe not how I would phrase it but I think the point is the same, the horse knows how you are feeling and responds accordingly.

It's not only how, but to the extent that you handle it. You can correct a horse without making a big deal of it. It also depends on multiple factors..was the horse genuinely frightened or being a brat for example.

While I completely agree with gottatrot I will say that while we all startle ("spook") and that is normal if you are confident and calm are you not less likely too and also less likely to react/overreact? Obviously you cannot expect the horse to NEVER have a little jump, but yes a well behaved horse that once a year does a little quick "start" at something is a whole different ballgame from the horse that suddenly explodes over nothing.
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Last edited by Yogiwick; 10-28-2015 at 09:54 PM.
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