Horse Problems: Spooky Horse

In most cases, spooking is a symptom of deeper problems. Your horse is not properly prepared to look to you as a leader and stop in his tracks when presented with unfamiliar objects or situations.

Some horses are just naturally more spooky than others. Arabs are, of course, bred to be vigilant. I never recommend an Arab as a first horse or for someone who is not very experienced. While they are great for endurance riding, and they are beautiful to look at, they are far too sensitive and over-reactive for a novice trainer or rider.

Every horse needs to be desensitized to different objects and different situations. Trail riders will meet blowing debris, creek crossings, branches falling, logs in the road, tight squeezes, deer jumping, coyotes running, rabbits and snakes. Add to the list at will. (This horse is reacting at a rustling in the trees to her left. She jumped to her right and then stopped still – a mostly-correct response.)

The whole process of “facing your fears” starts in the round pen on the ground. Your horse needs to learn to stand still and think his way through a scary situation. His first lessons need to be in a controlled environment where you can control the variables and the pressures.

There will no work outside the round pen until you have done consistent desensitizing for a week or two in that confined area, and you have exhausted your imagination of things you can introduce and conquer – first on the ground and then under saddle.

Then on to the arena or a small pasture with bigger obstacles and objects. Ride past scary objects slowly. If he is hesitant to approach, find his comfort zone, then sit and rest. Now move away and begin tight circling exercises. Then approach the object again – a little closer – and rest. If he won’t look at it or stand still, move away again and work in circles. The idea is to make cozying up to a scary object easier than hard work away from it. He will soon realize that the once-scary object is his resting salvation.

Then onto a a carefully chosen wide-open trail where you can get off if necessary to walk him up to the mail box, sewer pipe, piece of junk car, or anything that makes him wary. Have your lead rope handy so that he can lunge near it if necessary.

Again, he can make the decision. He can stop near the object… or he can circle at the further distance. Getting close so he can rest is preferable from an energy-conservation perspective, and most horses choose it after a few minutes of comparing the two activities as he also gets more comfortable with the object.

(more information coming soon)

See De-Sensitizing

2 thoughts on “Horse Problems: Spooky Horse

  1. I don’t agree with lunging a horse if he does not face the object of his fear. That seems like punishment. And I don’t think it’s possible to “desensitize” a horse to every object. I agree that the horse needs to trust the rider, or the rider has to be a darn athletic rider for some spooks (Stop, drop, and roll-back)

    1. Thanks for your input, Kat.
      Actually, I didn’t mean “lunge” per se, so I have changed the copy. Not all horses can be desensitized to all objects, but good training can at least give most of them a different response to fear: stand, think, trust. Also, giving them something else to think about at a safe distance from the object also helps them to change their mind-set. They can make a logical decision about standing near or circling far. It’s not punishment. I didn’t mean to imply he should “lunge” ’til he dropped. It’s just a clear choice, and most horses make the right one.

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