Scared of my horse - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 19 Old 06-21-2019, 09:25 PM Thread Starter
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Scared of my horse

I need some advice. I have a 9 yr old appy gelding. When I bought him we rode a few times but then winter came and he had some time off. In the spring he started spooking and I started jumping off because I am scared due to having some injuries from other horses. We sent him for a month refresher and he did great.

I’m still very nervous and he will still spook on the ground, which makes me get worked up. I can’t afford to take many lessons and I really don’t want to sell him.

How do I regain my confidence? How do I make him into the trail horse I want? Please help
Kristi Harms is offline  
post #2 of 19 Old 06-21-2019, 09:41 PM
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Well, that's going to be tricky, because you now taught him how to terminate the ride on his terms. Moreover, your being nervous does nothing to make him less nervous. I am saying this without being facetious or with intent to troll: Try a moderate amount of alcohol or a Xanax before riding. Your horse needs you to be a leader. You cannot afford to abandon him when he is scared - that's exactly when you need to be in the saddle to show him how to get to safety.
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post #3 of 19 Old 06-21-2019, 09:44 PM
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Learn ground work? There’s so many videos on the internet that you might be able to get some help from. Work on desensitizing as a start. Also learn to disengage hind quarters. It’s a great tool to redirect a spooked horse as well as so many other things.
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post #4 of 19 Old 06-21-2019, 09:46 PM
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And disengagement is a better habit to have than to just pull back on the reins in the event you get nervous or he is reactive.
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post #5 of 19 Old 06-22-2019, 02:02 AM
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Learning to work your horse on the ground can do a lot to increase your confidence in the horse, in general, and his attention to you, too.

Keeping him busy, working and focussed on YOU is the key to keeping him from spooking. It takes a great deal of courage to ride when your body is screaming in fear. If you really feel your life and health are in danger, then of course, get off. But, there is often a moment where you can change things.

It's like this; he gets worried about something. If you are paying attention, you will feel it through his body. Here is you chance! at that moment, you need to not abandon him. That means, you need to stay there and BE HIS ROCK. You need to tell him to do something!. Give him something to attach to, to lean on. Tell him to go forward, or to circle one direction, or to trot off to the right, or to even just give to the bit. But, above all, put a leg on him and get him to do something that you are asking BEFORE he decides to do things his way.

What usually happens is when we feel our horse is scared, we sort of freeze, hoping not to set the horse off into a full out spin, or bolt, or dodge. We might take up the rein, or we might grip up, but we don't TELL the horse anything. He forgets we are on board, and he takes care of himself the best way he can.

When you ride him, in the arena or on the trail, keep him busy doing things, so he never forgets you are on board.

Also, get his eyes checked by the vet. Appy's are notorious victims of eye troubles, and bad vision can really make a horse very spooky.
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post #6 of 19 Old 06-22-2019, 07:22 AM
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Originally Posted by tinyliny View Post
It takes a great deal of courage to ride when your body is screaming in fear.
See, this is something I don't understand about certain equestrians. Why take on a challenge that you don't feel you are equipped to handle? No mountain climber ever looks at a wall that's out of their league in terms of technical level and says, "I'm probably going to get in serious trouble on this climb, and I feel death staring me in the face, but I'm already here and I'm not about to turn around. I'm not a quitter!" People with horses say stuff like this ALL THE TIME!

If you have a horse that spooks, you'll get spooks. You either know you can handle them, or you shouldn't be riding such a horse yet. The Arabian I ride as my "lesson" horse is a walking spook as soon as we leave the arena: the head goes up, the stride shortens, he snorts, he goes sideways left and right as he makes a berth around everything that worries him. ( @bsms will be happy to hear that, based on the story he shared a few times, he gets to pick his own path around scary things, as long as the general direction is forward, and it works well for us.) He's entitled to that, because he's just learning to be on the trails. The point is that I wouldn't have chosen to be on this horse this time last year, say - it simply took a lot of riding on not-nervous and less-nervous horses to get my skills and confidence to this point. And I ride him because there is no feeling like, 20 minutes into the ride, his head lowering, his stride getting longer, his just looking around at the scenery or carefully picking his steps between rocks and roots - and stop worrying.

