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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May. 15, 2004
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    Default Help in controlling spooks

    Hi

    I have a wonderful 5 year old QH mare that I have owned for almost 2 years. She basically has a great mind and most of her spooks are highly controllable and not huge. But at times, when she is taken off guard (she is a very visual mare), she can quickly spin and run. Usually she doesn't go far before I can bring her right down. But it can be unsettling to me, and once got me off (granted I had her on a loose rein in the indoor and wasn't on MY GUARD).

    I want to start trail riding her and plan on having my trainer take her out first with me on a steady eddy, been there done that horse following or leading in tow. The other day I hand walked her down the road a ways to get her used to it. Cars and trucks going by in either direction didn't phase her. She did take a wide berth around a gentlemen that had an easel set up by the side of the road and was painting our barn fields, but didn't doing anything silly. I made a goal to make it to a local farm and turn back. When we turned back and started walking home, her head jerked up and she spooked forward and spun around when she hit the end of the lead rope. Well, a bicyclist had come behind her (I didn't hear him), so that made sense that she spooked.

    My question is, in time and with experience, can you train a horse to "spook in place" to things that can now send my girl into a spin and run mode? Like I said, she basically has a great mind. At age 4, my previous trainer took her into a Memorial Day parade with balloons, fireworks, crowds, etc. and she was perfect.

    But I also know that she has that quick quarter horse spin and bolt reflex in her (I don't know if has anything to do with her initial training as a reining horse!), and that can put an edge of worry in my middle-aged brain.

    I constantly work to build our relationship of trust both in the saddle and on the ground, and work with a great trainer, who also rides my horse and gives her confidence.

    I was just wondering if anyone has any tips or advice or stories to tell to help me help her in controlling those occasional big spin and run reactions. Thanks!



  2. #2
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    Jul. 2, 2005
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    Default check out this thread

    ********
    There is no snooze button on a cat that wants breakfast.



  3. #3
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    May. 15, 2004
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    Default

    Thanks for the links, Bank of Dad. Boy, you had a very scary experience. I'm glad you are all right. I plan on using the tips and approaches I read about. Thanks again!



  4. #4
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    Glad it helped. He's come a long way from that day, but we still have lots to work on. Now he has his own train bells and whistles CD to listen to on the boom box cause he dumped me when the train came suddenly up on us in the park. He tried to hold it together, but eventually just lost it. He didn't take off however.
    ********
    There is no snooze button on a cat that wants breakfast.



  5. #5
    Join Date
    May. 25, 2003
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    Orlean, Virginia
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    Talking JMHO!

    Aaaahhhh yeeeessss! That famous Qh spin & bolt! Ain't it grand!!?
    Been there, done that, felt it!!
    She's still young & inexperienced and I think you'll find they will decrease gradually in frequency and severity over time & miles. It's an instinct and can't be abolished only "compensated for" and dealt with. I'm ok with any legitimate spook as it's a protective mechanism; I just don't want a big deal out of it. From a 180 degree turn to a 90 degree to a 45 degree hop sideways is big progress for example. From 5 gallop steps to one step sideways is progress! From grabbing & mouth numb to responding to the bit is progress. A freeze response is super!! I think lots of reassurance IF they're scared. Distraction works; but prevention is better. Anticipate, plan, compromise, make noise in the woods to scare away game for example. Sing, talk to your horse = the deep breathing is good at keeping YOU calm too!!!

    For me, the hardest part about sitting out a spook/spin/bolt is when I'm caught off balance. Qh's first drop their heads to spin and I get thrown forward then when they run off I get thrown back so.......the problem is mine to solve!! Sit back, sit balanced when in a potential spook zone! Or you feel them stiffening up. Watch how reiners & cutters sit their horses. That's the trick. Takes practice & relaxation in the face of fear. And turning the horse once he gets going into an ever shrinking circle will help prevent a runaway.

    Tack choices help too. Bit up for a trailride. Use a martingale maybe. I have one saddle that sits me too forward to ride spooks well so I ride my qh built horse with the other one.

