Does your horse spook easily? Should you worry about it? What can you do to help? Below we’ll be explaining why horses get spooked and what you can do to help them calm down and relax in these situations.
Horses are flight instinct animals – ok, we all know that. But spooking does not always make sense – the horse may pass that same space daily, the object has always been there, but, today, your horse gets spooked.
Types of spooks:
- New experience
- Flash, quick something or a loud noise
- Eye issues/problems (vision loss, uveitis, moon blindness, etc.)
Riding a spooking horse can be disruptive, exasperating and, at times. Downright scary. Take note though, it’s always a good idea to work with your veterinarian to rule out health issues (pain, eyesight). It may take more than one exam, and it can be helpful if your veterinarian can observe the horse in situations where he might spook. Another set of eyes can reveal something that you may miss.
Sometimes, with a spook, your horse just needs a moment to ‘absorb’ the experience and can continue. Yet other times the spook is disruptive, and your riding time is affected.
When you last dealt with a spook – How did you react? (Some self-reflection here)
- What were the circumstances?
- Did you, also, look around to see what the horse spooked at? …thereby abandoning your horse as the wheels are falling off?
- Did you get after the horse? …in an attempt to punish him.
Here are some tips for the next spook:
- Calmly keep the feet moving, particularly the hind feet, but they need to move in a rhythmic beat, not a frantic scramble. Consider a leg yield or a turn on the forehand or other exercise that requires the hind feet to move. The feet are connected to the brain. When the feet are moving in rhythm, the brain quiets and is receptive to input.
- As best you can in the circumstances – do NOT pull on the reins.
- Consider any other exercises to capture the attention of his brain – side passing, shoulder-in, half pass, etc. Do anything that you can to re-direct his attention to YOU!
Your efforts may not be effective close to the scary object, so move away from it – but, with an exercise! Quietly work on the exercise and soften when your horse responds correctly. Try not to pull on the reins. You may not be able to work around the scary place today, or tomorrow, but, stick with the plan in a quiet fashion to build trust and confidence. Recognize that improvements come slowly, and, there is NO quick fix!
Have a friend video tape your ride as that may be very revealing as to how you react and how your horse responds in a situation. For example, you may be applying rein pressure before you are applying leg pressure, but you are not feeling that – yet you see it in the video.
The speed of your success depends upon history, personalities, effectiveness of your exercises and patience. Be open to change if past exercises did not work. We expect our horses to change, but WE need to be willing to change too. We sometimes forget that part.
After it is all said and done, do you now have a better partnership with your horse? Building a good partnership with your horse will help you, as a team, overcome many challenges, and increase enjoyment.