Keeping a horse busy when he gets visibly nervous is all well and good, but there's always going to be that "thing" that jumps out from the bushes (bird, squirrel) or that he suddenly catches with the corner of his eyes as you pass a hedge. You were just walking along peacefully and without a worry, and suddenly you find yourself in the middle of a canter. (Just as a purely...ahem...hypothetical scenario.) If you ride a horse like that, and you spend your time anticipating these things, being tentative and fearful, you'll actually be asking for them.
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mmshiro is offline  
post #7 of 19 Old 06-22-2019, 07:28 AM
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Groundwork will help some, just being in close proximity and working together is a step in the right direction.
The horse often takes their behavior cues from their human...
Be nervous and jumpy, the horse then senses a reason to be so and then is too...
Be calm and sure of yourself, the horse then settles and takes their cue from you too...acting with quiet, poise and behaved...

You may spend the best money though by taking a few good lessons together so you learn to work together under eyes trained to see, to interact and to be one-step ahead of your next motion keeping you focused and safe learning together...
Its great the horse was sent for a refresher and came home sharp...
Now the rider needs the same and the horse also needs to feel that confident rider astride and at their side when working on the ground.
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The worst day is instantly better when shared with my horse.....
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post #8 of 19 Old 06-22-2019, 07:58 AM
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mmshiro are we sure she is over 18?

Good advice given by the previous users. Not much to add. Do you have someone that would be comfortable on your horse and has the skills to ride out the spooks? Would they have a good, solid trail horse you could ride and go out together to get your boy up to speed again and help you gain some confidence back?

@Kristi Harms "We sent him for a month refresher and he did great.

Iím still very nervous and he will still spook on the ground, which makes me get worked up. I canít afford to take many lessons and I really donít want to sell him."

To me this says that it is primarily your fears so conquering them is where your focus should be. Getting someone, be it a trainer or friend with experience, to help you through ground work exercises can also help you. Is he spooking while you are leading to and from the pasture/barn? Is it during a time you are actively "working" him?
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post #9 of 19 Old 06-22-2019, 10:10 AM
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If you can't ride him out with confidence, try leading him out. If walking a horse is what you can do now, accept it and build on it later.

There is a difference between jumping off and directing the horse to where he feels safe and dismounting. One is abandoning ship. The other is not only physically much safer, but lets the horse know you will take care of him.

I'll echo and endorse what @mmshiro said. We are often afraid around horses because we know inside we don't have the tools to handle a situation. I've been driving cars for 40+ years, but if you dropped me in the middle of the Indy 500 I'd be scared. When I started riding, and started by riding a spooky horse, people would tell me to just be confident. Which is fine for someone who has ridden for 20 years, but what about when you know inside you have no reason to be confident?

Sometimes, fear is just our bodies telling us what our mind doesn't want to admit - we are not up to the task ahead. So...if all you feel you can handle right now is riding in a pasture, ride in the pasture. Gain more experience. When YOU are ready, do more. Your horse cannot feel ready until you are ready first.

Denny Emerson
- " the only equestrian to have won both an international gold medal in eventing and a Tevis Cup buckle in endurance" - has the credentials to be called a great rider. Jack Le Goff is justifiably called a world-class expert. Writing about horses, Mr Emerson said:

Le Goff said, "Boldness comes from confidence. Confidence comes from success. So it is the mission of the trainer to create lots of situations that as much as possible guarantee success."...

...someone takes a horse out trail riding alone. The horse would be calmer and steadier if he had company, especially quiet company, but the rider says, "He ought to be able to handle this on his own." Or the horse moves around at the mounting block, and the rider says as she yanks him around, "He knows better." Or loading into a trailer. Or being quiet for the farrier. Or accepting being clipped.

A horse does not "fake" being anxious in order to "get out of work" or because "he is being bad."...

...Jack Le Goff's advice is to start by creating little successes, rather than to get into battles to "make him settle down". The only way you can make a horse be calm is by drugging him. You can longe or gallop to exhaustion, and he will be quiet, perhaps, but underneath the tiredness will still be nervous.

So what is so wrong with trail riding with a buddy at first, or doing tons of quiet transitions with a mild bit rather than by cranking him into a harsh bit, if it makes him calmer?...

...But generally, "teaching him a lesson" should not be the normal "go-to" method if the goal is to build lasting confidence.