    And how do you tell if it's a legitimate spook or a play/purposeful one? Sometimes it's the spook object that tells you. And thier ears sometimes pin right before a naughty spook or purposeful (to dump you kind)spook. I had a horse that always squealed when he was playing spooky horse. He'd spook at the dog he'd been living with for 10 yrs. Squeal/buck & spook? Just feelin' good!!!!

    Remember, most of the time, they aren't being bad; they're just being a horse!!



  6. #6
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    Jul. 2, 2005
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    Default

    I also have bells on my saddle when I'm alone to warn deer or other critters, and so he's used to noises.
    ********
    There is no snooze button on a cat that wants breakfast.



  7. #7
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    Oct. 14, 2004
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    Connecticut
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    Thumbs up

    I know that people are probably sick of hearing my usual response, but here it goes....

    My mare is not a bolter, but will sometimes spook at stupid things we've gone by many times or just feeling her oats and tries to rush through our trail rides.

    Does you horse know how to side pass? That is my trick for getting them out of bad habits very quickly. I read this in a trail riding book.

    Every time my mare acts goofy on the trail or tries to speed up, I immediately side pass her about 10 steps or so. I do it gently, but firmly to make my point. Praise her and tell her "walk."
    Even if the trail is narrow it can still be done.

    Believe me, it took us only a few times out, if even that, before she figured out it was more work to constantly side pass and less work if she behaved.

    Oh and consistency IS KEY!



  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr. 28, 2004
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    Default

    You're topic caught my eye and I thought I'd add in my 2 cents.
    First we'll start wiht my 11y/o QH that I got when he was 2. He was a great bolter when he spooked - would much rather run first and ask questions later. I actually ended up going to a littler stronger bit, that I could be soft when I could but gave me good brakes when I needed them. I would try to go out with a horse that would give him confidence and make sure they wouldn't mind if we accidently ended up their butt during a spook. The more I took him out were he felt safe, the less I saw him spook. I was able to ride him by running deer, next to woods with hunters actually firing ( obviously away from us - a little of a coordinated action), etc.
    My 5 y/o Mustang that I just got this year is a very audible guy - has that wild defense side to him. So his ears are always on alert. The more I took him out and let him realize that I would protect him, the better he has gotten. So from this winter were he would gallop madly across the indoor ring when he heard a "strange" noise to today when we were XC schooling and a flock of birds landed in the trees/ bushes we were passing and he just took a small jump to the side.
    Key to both of my boys has been that I needed to be in control and let them feel like I would protect them no matter what. With both of them if I talk to them and tell them it's ok I can get them by just about anything - lots of secure leg and seat letting them know they are ok, and making sure I sit back just in case.
    Good luck - been there , done that so often and keep wondering why I like to get young horses!



  9. #9
    Join Date
    May. 15, 2004
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    Default Thanks

    Thanks for all the great responses. Bank of Dad, I'm glad your horse is getting better, and sounds like you are doing the right things to get him there--getting him used to trains is a great idea! They can be very spooky and used to set my previous horse off on the trails. And bells too--keep the spooky deer and wild turkeys away!

    Waterglen--so you do understand about the athleticism of a QH!! I love my QH mare, and love the fact that (so far), she doesn't have a buck in her, which my previous horse had (and was the reason I ended up selling him). The very rare times my girl does the spin and run thing, she is legitimately scared (usually startled by something), and I can always bring her down in a few strides. She doesn't lose her mind and run out of control. I think she really does try and want to believe that the rider knows best, so the more I work on her confidence in me and MY confidence in Me, the better she will get. I do the singing thing alot!!!! Right now she is in a Happy Mouth french link, and she will stop with that. The cowboys that trained her before I got her put a big WOAH on her (gotta love that QH whoa too!!). I ride English, so don't have a nice deep Western saddle to trail ride in.

    Huntertwo--yes, my girl knows how to sidepass--she is very responsive to the lateral aides, and I think that is a great idea to use in scary situations. Even in the ring, when I sense I am losing her attention to something outside in the woods, I do some lateral work and it brings her back to me. I bought that "Bombproof Your Horse" book a few years ago, and the auther mentioned moving their hindquarters when you feel that they are about to spook. I try to keep that in mind.

