Sudden Spooks
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Tuesday, April 29, 2008 09:31 PM
Any horse can spook from a sudden sound or movement. Some are worse than others. However, there is no such thing as a bombproof horse. Being a pray animal a horse is on constant alert and he will react first and than think later. If you want to be with horses you must accept this fact and respect horse's nature. You need to work with it not against it to improve the situation.
It is a rider's job to educate his/her horse and lower the level of spookiness by replacing it gradually with trust and concentration. First of all the rider must work on himself/herself. There are two important aspects: physical and mental. You cannot start working on your mental aspect until you improve the physical one.
Physical - If you have a good seat and sudden movements of your horse do not throw you out of balance you will not worry a lot about his spookiness. On the other hand, you will dread his spooks if you thrown violently around the saddle, and even fall down in the worst case. The violent movement of your body in the saddle worsened by pulling on the reins will scare your horse even more. Next time he will spook more. Improving your seat, fitness level and balance is vital to improving the situation. Quiet and connected seat will help you to develop more awareness of your horse's movement. You will feel his tension or acceleration much earlier and will be able to stay in balance with your horse.
Mental - What is going on in your head when your horse spooks is very important. There are two most common mistakes I see when riders deal with spookiness. First mistake - you are simply afraid because you do not have a good seat. You will accidentally punish your horse with the reins by using them to keep your balance. You will be mad at him because he scared you and you think he is behaving badly. Even if you do not punish your horse after he has spooked you will be afraid. You cannot convince your body and your mind that you are not afraid when you lose your balance every time your horse spooks. Being afraid will make you hold him if you are anticipating a spook. This only proves to your horse there is something to worry about and increases likelihood of sudden jumps and spins. All of that will only aggravate the situation. Solution - develop more secure seat!
Another mental mistake - Even if you have a secure seat you still see him as a bad boy who deserves chastising for misbehaving. You were working on something and instead of listening to you he has spooked. You get upset even annoyed with him thinking:"Stupid horse, what so scary about that door!" You may yank the reins, kick or yell. This again only proves to him there is something to be afraid here and he will spook even more.
The best solution to spookiness is:
  • developing your seat
  • developing your horse's trust in you
  • gradual exposure to as many stimuluses as possible.
The last one is easy to understand. If you take your horse by a spooky object 500 times, eventually he will be OK with the object. If you want to help your horse trust you in spooky situations do not get involved too much in it. Look at it with humor and light heart. For example, you are working on 20 meter circle in trot and snow slides off the roof. Your horse rises his head, stiffens up and jumps forward/sideways or runs. Do not get involved, do not get scared, upset or mad. Horses react very quickly but they get over it very fast. They run for a few strides or jump sideways and that is it. As soon as the first reaction is over continue to work on your 20 meter circle. He may be more tense, or he may want to go faster. Work on these issues one at a time like with any other you encounter in your training. Instead of telling him not to do something, ask him to work for you. Your attitude will show him that you are calm and there is nothing to worry about. Because you didn't scare him or punish him with your actions he will start seeing you as a leader who knows what to do, whose calmness is very reassuring and whose leadership he will gladly follow.
Happy riding...
 
Comment by Anna on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 08:24 AM
Hi, I have encountered a few spooks with the horse I am sharing, and when he suddenly went into a turn and sudden gallop I fell forward cause of his strength and I couldn't sit back up and right around the next corner I fell badly. It hurt so much, how can I overcome this and if it happens again sit up?
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, April 14, 2011 09:20 AM
When horses suddenly turn around it throws a rider forward because horses decelerate very rapidly to a complete stop and then turn very quickly. Very often at that moment they sink down under the rider which increases the difficulty to stay well connected to the saddle. The faster a rider was going before the turn the more forward she will fall. If you fell forward so much that your seat ended up in front of the saddle it is very difficult to get back up again. What you can do is to use your arms as leverage. Grab the mane as close to the withers as possible and push with all your strength against the neck. This will help your body to straighten up and even get back into the saddle, especially, if you are riding in jumping/all-purpose saddle. While you are pushing yourself backwards with your hands move your feet forward a bit to help them regain their normal position because feet end up behind the rider in such situations. Regarding overcoming fear factor it takes time and determination. The best solution is to change the horse. If you cannot change the horse and have to ride the one you fell from teach that horse to be more in front of your legs and do not change speed without your permission. Every time he slows down or speeds on his own correct him until he gives you satisfactory answer. Stay very focused when you ride and do not let him "talk" you into going with different speed then the one you intended. I do not know if you have problems with your seat. However, improving your core control and ability to wrap your legs around the horse's barrel to create adhesive and quiet connection will improve your ability to stay in the saddle during spooks. Good luck!
 