Or maybe Le Goff is the one who didn't "get" how to train horses? Maybe we are smarter horse people than Jack Le Goff? Sure. Dream on..."
If that is true of horses, why not riders? If A is what you can do, and B feels like a stretch, and C seems impossible, then why not do a lot of A and a little bit of B? Eventually, B becomes what you can do and C feels like a you then do a lot of B and once in a while try C.

Walking your horse around on a lead rope is a way to learn his responses. He gains trust in you and you gain trust in him. Easiest "ground work" in the world and it helps. If mounting up and then dismounting is what you feel good with, do some of that. If riding for 5 minutes works, and then you tense up...ride 5 minutes and quit. It will grow. At your pace and at your horse's.

Some other ideas on becoming a better rider:

VS Littauer wrote "Common Sense Horsemanship". It is a long read and he starts by talking about horses think. That is important. Very important. And how they move. And then he writes about one good way to ride - the "Forward Seat". He was a former Russian Cavalry officer and wrote for people who wanted to jump, but this western rider has read and reread his book a dozen times. It is free online here:

Amazon sells it for under $20:

On the western side...Larry Trocha has a DVD course for basic western riding for $50. Two hours.

He also has a lot of YouTube videos free. I find him uncommonly honest and pretty level headed. I've heard him start a video with 'I just screwed this up big time and want to record this now while it is fresh in my mind so you won't'...not something you hear trainers say very often! I got more help from him than from the local person I paid $30/hour for lessons. And if spending $100 and a few hours reading and thinking sounds like a lot, think about the deductible on your health insurance...

Good luck. Do what you can and eventually do a bit more.
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Riders ask "How?" Horsemen ask "Why?"
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post #10 of 19 Old 06-22-2019, 12:35 PM
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I own and ride a horse with distinct shifts in personality -- he can be very, very calm, brave and connected to me, or he can be edgy, defensive, spooky and unable to connect. I cannot always understand WHY he is one way or the other at a given time, but I know which he will be before I pull him out of his stall.

I don't know his history, but several professional trainers have speculated that he has been over pressured, over trained and has been punished harshly (spurred, ran hard in the round pen, drilled endlessly with punitive pressure) in the past. Vet, chiro, tack, etc have been addressed by professionals. He is more horse than I would prefer to own and ride, but I am committed to providing him a permanent home, as he would be at very high risk of ending up on a kill truck to Mexico if I sold him down the line due to his history of bucking and having an eye removed.

He has hurt me twice -- once bucking while riding, and once wheeling away from me on the ground. I can be anxious, but my emotions with him can also tip over into fear. He is ridiculously responsive to my emotions, and we can send each other spiralling out of control on bad days. I love him, but would honestly sell him to a more suitable owner/rider if I thought I could guarantee he would be treated with kindness and be safe for the rest of his life.

I have learned that when he is not his better self, or when I am struggling with fear or anxiety, I have absolutely no business getting on him. I will disagree with others who say not to get off when you are scared. Your safety is more important in the long run. I will jump off Salty if I feel he is disconnected and escalating to blow up. When he is in that state, he is not learning anything -- he is reacting to fear with his most primitive brain. His fear and defensiveness are not disrespect or manipulation, and it's important to know the difference.

My advice is to pay an experienced pro trainer to come out and evaluate your horse and give you some advice on how to better approach him and respond to his behaviors. All horses are not the same and require different approaches. Fear is not disrespect and requires a different approach. Laziness is not the same as not understanding what you want, and requires a different technique. I recently attended a 3 day Mark Langley clinic and learned the importance of connecting to my horse and being able to redirect it's thoughts back to me, and it is simple and and amazing. I can feel a distinct difference with both of my horses when they are connected to me with their thoughts and when they are not.

I would recommend checking out Mark's website and videos at Equineability.aus, and reading Mark Rashid's books. Ross Jacobs also writes a lot about this topic.

Even a calm, trained horse cannot connect to a fearful, frustrated, anxious rider. You both need some professional help -- a good clinician or pro trainer with the right skills and philosophy to get things turned around. The longer you fumble around in fear and frustration by yourself, the bigger your problem is going to get.

Good luck, and stay safe. Listen to your intuition and do not let your ego push you into unsafe situations with your horse. Every wreck, injury or accident takes away from both of your confidence and ability to be good partners in the future.
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