Spooking – by Jason Webb

PrintLast time in Pegasus I talked about what to do when your horse naps.  The other circumstance when your horse may refuse to go forward is when he is spooking at something.  You can tell the difference between a genuine spook and evasive napping by their ears; if they are spooking, their ears will be pointing forwards at the scary object and you need to be sympathetic with them whereas a napping horse will generally have their ears pointing backwards and you may need to be more assertive in your riding.

IMG_0663Spooky horses are generally oversensitive and can lack trust in you and their environment.  Another contributing factor is that they are not “forward thinking” so if they come across something they are unsure of, their first instinct is to flight rather than listen to your aids to move forward.

If you do find yourself in a situation where your horse refuses to go past an object, the first thing your horse will do is to try and find a way out.  You need to do as little as possible but enough to stop him from spinning or running. You can keep him from fleeing by using a direct rein to stop him turning but when he is facing the object leave him alone.  It must be his decision to stop moving around and face the object, not because you are forcing him to.  If you do tense up and grab hold of both reins or starting kicking him in the ribs, you will only add to his highly adrenalized state and make him more panicked!

Once he has settled a little, ask for a forward step.  This may make him nervous so it is important to give him a break each time he responds to the forward cue (one step at a time!).  The key to this is that once you have asked for a step forward, you must get a forward response; if you don’t your horse will learn to ignore your leg and will plant or spin whenever he gets worried or unsure.  Again, when asking for forward do as little as possible but as much as necessary to get this.  I find using rapid tapping behind my leg to be the most effective after the initial squeeze with the leg.

IMG_0667In an ideal world, your horse will then walk sensibly past the object but in reality, he may rush past it.  If he does this, do not grab hold of the reins; he has done what you have asked and has gone forward.  Then, if you are able to do so, you can repeat the exercise a few times until he is walking calmly past the object.  Alternatively, your horse may try to put his head down as he is looking at the object.   It is important to allow this as it shows that he is starting to become curious and wants to investigate where he is going.

If you persist like this with your horse, giving him time where necessary and you remaining calm, consistent and decisive, your horse will learn to go wherever you like!

Jason Webb at Australian Horsemanship specializes in starting young horses under saddle and finding the solutions to behavioural and ridden problems.  For more information please visit www.australianhorsetraining.co.uk or contact us on 07749914267 / sarah@australianhorsetraining.co.uk.

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