Comment by Anna on Sunday, April 24, 2011 03:57 PM
Thank you so much for this information. Do you do lessons and if so can I come and learn, as not sure if I wrap my legs around the horse quietly. It would be good to learn this and see if I sit right in the saddle. I am a very determined person, and just love to ride, but I think it will take me time to get over what happened. Like today I went for a hack with him and the bad thing was I kept getting off every time I got nervous. I don;t know how he picks up on it as I don't show it, but I think by my actions he may sense it? Not sure? Anyways, I walked around the field with him and he got startled and I jumped and he reacted, does this mean he may see me as his leader as he always listens to me, when I tell him to stand and to walk, trot or canter and stand again he listens. In the arena he'll follow me a little and then stand when I tell him and back up so not sure, if this means I am his leader. Anyways I got back on him in the field and 5 min down he spooked and luckily this time I stayed on and he ran straight into the crop lands. I calmed him down and said whow and he listened and slowed down but we were now in the middle of the crop land, and after that we just walked back and got home safely.
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, April 25, 2011 12:48 PM
I take my hat off to you for going on a hack after the incident. I would be very scared too. Even though you try not to show your fear your horse may feel it through the changes in your body that you do not notice. These changes happen in the way you breathe, in the muscle tone and pattern of the tone. We unconsciously tense certain groups of muscles when we feel fear. These muscles are upper neck, hands, hip flexors, etc.
He probably sees you as his leader because he listens to you when you are on the ground. The fact that he spooked when you jumped does not prove it. Horses feed off each other's reactions no matter the rank of subordination. It was only two of you in the field, you jumped, he jumped as a consequence.
If your horse spooks and runs when you are riding you can try turning him into a big circle, circle usually works even when they are running fast and hard.
I do teach lessons, I teach in and near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. If you are close by we can have a lesson. If you are far away you can try doing a video lesson with me. I have video students who had bad accidents and were dealing with fear issues. Video analysis helped them with both physical and mental aspects of riding. Contact me directly via my email form if you want to discuss lessons.
 
Comment by Anna on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 01:51 PM
Thank you. I will contact you via email.
 
Comment by Sophie Scheiwiller on Sunday, February 12, 2012 11:01 AM
Hello, I have been researching on line about spooks, and sudden behaviors in horses. I found your site and have been reading comments. So here is my situation, just going to talk a bit about my back ground and then I will get to my situation. I have been riding since I was 5. My mom never wanted me to show, thou I wanted to so badly, anyhow I rode for fun. Fast forward years ahead I got married in my early twenties had 2 kids and stopped riding for 8 years. 3 years ago, at the age of 31, I bought my then 5 year old 17 hand Belgian/tb mare. She had basic training. I was afraid of her spunkiness, but had some sort of connection with her. I took lessons, fell a lot ( from some sudden spooks) but still determined that we were going to make it work as a team in the jumpers. I starting showing her 2 years ago, went from the 3ft3 jumpers to the 3ft6 jumpers racking in the ribbons! Finally last summer I thought we had that special connection and that we were past the spooking (she would rarely spook at shows). I have her at my place, so I look after her every day. She is the Alpha mare in the herd, but she has high respect for me on the ground.She is quiet, calm she listens she is good with everything on the ground, but for some reason this winter, riding her in the arena I go to is unbearable. She seems to spook at every corner of the arena, not only spook, but drop her shoulder and bolt. This is the worst she has ever been. I'm frustrated at her. I don't make a big deal when she does it, even thou inside I'm tense. I just try to make her work and ignore, but it seems she won't give up....this is a horse that has been to the champs on her circuit, with so many things going on, big scary jumps and she does not even blink an eye....I'm so disappointed, I don't know what to do....any suggestions? Thanks Sophie
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Sunday, February 12, 2012 10:07 PM
Horses are usually very spooky during winter. Sometimes they are so bad it feels like riding a different horse. Indoor rings are very often have gloomy corners, shadows, things stored in corners, etc. All that makes horses spook more. Here are few exercises to help with this:
Ride a spooky place in counter shoulder-in. If you do not know what it is simply ask your horse to bend outside and look right into spooky corner while you are walking, then trotting and even cantering. In such posture your horse cannot drop the inside shoulder and turn suddenly. She will be looking into the spooky corner and feeling like she is moving away from it. It will give her sense that you are on her side. She will start listening to your aids for counter shoulder-in.
After a while ask for less and less counter bend, until you can ride through those corners almost straight. Start riding a 10 to 15 m circle in spooky corners every single time you are there. If your horse shows signs of fear, tenses up, or speeds up, repeat the same circle a few times. Again you can do it in walk, trot and canter.
Spend some time working in walk near the spooky places. Movements to consider - very small circles, shoulder-in, counter shoulder-in, turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches, halts, reinback, combinations of these movements, etc. Be creative!
Good luck!
 
