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Some of you may recall that on our last trail ride, we were almost done (literally 30 feet away from our trailer in the parking lot) when a giant, horse-eating rock jumped out of the tall grass where it was hiding and attacked our horses. Pony spooked twice, and Moonshine spooked once, but that was enough to unseat my daughter, who isn't used to sitting out spooks since Moonshine has never spooked under saddle in the 3.5 years we've had her.

.....

Next time we're out there, I've found some very nice large scary rocks to ride them around, but I'm not sure when we should do it. Certainly the beginning of the ride would be a bad idea, if they're already up, right? But the end of the ride didn't seem to be a good time either LOL. Any thoughts? They both need to get over this rock thing.
The spook has nothing to do with the rock, so don't bother with "finding rocks" on your next trail ride.

Horses can and do spook at things. Very random things. And sometimes out of the blue (like Moonshine). Calm yourself, calm your horse, do what you can to end on a good note, and then forget about it.


Sure... but I think the more lurking objects we see and work through, whether they are stumps, or rocks, or rubbish piles, the better. I understand that even if I desensitize someone to one particular rock, that doesn't mean they won't freak out at another rock. I do, however, believe that horses can generalize (I know a lot of people don't). So if we walk around five scary rocks, two stumps, and one random pile of junk and nothing actually attacks them and they stay relatively calm, eventually they will start to become less worried about all kinds of similar objects.
You need to change your train of thought. The spooking has nothing to do with the object. It has to do with YOU the rider, and your horse's confidence.
You can ride around 100 rocks, but if you are tense, if you are unsure, if you are letting your horse be afraid, then you are going to continue to have spooking problems.
Now instead, if you ride around 2 rocks and the whole time you are calm and relaxed, and you are asking your horse to focus on you (lateral movements, leg yield, stop, back, pivot, soft in the face, etc etc etc), you have now shifted your horse's attention to you and taken their attention away from being scared, and away from the rock, and now the rock is not an issue.

For trail riding, you absolutely cannot desensitive your horse to everything. It is just impossible. So instead, focusing on training your horse how to respond when they are afraid or unsure. This isn't as easy to do for a sudden thing, like a bird flying up suddenly. But very easy to do if you notice your horse's head go up in the air, they slow their gate, they start to balk up, etc. That is the exact time that you need to immediately take over when you recognize those first signs, and get the horse's THINKING side of their brain working again, and get it switched off the FLIGHT side of their brain.
 

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just gotta ride more. as beau159 said a lot comes back to the rider. one person told me that if your horse likes to spook at something and you know it, you will look at it and wait for the spook so the horse gives you what you're asking. next time the rock is on the right, focus just a bit on the left not paying attention to the rock, mentally being aware but not focused on "we are 10' from the rock, we are 5' from the rock"

for me the best thing was miles
 

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I second the sheepskin! They flatten down eventually so I don't think they do a lot for comfort but they make a big difference in a slick-seated saddle as far as grip goes. I never used to ride with one until I got a young horse. Now I put them in EVERY saddle I own. I feel naked without a sheepskin in my saddle. :)

Your daughter might want to try one of these:
Butt Velcro, aka sheepskin, really does make it easier to stay on. If I really anticipate trouble, I dismount and lead. And yes, when things get tense I tend to hold the horn with one hand. Happily Bandit steers and slows (if he slows) with one hand on the reins.
 

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There's enough spooky stuff without adding to it. As you know this last year has been me getting my confidence and going out. Katie used to shake visibly beneath me, very frightened. Entire rides, even in solid company, were like this with multiple splats and jumps. When staff at old yard rode her what comments I did get were about how she was doing worse in traffic (was great first yard) especially around buses, so with that in mind I was also nervous because they are regular features on our roads including big trucks and trains beneath 3 bridges. For the record these rides I was also anxious and sometimes terrified. I'm NOT a fantastic rider - when I see the ice cream van with its music on coming towards us, two buses both directions, cars slamming their horn behind us, trains underneath which broke her mind as she thought they were really going under her feet, ambulances to the nearby hospital, skip trucks clanging along. I will admit all the rides to get me where I am was a matter of having faith. You could feel both of us thinking "I'm terrified, but I trust you to look after me". And each ride we conquered we both got braver and more comfortable. Things that REALLY helped:

- being an active rider, tied with mentally aware. Always a work in progress but Katie needs me THERE unless we're near home of course. She needs to know I'm paying attention to MY body and talking to her. This is a huge challenge as I've spent most my riding being quite passive physically. It's her preferred language I've learned and so I've had to adjust. I leg yield her onto the pavement and off it. We circle a tree and try keep it nice and soft. Practice halt/walk/trot transitions off seat alone.

