View Full Version : Reactivity, spooking and training......

Mar. 14, 2010, 05:29 PM
I asked this on another thread but my question got lost in the shuffle of someone taking a general question personally so I'll try again.......

Firstly, from my own experience;)......I have a mare that was bred to be hothothot (arab/Tb x holsteiner) and as a youngster she was VERY noise reactive.....Initially I made the mistake of avoiding "schooling opportunities".....mostly to be honest because I didn't really think my lap was big enough :eek: for 1,200 lbs. of horse or my heart strong enough either:lol:......However, in time with work (for BOTH of us:yes:) and some bonding/confidence building (mostly for me;)) we have progressed to the point where I have learned to "put her on the aids".......and now we can/have successfully ridden thru alot of stuff that used to unravel either/both of us.......

Perusing other horse boards and just observing at horse shows I see others struggling with similar "distraction issues" and it makes me wonder.......is there credence in that old adage "a horse can't spook if it is truly on the aids"........

From my own personal experience I think the adage IS true....which of course doesn't mean that I personally am always "successful" in keeping my own horse "on the aids" but certainly we are progressing in this portion of our "work" together..........

Opinions, thoughts, experiences???.......And what have others done to address their own "distraction issues" and improve the consistency of their u/s work?.......

Mar. 14, 2010, 05:43 PM

My EXTREMELY spooky horse goes around like a trooper when I have good contact, and he's on the aids.

On a loose rein, down the road, we sometimes end up with a real rodeo show, but even thats getting better with time and patience.

When he is "IN TH ZONE" I think you could set off a bomb and he'd just sigh like "Hey! Can you keep it down? Im workin here!"


Mar. 14, 2010, 05:57 PM
I believe the adage is true...but a horse who is truly 'on the aids' (imo) is not simply 'on the aids' in a physical sense, but also on an emotional level too. This means they are both relaxed (which reflects as relaxation in their body) and collected (their mind is focused and not scattered), and following the leadership offered by their rider.

Some horses definitely do (ime training and owning horses) have a higher tendency to spook - such horses require stronger leadership (this does not necessarily mean more assertiveness, just that the rider earns more of the horse's trust in their leadership, the horse feels safe following their directives and is confident the rider will ensure their survival and well-being). Other horses are more independant and self-confident and usually require more assertiveness and for the rider to earn said horse's respect so that the horse chooses to follow the rider's leadership and direction, as opposed to simply following their own desires. Ime all it takes is for a rider to offer up the right balance of respect and trust to represent the level of leadership appropriate to that horse, as well as to develop the horse itself (into a thinking, less reactive, confident partner). For example, my 'spookiest' horse is probably my Quarab. If I were to take him out on a trail ride by himself after a lot of time off from work, he'd probably just do everything in his power to return to the herd, where he feels safe, even though he is a highly trained animal. When I work with him a little though and he starts to feel confident that I will ensure his safety out there on the big bad trails, then he'll relax and do as I request without qualm. On that note, as I develop said horse and his confidence level (in himself) increases, so will his bravery and willingness to follow me out to nowhere land. My least (naturally) 'spooky' horse is my Dutch x. He's the horse whom you'll find out grazing far off by himself in the worst blizzard of the year. He could care less about other horses (for the most part, he still definitely enjoys their company at most times of course) and has a high level of confidence. I could leave him for a year, then take him out on the trails by himself and he couldn't give a rat's...butt. My challenge with him initially was learning to work with him in such a way that he wanted to do what I wanted to do, lol.

My current focus is one of our off-track Thoroughbred geldings (coming 6) who is hothothot and naturally has a lot of confidence and independance, yet he can be quite explosive. As I have worked with him though, that explosiveness to new stimuli, noise, etc continues to greatly decrease - proportionately to his level of confidence in me. Where before riding him 'on the aids' was nearly impossible (though he knew what I was asking and was generally well schooled in that aspect) during some catastrophic event (like the wind blowing the wrong way), whereas now, he might pick up tension (yet), but he will usually remain 'on the aids', or at least will return to them quickly (within seconds, literally). It's a work in progress yet as I develop his mind and emotions ;)

I do not think it is so much about keeping them on the aids physically, but rather about keeping them on the aids emotionally - mentally with you, which will reflect physically of course. This requires a pretty high level of partnership between horse and rider though. I do not feel you can really keep a horse, even a highly-schooled one, fully on the aids physically if it's mind is not there, at least to some degree; while it is important to develop the physical aspect and that does play a role, it's still a 1,000lb prey animal that can ultimately push through your aids if it feels the need to do so. A similar thread is somewhere else and I'll say the same here as I did there, too: my job as a trainer is to develop the horse into a better partner (calmer, braver, smarter, more athletic, etc) and to 'balance out' said horse, to develop the horse's mind and cause them to be less reactive or, conversely more sensitive and responsive. To create a horse who is not always gogogo, but one whose only gear is not halt, either. Then it's my job to live up to my end of the bargain and represent a safe/trustworthy/solid/strong leader, same as a herd would for a horse.