Comment by Natalie Kerber on Thursday, March 14, 2013 11:20 AM
I have a 16.2 Paint/TB cross. 9 yrs old this year Very talented. He did it all. Dressage, hunter, trail, horse shows and was very well behaved. He had a slight case of laminitis 2 springs ago and had a really tough summer. I couldn't really ride him at all. He hasn't been the same since. Spooky, co-dependent, unreasonably naughty, scary behavior when he is upset. Snow sliding off the roof, his shadow, the light coming in the crack in the door from outside, the plastic jump blocks, brightly colored poles, big rocks, & other naughty horses will set him off. I give him Quietex if we are going to the park or the show and still it doesn't solve all the problems. I am a professional and have been riding for 30 years, but this is a head shaker. He gets ridden 4-5 days a week. Help!
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, March 14, 2013 07:09 PM
There is no simple or straight forward solution to your problem, Natalie.
The first thing that comes to mind is a question if he is still in pain? Even though there is no obvious signs of problems in his hooves laminitis takes a long time to clear up completely. If his hooves are trimmed with slightly long heels and the wall is not rounded enough at the toe he may still experience mild pain or discomfort. This makes him on edge. Have you tried nerve blocking to see if he behaves better with it? Or, give him bute and see if this change things for the better. Then you can be sure it is actually pain that causes these issues.
The other thing is losing his trust in environment and/or humans. I had that happened to a breeding stallion after he was gelded. Very different behavior after. Try to change things around him for the better: does he has a horse companion he likes? is there anything in particular he likes to do - jumping, dressage, riding outdoor? May be he needs a challenge and will change if you put a rider on him he should take good care of like a kid. I know it sounds crazy but sometimes horses behave amazingly different with kids.
One more thing I can recommend is work him much harder. The spookier he gets the longer and harder you ride him. Keep him very, very busy. Do not go around large doing nothing. Lots of transitions, arena figures, teach him a new movement, keep him so busy he starts to forget there are things around to spook at. And do not get involved in his spooks, stay with the exercise and keep asking him to continue like the spook didn't even happen.
Good luck! Drop me a note later if you find something that worked for him.
 
Comment by jinx on Tuesday, November 4, 2014 02:21 PM
I have a 14 year old former endurance mare. She is a connemara/arab/tb cross. She has always been a spooky/looky, and generally just jumps in place. From her behavior, I believe that she had some "de-spooking" done in her past. She tends to be very up and tense. The weird thing is sometimes it happens at the end of a ride, or ring work, when we are relaxed and there is NOTHING scaring her. Twice recently, at the end of long trail rides, she has done this when walking very calmly; she suddenly jumps in place, and drops down a bit with her legs moving. My friend behind me said it looked almost like she was going to roll (said friend does tend to exaggerate a bit). Any thoughts, besides she may be an adrenaline junkie and needs that adrenaline rush? Hope she's not sleeping and waking herself up!
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, November 5, 2014 09:34 AM
I think you just hit the nail on the head LOL I think she does "fall asleep" during the relaxed long rein walk at the end of the ride. Or, at least she falls into some sort of trance. Then either by herself or something tiny in the environment gets her back into alert state and this is when she jumps. Try letting her walk on the long rein only for short period of time and then pick the reins and "talk" to her. Then let her stretch again. See if that makes a difference. Good luck!
 