- encouraging curiosity. Is she snorting or spooked at something stationary? In-hand as well I always encourage her to explore with lots of praise and treats. While she might still be wary her reactions are very tame, she learns at least that if she keeps her distance nothing dramatic will happen. If it was something like a bad driver I yell some profanity and then let her know its OK. In time I like to think she's learned I'm "pinning my ears" at those idiots on our behalf and doesn't get worried anymore.

- acknowledging things. This is something I saw off Warwick Schiller specifically and I've been doing on the ground and in the saddle. I look where she looks and then let her know "its ok" and give her a scritch. I investigate something WITH her to check together, as partners. 9/10 it IS OK so when I give my opinion on something now she's quicker to relax. It is often only a glance though and a shrug.

- getting off if its really challenging, fantastic for Mocha who has a history of blowing up that I don't want to ever see. I only have to get off once and after that she'll go past it OK. But she needs me there the first time and I am happy to show her its safe. She's becoming the most amazing horse out.


Spooks are gonna happen. I ride with some people that are terrified whenever their horse splats, even after decades of riding and even if its a reasonably tame spook and for good reason. They will also discipline their horse or get angry (out of fear ofc). Katie isn't spooky necessarily but every ride we'll have a few. But she recovers so quickly I barely blink these days. When I reacted to the spooks it was worse of course. First spook in an arena I wanted to vomit and it took all my will power to ask her to trot past the same corner and I just forced myself really. Reading journals on here of other peoples experiences hacking out and alone or working "problem" horses gave me courage, genuinely, solely because of people on here. They deal with it, even with all their experience they STILL have to deal with the same common issues we have. You and I want to trail ride and tbh we have to suck it up and just DO IT. I understand its hard because you also have your daughter with you. Take measures so she is less likely to be unseated. Maybe ask a professional to accompany you on the first few hacks out on Moonshine to get it out her system.

Do your very best not to ride out an expect or WAIT for the spooks. I have/had (?) the same fear about letting Katie trot in open spaces and then canter. It's taken the better part of a year to feel comfortable to trot and recently canter. Just gotta do it. So sorry for the essay! 😅
 

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I have followed your posts @ACinATX and have looked forward to your trail ride updates. I am sorry your daughter fell off, I have a daughter this is my riding companion and have helped her grow to be a kid on a small pony to an excellent trail rider today. Unlike the arena the trail has a lot of new things. They are so used to spending their lives going in circles that the trail offers a lot of unique sights and smells. I am not a believer in a horse generalizing items as scary or not scary. I ride a lot of different trails and my horse has spooked at some really odd things. Tillie is ridden hundreds of miles each year on many different kinds of trails and a gopher running across the trail recently had her spin the other direction. She has seen gopher before and never spooked. My guess is that your daughters horse saw the trailer or felt that the ride was about to end and was focused on something else and then the rock "jumped" out at her scaring her. It had nothing to do with the rock - it had everything to do with the horses focus. You had mentioned that your daugther was more nervous or scared at that time and her horse may have sensed it and then when something came into its sight line unexpectedly it spooked. I am not a fan of micro managing a horse. Trying to manipulate every aspect of how it reacts. This causes resentment and deadness in the animal. I want a safe mount but I want an inquisitive brave mount as well. Personally I would assure your daughter that she can do this and remind her that while riding she can divert the horses attention away from the trailer or parking that she should "ride" and not sit. I think that was the biggest difference on your first trail ride. Your horse was inquisitive and excited to be out while your daughters was just busy worrying about what the person on its back was worrying about.

Enjoy the ride but let your horse be a horse - you cannot control every interaction or reaction you can just control how you react to those things.
 
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