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Posts Tagged ‘spooky horse’

We recently brought home two horses.  The 4-year old mare is a sweetie and not issues but the 7-year old gelding is nervous and spooky. 

Three days ago during feeding he spooked and broke his halter.  (The mare flinched at something and the gelding turned it into a panic, rearing back until the halter gave way.)  I was moving slowly and deliberately around them so I am not sure what caused the mare to flinch but the gelding seems to be a bit of a basket case. 

I have worked for two days being very gentle but insistent with the halter and still have not been able to get it on him. I don’t want to press the issue because he doesn’t know me that well yet and has only had a few days to get used to our pasture. While he was eating, I had the halter nearby and would move it around so he could hear it jingle.  When he quit freaking out at every noise, I held it so that he would have to put his nose in the halter to take a bite from the bucket. 

I didn’t push the issue but slowly would move the halter around and by the time he finished eating I was scratching his jaw on the right side but was not able to get the strap over his head without him moving away from me.  I didn’t want to chase him, thinking this would cause further issues, but I was calm to the best of my ability and spoke soothingly to him.  Am I on the right track?  Do you have some advice that would help me to make this process go more smoothly?  Thanks!  Kathy

Hi Kathy,

Although you need to proceed with caution around horses for both your own safety and that of the horse, often sneaking around and being overly cautious seems to make horses more nervous and suspicious.

To me from what little you say, I’d say this. The gelding never learned to stand quietly when tied. And actually before that he never had been taught to be confident in the world of man, so is suspicious to the point of panic.

At 7 years of age, that is quite behind the program and now being a full grown, strong horse, it makes things especially more challenging and dangerous.

What I would do is start from square one with the horse free in a small, safe sturdy pen. You will have to have the time it takes with a small goal each session. Don’t use feed to distract or bribe the horse.

Perhaps at first just the goal of being in the enclosure with the horse without him trying to get away from you or turn his rump toward you.

Then a goal of him allowing you to come up to him and touch him.

From this point you can continue the lessons in the small enclosure or move to a small round pen (maybe 50 feet in diameter) where you can free longe the horse around you at a walk, trot, halt.

Eventually you will progress to putting the halter on the horse after you have halted him and walked up to him. It can be with you or an assistant holding the horse with loop around his neck or it can be with you solo and the horse free. You will put the halter on matter of factly, not using grain.

Just halter the horse using normal, safe procedures.

If the horse tries to move away, let him and send him around you free longeing. Then stop him, walk up to him and begin again.

Once you have successfully haltered the horse, unhalter him. And rehalter him. Do this until he no longer flinches or wants to move away. Haltering and unhaltering then will be you main lesson until it becomes second nature.

There are many articles on my Horse Information Roundup that will help you – just look in the Ground Training section.

And a good illustrated reference on proper handling techniques including haltering, tying and much more is  Horse Handling and Grooming.

Best of luck. Cherry Hill

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Teaching a Horse to “Spook in Place”

Hi Cherry,

First off, thank you so much for creating and maintaining such an extensive informative website. This is a tremendous and very precious resource for every rider and horse owner.

Like many of your other readers, I have a question regarding a spooky horse and after reading your related articles, I still feel I’d like to send you my specific issue hoping that perhaps you have another tip for me.

I have a 5-year-old fairly inexperienced filly who shies on the trail. Having known me since she was only a few hours old, she trusts me completely. I have done a lot of groundwork with her (including sacking out, just like you describe it in your article). At age 4, I asked the rancher to start riding her and to give me arena lessons to improve my own skills so I don’t make mistakes with such a young horse. I have been riding her for the last 2 years myself, always starting in the arena before we ride out on the trail. I try to have another rider on an older calm horse with me and when I’m alone, I ride one of my other horses and just lead her along so she can get used to the sights and sounds and wildlife. (Note: We’re in a remote area of British Columbia, Canada, none of my three horses has ever seen a stable, and both my mare and filly were born on the open range.)

She is calm and willing in the arena but very nervous in the forest. She shies away from tree trunks and large rocks, sometimes even the sudden appearance of her own shadow. Usually, I’m able to stay in the saddle and remain calm. It’s not too bad when she’s following another horse, but it’s terrible when I ride her in the lead. I have experienced spookiness with her mother, whom I purchased at a young age and she naturally settled down over time. However, this filly is much more athletic and extremely fast, and every once in a while she shies so hard that can’t stay in the saddle (and I’m not the only one). She sort of “sucks back”, spins, and takes off in the opposite direction within a split second. I have landed pretty hard several times and even torn an MCL once. I am not afraid of riding her but don’t want to get injured again either.

So, my question is, do you have any suggestions? Is there a way to teach her to “spook in place” rather than spin and run?

Thank you in advance for your time!

Warm regards,
Ulrike

©  2010 Cherry Hill   © Copyright Information

Hi Ulrike,

Always in the case of extreme spooking, be sure there is not a problem with your horse’s vision. If your horse spooks from one side and not the other, and especially if you see How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry Hillany unusual marks or cloudy areas in your horse’s eyes, you might want your veterinarian to take a look at her eyes for damage. Horses have blind spots and vision that is different than ours so be sure you understand how your horse sees – I discuss this in How to Think Like a Horse.The best way to prepare your horse and yourself for these unexpected sights on the trail is to set things up in your arena to simulate the bears she is imagining when she sees a tree stump.

Horses are such creatures of habit that if she is used to going along in your arena day after day with things virtually unchanged, if you add something new every day, you will build up her tolerance for these visual surprises. And it will give you a more controlled format to learn how to deal with her usual reaction.

Making Not Breaking by Cherry HillI like to start out by hanging a jacket or blanket on the rail, then add something on the ground like a bright white bucket “out of place”. You can get creative by devising things that you know YOUR horse might react to – perhaps tie a helium balloon on one of the rails, or teach her to approach a person that is opening and closing an umbrella. And of course, once a horse is used to a certain thing in a certain spot, all you have to do is move it to get their attention again.

While you are unlikely to encounter buckets and umbrellas in the forest, using them as props can help you learn to predict your horse and to develop desirable patterns in your horse and you.

Now, before you get started, here are a couple of reminders:
  • You never want to intentionally scare your horse.
  • You want your horse to be able to trust your judgment so never ask her to approach or walk over something dangerous.
  • Start small and gradually build your horse’s tolerance to odd things.
  • You might choose to lead her past these things in your arena before riding her past them. And like you do on the trail, it helps to have a calm, seasoned horse nearby as a role model.
  • Have a plan in mind for when she whirls – if she tends to usually go to the right, be ready for that with a solid seat slightly to the left and keep you legs long and heels deep. Also be ready with the opposing rein, especially if you use a snaffle – if the horse whirls to the right, have the left rein ready to hold her straight.

One other thing you should emphasize in your arena work – forward motion. Be sure you can send your horse forward to any gait and within any gait. In other words, be sure she positively knows to move forward from your seat and leg aids. Work to develop upward transitions with instant response from your horse:

  • halt to walk
  • walk to trot
  • trot to canter
Then, be sure you can extend the walk, extend the trot and extend the canter or lope. What does this have to do with spooking? Usually when horses spook, they do “suck back” like you say and try to retreat. This is a backward behavior. You want forward 101 Longeing and Long Lining Exeercises thinking behavior. You want absolute obedience to forward movement and the best way to instill this in your horse is by frequent repetition of forward moving exercises. Not the same one over and over but a variety of them in a variety of situations. To get some more ideas along this line, you can refer to 101 Arena Exercises.

I hope this helps and you have safe riding.
Please let me know how you make out.

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