One of the horses I'm riding right now has a history of being an explosive spooker and a huge worrier. She gets herself worked up into a big panic over little things and then it's not a matter of if but when she will snap.There is a discussion on another thread about a horse that is an explosive fear reactor like Amore was, that a trainer is working with. I wanted to save my comment here so I can remember it for the future, for working with other horses like this:
"It is a good concept. Warwick Schiller calls it "too many rabbits." I think whether you call it trigger stacking, a worry cup, or too many rabbits, it's important to understand. But I don't think the solution is desensitizing to rabbits or various triggers. As this article says, it's teaching the horse to calm down after one "rabbit," or one worry. To teach the horse that whatever scares him, whether it is rabbits, saddles, horse trailers, etc, he can calm himself quickly and not get to the point of exploding.
Along for the ride: How Much Worry Can Your Horse Handle? - Warwick Schiller
If this horse truly did not show any sign of worry until the explosion, then the trainer may not know she is thinking about rabbits. That is not common, but was the way my mare was. In that case, you can't even start with the rabbits, but you have to begin with finding calm after the big explosion faster, and work your way all the way back to the rabbits.
If the horse seems to be handling things fine, walking calmly, not snorting or tensing up, etc, then all you can do is assume there are no rabbits. But then boom, the explosion. So there were rabbits but the horse wasn't telling you about them.
Improvement is getting to the point where the horse spooks in a more reasonable fashion, and begins to tell you she is thinking about rabbits. Unfortunately, this means for some horses they have to show you this fear reaction a few times to learn not to do it, otherwise it will be always lurking there waiting to happen.
It's not always that horses are taught to be shut down and not show signs of fear. It seems to be a natural although more rare type of response that the freeze/flight or fight response begins with the horse having a sort of "freeze" response externally, not showing fear until they suddenly blow up. It would be beneficial in nature, if a horse was being stalked by an animal, to show no signs of fear at all until suddenly reacting violently."
In my opinion, it's actually quite a bit better to have a horse that actively shows signs of anxiety rather than hides it until reaching the explosion point. Better to have them kicking and biting with nerves than to appear calm and then suddenly blow up. That is how I feel after working with both kinds. Otherwise you simply cannot avoid the big explosion, but you have to go there in order to help the horse stop doing it.
My friend's horse Brave is a horse that shows no signs at all of fear until suddenly he reacts. He was considered difficult to train, but my friend worked with him very slowly and painstakingly over a long period of time, always ponying him with a very courageous horse and building him up little by little. Because of this she only had to deal with him having serious reactions several times, and by the time he had them they were toned down from what they would have been if he had been truly in a panic state.
I was there once when he flung her off, and he was just standing there and then turned into a whirling dervish and she simply and immediately flew out of his vortex. However, he was able to calm quickly and those responses have lessened even more over time. When I was first riding him it was to help with his initial rides outside of an arena. His first times trotting and cantering with a rider outside, etc. He spooked once or twice and I realized this was a scary horse, because there was no way to tell he felt any worry. Still, the way my friend worked him helped put miles on him without serious issues, and he gets more solid all the time.
For her, and some other horses I've rode, it's a confidence thing. Whether it's that she doesn't have the confidence to go and be brave on her own or she doesn't have the confidence in me and what I'm asking, the solution was the same. If I rode her like I had full confidence in her, and nothing we were facing was anything to get worried about (they definitely know when you are waiting for them to spook at something), she learned to go through stuff confidently.
With her previous owner, she was scared of ropes to the point she had stopped trying to rope off of her, so I messed around with her for a few minutes and then confidently went ahead and roped calves with her because I knew she was capable as the guy who started her did some roping with her. And she was calm, steady and acted like a seasoned pro. Didn't do a single thing wrong.
I've approached a lot of other obstacles with her the same way, just consciously trying to not make a big deal out of things. It's like she thinks that if I'm not concerned or nervous about a thing, then she doesn't need to be either. I've rode her through forestry looking for yearling steers in the middle of hunting season (quads, people everywhere, hunting camps, shooting - I wore hi vis for sure!), and her only spook was at a fallen tree she stepped on under the snow and the branches jumped out of the snow 15 feet away. And even so she just jumped and planted her feet and blew at it.
The real trick is acting like everything is fine and it's nothing to worry about but still being ready for a spook lol!