ETA: I think by keeping a horse on the aids physically though we can help keep them collected emotionally, because we are offering security and intimate direction. On a loose rein, a horse might feel more on its own and inclined to take over. And congrats on the progress on your mare!! She sounds like a very nice cross, too :D (and sorry this is so long!! haha)

Mar. 14, 2010, 06:28 PM
OTOH, my horse is sometimes more "spooky" when he is really concentrating, tuned to the aids and working well. I think it is like when you are really concentrating on something and there is a sudden loud noise and you jump a mile:winkgrin: Sudden distractions can startle him more than when he is more aware of outside stimuli. It also seems like when I sensitize him to my riding aids he also becomes more reactive in general. Mostly I can keep him on the aids and the reactivity is properly channelled - but not always! That said, it is usually easier to get him back and on the aids once we figure out what it was...

Coppers mom
Mar. 14, 2010, 09:16 PM
I think that if something truly scary happens, the horse is going to spook anyways, no matter how on the aids he is. But little things like flowers and someone coming out of the porto-potty, they should be paying enough attention and in a relaxed enough state of mind that that kind of thing won't distract them.

Mar. 15, 2010, 12:16 AM
In a word, YES! When my OTTB is on the aids and coming over his back to my hand, he is immune to distractions. He is so focused on me it's remarkable. I can also feel little movements that would proceed a spook and stop it before it ever happens. Now when we hack out I generally give him loose reins almost to the buckle and chat away with my friends. He's very calm, but usually has at least one big spook during each hack. If he were on the bit and working over his back he wouldn't do that, but we are out having fun so I don't mind.

There are the odd occasions where he gets totally destracted out on the trails by a dog or something and starts to act silly. I put him on the aids and he walks by like a champ. So I'm a total believer in getting a horse between the circle of aids in times of stress.

Mar. 15, 2010, 12:39 AM
I think that if something truly scary happens, the horse is going to spook anyways, no matter how on the aids he is. But little things like flowers and someone coming out of the porto-potty, they should be paying enough attention and in a relaxed enough state of mind that that kind of thing won't distract them.

I think so too.....and I know my own mare usta be REALLY distractable but seems more and more to be less and less distracted......I'm speculating it is because I am becoming more adept at getting/keeping her properly "on the aids".....I think that at the lower levels (below 2nd) this can be more problematic for many ammies...???.....I have heard some riderS state they are showing at FEI levels and then excuse a poor performance/result as being caused by the horse spooking.......but in reality shouldn't they be noting their own failure to effectively elicit the desired training response of successfully maintaining consistency in keeping their horse on the aids (esp. at this level where one should expect a "higher" level of training?).....????......or am I odd in that I work with trainers who are quick to "own" their responsibility for mistakes/errors/"spooking" of their mounts? ......:confused:

Mar. 15, 2010, 01:01 AM
When my horse is on the bit, focused and doing his job, there is very little that will spook him. I don't think he even notices what is going on around him when he's working. Case in point - I was riding during a lesson, having a great lesson, and at some point the BO's dog came into the arena and laid down next to my trainer at the fence. We rode by for the rest of the lesson, no problem. When we were done, I dropped the reins for him to stretch and poke his nose -- and he had a big spook at the dog!! We could not convince him the dog hadn't moved in at least 15 minutes. It was hilarious! Snorting, head in the air... I just picked up the reins and put on my leg again and he was quite happy to pick up the bit again and go quietly around.

Mar. 15, 2010, 01:03 AM
I think naturalequus hit the nail on the head! I am currently dealing with one that is green and not relaxed enough to *be* on the aids. It is frustrating! From past experience with him I know it's partly because he isn't fully putting his trust in me to direct the ride and save him from the scary stuff. This is really the most difficult part to work on - we had developed a partnership but then he had more than a year off so we are back to square one.

Mar. 15, 2010, 01:16 AM
Well, I think it's true by definition, a spooking horse is (usually ;)) not on the aids. However, my horse with compression issues will be beautifully on my aids, but when I keep him there for just a tad too long, he explodes in a spook. In that moment, of course, he's not on anybody's aids but his own, but I don't think this means that up to that point he wasn't on my aids. With those hot horses it's often a fine line between brilliance and insanity ;)

Mar. 15, 2010, 12:20 PM
I think that if something truly scary happens, the horse is going to spook anyways, no matter how on the aids he is. But little things like flowers and someone coming out of the porto-potty, they should be paying enough attention and in a relaxed enough state of mind that that kind of thing won't distract them.

I agree, nothing can stop a horse from spooking. It is how you ride them through it to get them back.