Comment by Robin Johnson on Friday, December 19, 2014 04:43 AM
I have recently purchased a 14 yr, draft cross mare, and 14 yr. thoroughbred gelding. They both travelled well together to the barn where they are being temporarily boarded. They both participated well in group lessons on the first night after arrival. Things have not progressed well. The mare has taken to dumping my 9 year old daughter at each ride. It started with a nice right lead canter, and then into the left she would take off into the middle of the ring, and "dump" the rider (my small child). It has now progressed to the right lead. I am very frustrated as she is a lovely horse, great manners, nice to ride when behaving. I can't tell if she is spooky, or just wants to get close to her friends in the ring. I am planning on moving both horses to my property in a few weeks...but don't know what I'm going to do with a horse that is too "spooky" to ride. How can I fix this?
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, December 20, 2014 08:26 PM
You have a strange horse that you just bought. You do not know her well and 9-year-old child has no way of "telling" a horse how to behave properly, particularly in canter. Horses that take good care of children are priceless and people spend a lot of time trying to find them.
You need to ride that horse yourself and if there is absolutely no issues when you ride and always an issue when your daughter rides than this horse is not for a small child.
 
Comment by Jody on Monday, April 13, 2015 01:20 PM
I have a horse that sometimes spooks when something touches her legs. There is no warning. It is immediate. She jumps straight into the air with all 4 legs off the ground. There is no keeping my seat because I am airborne. She will jump like that multiple times until I am thrown off. She then runs off. At her previous owner's she got a leg caught in a fence and had an injury. There is a scar, but it does not appear to be causing pain. The vet checked it too and determined there is no physical damage and no pain. I guess it might be PTSD. I have tried to desensitized her legs by touching things on then and by making her walk through sticks and things. We will be trail riding through the woods for hours. Most of the grass, logs and sticks we walk through won't bother her. Then BAMM! she gets set off and I'm flying through the air like a super hero. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, April 13, 2015 07:55 PM
I am quite suspicious she does it now only because something touches her legs even though it may started like that or appear like she is scared. The way you are describing it sounds like your mare decides she has worked enough and now is your time to get off. If you fall every time she has a very good tool to get rid of you. Mares in particular have the time limit in them and when they decide they have worked enough it is very hard to convince them to continue.
Do you have a chance to work in the arena with nothing laying on the footing anywhere - no poles, jumps, cones? Did she ever spook like that there if you rode her long enough? If you put boots on her does she still jump up? If you realize she developed a bad habit by now and she is very consistent you need someone else to ride her and stay on and get after her when she starts jumping around until she stops using this tactic.
 
Comment by Natalie on Thursday, April 16, 2015 06:49 AM
Been reading through these comments - my Fell gelding is 10yrs old and I haven't had any problems with him up until now. Hes terrified of marks on the road, puddles, anything on the floor in front of him to the point I am cantering up a verge all fine until he spots a mound of mud in front of him...he doesn't act on it until we are right in front of it or next to it and then he shoves his breaks on and darts to the side or stops all together. So far it hasn't had me off I'm a confident rider and have had horses worse than him in the past but before its always been plastic bags farm machinery ya know things that you sort of expect. He has never been like this before its a new thing and its since we have started doing trotting poll work (which hes brill at)...its like all of a sudden he is noticing things on the floor in front of him and when I take him over the scary puddle or scary blob of mud or mark on the road and try to get him to have a look at it and reassure him its okay he just dances around it with his head in the air refusing to go near it :-S any ideas guys??
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, April 16, 2015 07:57 PM
You may be right. He started noticing things on the ground after working over poles. Also, he may had a recent encounter with a wild animal such as skunk or porcupine. These animals sit quietly until you approach them very closely and then they react. Your horse may be afraid to approach the suspicious object fearing it will react. Dismount and touch and push or walk into paddle to show him there is nothing that is going to jump at him. Hopefully, he will come to his senses! Good luck!
 
