This Applies To Everyone, Not Just New And Returning Riders
Spooking is something that all riders have to deal with at some point in time or another. This goes along with the post about keeping your horse’s attention when he gets distracted.
A distracted horse is more likely to find something to spook at. Even if you try your hardest to keep your horses attention, an occasional spook is inevitable.
Hopefully, You Are Not Having To Learn On A Spooky Horse
Most likely if you are learning on a school horse, they will be pretty level headed. That doesn’t mean that spooking is out of the question. So even if the horse you ride isn’t innately spooky, learning how to handle a spooky horse is important.
Sometimes because of the horse’s natural tendency towards self-preservation, they will be on high alert. Causing them to spook and us to not even be able to figure out what they were afraid of.
Signs That Your Horse May Be About To Spook
Sometimes a horse that is about to spook will sudden perk his ears and lift his head, staring at something (as I said before, you may or may not be able to tell what).
If your horse is distracted and not focusing on you, looking from side to side, or suddenly turning to look at something.
Sometimes you can feel the tension in your horses body before he spooks, other times it happens unexpectedly with little to no warning.
They All Spook Differently
Some horses spook just has them stopping suddenly and staring at something. Other horses will drop their shoulder and try to spin and get away as quickly as possible. Sometimes horses spook and bolt, running away from whatever the mystery thing is that is so scary. Even if it is just for a few strides.
There are a lot of variables with spooking, what they are afraid of might affect how reactive their spook is. Some horses always get tense beforehand. Giving you some warning that it is coming. Other horses react more quickly, they spook and it’s over with before you know it. You may never even figure out the cause. That is just part of dealing with a thousand-pound animal that has its own brain!
Say Your Horse Is Spooking At A Balloon On A Fence
You come out of the barn and he immediately fixates on the balloon. Obviously unsure of it, on high alert. He may not want to move forward and stand with his feet planted in one place.
If your horse’s feet are planted to the ground and he is starring at that balloon oblivious to you or whatever else is going on. You have got to get his attention back on you and off the scary balloon.
Forward And Focused On You
The longer your horse is able to stand and stare at the scary thing the harder it is going to be to get his attention and prevent him from spooking.
You need to get him to move his feet. Getting your horse to move is important when you are controlling his body movement you have his attention. So, even if all you can do is start with turning in teeny tiny circles.
Get Him Used To Listen To Your Aids No Matter What
Doing some circles and figure eights to distract him from the scary balloon and get his feet moving will hopefully help him begin to listen to your aids again. Even if he is a little distracted, hopefully by doing a lot of transitions and changes in direction you can keep his attention on you.
Passing The Scary Objects
I have found that the easiest way to handle passing a scary object is to bend his head and his neck away from the scary thing and use your leg to push his body towards it.
He may feel crooked and tense, but at least if you are steering and his feet are moving you are in control. You may have to pass the object with his head exaggerated one way and his body in the other. Hopefully, once he gets passed it a few times, with you micromanaging him and telling him what to do he will realize he has nothing to be afraid of and relaxed.
Standing Still And Starring At The Scary Object
I don’t think it is beneficial to let the horse stop and stare at the object he is afraid of. By letting him stop and stare, deviating from your plan to keep moving forward, not only does it put the horse in control. It also makes a bigger deal about it, you don’t want the horse to think whenever he is scared he can just stop and stare at something.
We want our horses to learn that if they are afraid of something that they need to listen to our aids, and that we will give them the confidence to get past whatever it is that scares them.
Backing Up When Spooking
If your horse’s reaction when spooked is to go back quickly away from the object, you should try and get him to move forward. Then if he won’t you can try to turn his head back and forth from side to side until you get him moving in a circle in one direction or the other. It doesn’t matter what gait he circles in or if you have to change directions a bunch of times, we just want them to go forward.
When they are backing up it is extra important to get them moving forward. We don’t want the backing up habit to turn into rearing.
Removing Everything That Might Spook Your Horse- Not A Good Idea!
You can’t remove everything from your horse’s environment that might possibly scare him. Half the time, we won’t even know what it is that they are freaked out about.
Even if we do know what our horse is afraid of, we should not remove it from his environment. You need to learn how to get your horses attention back on you, instead of the scary object. It may take time and practice, but if you work at it, your horse will hopefully learn to turn to you for confidence and listen to your aids when he isn’t sure about something.
You don’t want to try and get rid of anything he might spook at, you just want to quietly ride him through it until he realizes it is no big deal. Also, that spooking at something is not going to help them get out of work. Or distract you from your whatever it was you want to work on.
A Buddy Horse
If your horse has a problem with spooking frequently at a certain object or just tends to not be confident riding with a friend on a more confident horse can help. Horses being herd animals, find safety in their own kind. Usually, if a timid horse is with a more confident one, he will follow their lead and realize they don’t need to be afraid of anything.
Advice For The Rider
The proper position with a straight line from shoulder to hip to heel will have you in the best place to stay balanced. You should try and sit deep with your weight equal in each stirrup. Sitting extra deep in the saddle will help your balance during a spook. You can imagine if you were wearing jeans that you would be sitting on the back pockets.
You want to keep a soft, but steady rein contact. Enough contact that you can maintain control of the steering and speed. The most important part about the contact is that you want to try and keep your hands and seat relaxed. We don’t want to relay any tension to our horses. If they are already nervous this will only make matters worse.
A Couple More Hints
If you ride a horse that tends to be spooky, you can buckle a stirrup leather into a loop and put it over the horse’s neck. That way if he spooks you have something to hold and help secure yourself in the saddle.
You can also grab mane! That is why God gave horses manes…so we can grab on to them when necessary. So don’t be ashamed to do it if you need to.
Remember the object of riding is to keep the horse between you and the ground!