Comment by Jamie on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 07:05 AM
Hello. I am a new rider- only a few months. Our mare spooked when I was leading her and knocked me over, popped my knee out and I broke my collarbone. This was one month ago. We have been working with her since and we still don't know what spooked her. Anyways- so of course I am kinda of petrified of this happening with any horse. We just got a nice, calmer gelding. He is a great listener and is very responsive. Yesterday I was watching him in the pasture and I think both horses saw something I did not. He spooked and jumped to the side. How can I better avoid being knocked over when they spook like that and I am on the ground with them? I'm more tense standing near them than I am in the saddle.
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 07:22 PM
Your biggest challenge is that you are new to horses. Their behavior on the ground has a lot to do with who controls the personal space. You absolutely MUST establish that your space is off limits to your horse unless you invite her/him into it. They must never budge, lean, step, or walk into it. This rule must be reconfirmed to horses on a daily basis. They challenge that very slightly quite often. Not much needed if caught very early. No little space discretions must go unnoticed. Small corrections, or even better catching them when they are about to do it is better easy and almost unnoticed by onlooker. Never put down the guard of your space. The space respect is established from the day one of a foal's life. If a horse brought up with these principles they do not run into a human but go around her/him even if they are spooked. My mare can be quite quick and jumpy if something spooks her from behind. And it happened a few times while I was leading her. She went around me because running into me is much scarier than whatever spooked her :)
Here are few important principles
- avoid leading a horse in such a way that you are completely in front of her. Always be to the side
- Remember horses are not pets. They are big, powerful and fast. ALWAYS be focused on your horses if you are near them, read their body language all the time
- Never put yourself in a situation where you do not have an escape route from a panicky horse
- Even when grooming always have your other hand on the shoulder if in front or hip if grooming hind end. You will be able to feel the horse moving toward you and can act by either pushing him away or jump away yourself depending on the severity of a problem. Always have your legs slightly apart and knees bent so the horse can never knock you off balance.
- Make sure they "see" you, get their attention. Adult horses do not see young horses (weanlings, yearlings) and walk right through them. Adult horses behave exactly the same way with humans if they do not respect their space. They do not "see" humans and walk right through them. I witnessed it so many times.
 
Comment by Tiffany Zimmerman on Saturday, September 17, 2016 05:56 PM
I own a 14 year old Fresian/Thoroughbred mare, 16.2 hands. Until I bought her, the only life she knew was a small paddock. She didn't even have buddy-the closest "companions" were a heard of lamas across the road. She had been worked with in a halter, but had no firm groundwork established. She was 10 when I purchased her and I immediately started ground work using natural horsemanship techniques. We worked only from the ground for the first 2 months-anything from lunging to free lunging, halter showmanship, exploring new and potentially scary areas, and tack introduction. We developed a strong trust in each other -I was and still to this day can lead her without a halter and lead. Our first ride went very well-not a single issue. For the next year we had no issues. If she ever saw anything potentially spooky, I would talk to her, rub her, and do circles around and near it. Then one day something spooked her out of nowhere without warning and she took off at a gallop, and she ignored my one rein stop cue. It had rained earlier that week, and when she went to turn at the fence, she slipped and fell on top of me. Thankfully neither of us were hurt, we were very lucky. However, it took me nearly an entire year to feel relaxed and trusting again (during this time I worked on desensitizing her from the ground). During that year, she had a couple sudden spooks that always went like this: crow hop to the side, sharp turn, buck, bolt, and me seeing the ground coming up very quickly. We recently moved to a new facility and as always she was al littler nervous. We took it slow, and whenever I could tell she was thinking about spooking, I was able to work her through it. Last week, we were in the middle of a ride, and I stopped to grab a drink from my water bottle (something I have done from her back too many times to count). A horse in a nearby paddock made a sudden noise and just like that, crow hop, turn, buck, and I'm on the ground. Only this time, I hauled away with a broken back in 3 places. The doctors told me I was very lucky as to where the breaks were. I could have been paralyzed. Because of this occurrence, the thought of getting on her again scares me. I love her more than anything in the world and we have developed an incredible bond, at least from what I can tell. I know that none of this is her fault - I'm sure those first 10 years of her life being alone has caused a lack of confidence in herself-she tends to be very heard bound, although most of the time I can get her mind back on me- and I think that part of it is the Thoroughbred in her- she has always been a little "hot". I don't blame her, and I'm not saying that she is a dangerous horse. I believe that this spookiness can be worked out of her, I'm just not sure anymore if I am the one to do it. It took us a year to get back to where we were when she fell on me with no injury......I'm afraid that every time I get in the saddle, no mater how I try to calm myself, she is going to feel my nerves (she is a very sensitive horse and picks up on any slight movement). What do I do? I believe that I am not the one to train the spook out of her, I think at this point I would do more harm than good. But if I have someone else train it out of her, and then I get on her again with even just the slightest amount of hesitation, will she pick up on it and be right back to where we left off????? I have been riding since I was 8, and have a decent seat, but I wouldn't call it a great seat- I tend to get unseated more often that I would like. With this in mind, is it possible she is too much horse for me??
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, September 17, 2016 09:34 PM
I think you answered your own question, Tiffany. You are very correct in your doubts. Usually after such incidents it is very difficult to get over them with the same horse. My biggest concern that you cannot sit though her spooks. No matter how much you love this horse and how strong your bond with her on the ground if you cannot sit her spooks you will always feel nervous and always be one fall away from a disaster that can end your riding possibilities forever.
My advice to you is not to ride this horse. You can keep her or sell her but do not ride her. Your logic is correct. If another rider rides through her spooks and makes her less fearful of them you will ALWAYS feel fear on her. Your body will never forget that this particular horse hurt you and may do it again. I feel sad telling you this but I believe this is the only advice I can give you. I have been though fear of riding myself. I was able to move on and learn to be a better rider but not on a horse that hurt me. I wish you best of luck in healing and returning back to riding on a safe horse!
 
Comment by Mary on Saturday, November 19, 2016 10:59 AM
Thank you for this important topic!!
I sponsor a 30+ year old mostly Arabian horse. He is a gelding, was used as a lessons horse until he was around 20, then changed owners two times (5 years each) and neither owner 'dealt' with him. Why? Not sure - but he is forward and spooky, so I'm guessing that's why.
I am not afraid of him, nor will I ignore him (his current owner pays the bills and literally NEVER NEVER NEVER comes to the barn) yet his spookiness is unsettling to me. I work with a trainer and him in the round pen. His ground manners were deplorable, now they're merely rude and mischief-making. His vision is good, so it's not like stuff sneaks up on him. His hearing is acute. I've cut back on his grain which was definitely a problem at first; he was going out of his skin at literally nothing. Now he's better. When I lead him (I don't ride him) his spooks make my heart race and sometimes I get shaky. I've always had hairtrigger reactions to loud sounds and unexpected touch, so as you can imagine, he and I are quite the pair. I know how to handle his spooks, I know how to anticipate them (I watch his head/ear positions, etc.) I get him to put his head down to avoid his 'high alert - and now I'm gonna dance for you' actions. Yes, I'm a newbie (returning to riding after years away) so I volunteer to hand-walk other horses to gain more experience with horses, also I take riding lessons. How do I get MYSELF over the spook reactions?
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, November 19, 2016 10:39 PM
In some ways you are already doing a lot to help yourself. First, your analytical mind helps you to dissect the problem. Second you recognize your lack of experience so you take lessons and handle other horses.
First of all it will take time for you to gain "miles" with horses, there is no way around it. Second, Arab horses are known to be rather spooky and age doesn't really change them :)
Here are a few suggestions that may help you and this horse:
- I am not a big fan of round pen work. I observe so many horses disconnect from their handlers and mindlessly run around looking for the way out. Rather learn to lunge him and ask him to move around a big arena, ask for transitions and insist to pay attention to you by flexing to the inside. Use cavesson not halter or bridle
- Teach him to respect your space "bubble" and absolutely do not allow him to enter it unless invited. He should be more afraid to jump into your bubble uninvited than of the spooky object or event.
- Expose yourself to situations that is not necessarily horse related where you will be challenged with sudden sounds or movements until your trigger reflexes calm down. Horses can learn to ignore gun shots, humans can too
- Horses are spooky mostly when they think they have to defend themselves. Become his absolute leader, he should look up to you when he is unsure instead of taking matter in his own hooves.
- Never argue with him, your rule is the law. His responses and answers should be cheerful: "Yes, ma'am!" Not grudgingly: "Do I really have to?"
Best of luck!!!
 
Comment by Madeleine on Thursday, February 23, 2017 02:29 PM
Thank you, I have learned a lot from this discussion topic. I recently bought an 11 year old palomino mare. I am 66 and returning to riding after 30 years. I have ridden her twice, accompanied by a friend riding her paddock companion, he's an elderly Arab gelding, generally calm but can shy sometimes. She is quite jumpy but I am staying on. She spooks a lot! Maybe she is feeling my natural lack of confidence after so many years. Can you advise me on how to sit and hold the reins etc when she spooks, to both build my confidence and hers? Although I feed and brush each day, I don't intend riding a lot, just a trail ride every 3 or 4 weeks. Maybe my expectations for a quiet trail ride are too much. Her previous owner was a very experienced horseman, I wonder if she misses his weight (I am quite light) and authority in the saddle.
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, February 23, 2017 08:02 PM
There are some horses that are very alert and nervous by nature. They will spook more and generally need very confident handling. You have sensed correctly that your lack of it and also lack of "authority in the saddle" (well said) makes your mare rather unsure, hence, more nervous.
There is no simple answer to help you sit better in the saddle. It takes years of regular practice to acquire a good stable seat and confidence in the saddle. A few things that can help you are: 1. Start building better core muscles, work on your posture not only on the horse, take up Yoga, Pilates. 2. Never take your attention off your horse's state of mind. 3. Keep your reins picked up with contact if she feels tense or nervous. 4. If you want to give her longer reins, keep them in one hand. This way you can pull them up quickly and grab them much shorter with your other hand. 5. Riding once in 3-4 weeks will not be enough to improve your riding skills if you want to continue riding this horse. If you have time to brush her every day, ride her in the yard for 15-20 minutes every day. Or, take riding lessons on another horse to become a better rider. I have students who are in their late 60-s and early 70-s improving their riding skills.
Good luck!
 
Comment by Marie Payton on Thursday, May 4, 2017 09:29 AM
I am 66 years old have a 6 year old gelding. He has impeccable manners on the ground and I can do anything with him in the yard and he obeys everything I ask. On hacks he spooks a lot with me but doesnt do it with anyone else. I have a trainer who comes but he just gallops him everywhere to take the wind out of his sails and I dont want to do that. Our daughter rides him and let him have his head and he never spooks. Yesterday I was walking him down the track and suddenly a quad bike appeared from a sharp bend. The horse spun and started jumping on the spot and then bucked and tried to kick the quad bike who very kindly stopped. Maybe I should stick to the yard?
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, May 4, 2017 07:29 PM
Your incident with the bike is not uncommon. Anybody who was riding him could have gotten similar reaction. Bikes are loud, fast and scary and sudden appearances are very spooky for horses. My horse would probably do the same just out of fright.
On the other hand if others are fine taking him out but you always have issues you need to look at yourself. If you are a bit apprehensive, waiting for things to happen, tense in your body, etc. it makes horses jumpy. I have witnessed and heard similar stories. I would recommend doing short rides away from a yard building gradually your own confidence. Even walking him on trails, so you can observe him feeling safe is a good way to start. You bloth need to learn to trust each other.
 
Comment by Jackie Muir on Sunday, July 30, 2017 03:29 PM
I have a lovely 9 year old Cleveland bay , TB cross mare. Most of the time she is behind my leg, but I am working hard to keep her consistently forward? In the past 2 years she has bolted and injured me requiring surgery on my hand. I was just getting past the fear of her spooking and it happened again while I was cantering, a horse spooked in her vision. She typically jumps up and down , feels like a pogo stick, I am unseated and off. She is generally not a reactive horse but when she does react it is quite severe. I don't know how to change her response to fear, because It is natural to flee when afraid.I know I can become stronger with a better seat. It is now the mental piece I really am struggling with.
 
Comment by IrinaYastrebova on Monday, July 31, 2017 08:16 AM
The biggest two problems in your situation are - 1. you become unseated when your horse turns into pogo stick and 2. she is behind your leg. You would not have mental problems if you were able easily sit through that phase and then turn her on a circle and send her forward.
To be able to sit the pogo stick moment you need to stay supple and not tighten up against her. You must absorb her bounce like a punching bag. Your reaction is very normal to human body, it is a reflex of fear. Working without stirrups in all gaits will teach you to stay supple even during uncomfortable moments like transitions from canter to trot or extended trot, also jumping small grids without stirrups.
For the second problem - in front of the leg - you must not use your legs a lot or strong. You must use a tap of the whip after a small leg aid in order to teach your horse quicker reaction. Treat your leg aids like a precious commodity, do not waste it. And remember if your horse didn't go forward within 3 sec of a first leg aid she doesn't know why you are kicking her or using whip. A horse in front of the leg is busy listening to it's rider so it spooks much less! God luck!
 
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