    ANd Pooh, yes, the biggest thing I am working on now is building my horse's trust in me--it has been a long road, because I am a middle-aged woman with fear issues (some bad falls in the past, and just a big appreciation of my mortality!), and I bought a 3-year old! But I must explain that I searched for the been there, done that safe horse for almost a year before I bought her, and tried many horses of all ages, and she was by far the best. That said, there have been many times over the past (almost two years) that I have thought I should sell her because I am not the right rider for her (mainly because of her young age), but she constantly proves me wrong. I have known many horses that are more than twice her age that don't have her great brain. I know she will only get better with time and experience. And I am at a great barn right now with a wonderful trainer who is helping us become a better team.

    A lot of the problem is I think I psych myself out, and think too much about the possibility of a big spook. Yesterday after some light ring work, my trainer (who was on another horse) asked if I and some of the other riders in the ring wanted to walk around the big open field behind the barn. I gulped and said OK. My mare's head was up and looking around, which made me nervous and I had a rather tight hold on the reins. Then my trainer suggested I loosen up to the buckle (and showed my how to quickly get my reins short again). As soon as I did that, my girl relaxed more, and I breathed more deeply! I can't say my heart didn't remain in my throat the whole trip (what if she bolts back to the barn?), but I tried to distract myself by chatting with my fellow riders, and the next thing I know, my girl is grabbing for grass (not too nervous I guess!).

    Anyway, sorry this is so long. Thanks again for all your suggestions and support. And Bank of Dad, keep me updated on your progress as well!



  10. #10
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    Jul. 2, 2005
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    Default

    I am a middle aged and up rider too. My riding had been on and off last year until June. I know fear too. I know my seat and balance are better now than when he had that first awful bolt last spring. He had a similar one a few weeks ago when we climbed the "scarey hill with barking dogs at the top and all kinds of garbage" and on our way up a hugh deer jumped across the trail right in front of him. He instantly whirled, took off down the steep hill FAST. I grabbed that mane, made sure my heels were down and straight, legs tight, and knew I could stop him as he went back up the other side of the hill. So on the uphill, I slowed with one rein, not really turning him until he had really slowed down, dissed the hips a few times, then let him rest until his adrenaline and mine calmed down. Then we went back up the scarey hill like nothing happened. Lots of progress.

    Although others may disagree, at times I get off early to get him past something he starts to react to. It depends on the trail conditions, if I am near a ledge or dropoff, road, etc. So I had been leading him across the road where the dump trucks roar by (at the end of my calm dead end street where they are now enlargeing county facilities, just my luck), and on the trail was a plastic milk crate, which he didn't like. So I picked it up, rubbed it all over him, he paid no attention, then spooked at it on the way home. Then he spooked at sunlight on a tree, on a steep hill, I got off, worked him around it, he was fine, I got back on. Then coming home, hunters in full hunt regalia, looking like walking trees. If they were just people walking, I would have made him walk or stand, or diss the hips, but as soon as I saw them, his ears perked way up, I got off, they stopped, I convinced him to walk to them, they waved and we all talked awhile, and he acted like it was nothing. They did look like walking trees. In the middle of the day in 80 degree weather. What were they thinking.
    ********
    There is no snooze button on a cat that wants breakfast.



  11. #11
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    May. 15, 2004
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    Wow, Bank of Dad, you are brave!! And sounds like you are a very strong rider as well. I don't know if I could stay on my horse running downhill. I loved your story about the walking trees! It's still amazing to me what will and won't scare horses at different times. Oh, to be able to think like a horse!

    I think you are right about getting off sometimes. I would do the same. I've done a lot of handwalking with my mare, and use that to get her to trust me more. I think you are doing all the right things!



  12. #12
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    Apr. 17, 2002
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    Default

    Phinn I would keep an ear out for mounted patrol type clinics in your area. You can come a very long way with spooky horses in a controlled environment like that. You'll have eyes on the ground to tell you to stop sucking that seat up with your butt cheeks so you can relax your muscles and just sit softer/heavier/deeper.

    I don't have any fear issues myself so MY exercises won't suit you- they'd be go ride the horse all over everywhere and just ride through it...see, not much help, eh??? LOL...you need an instructor, your trainer, someone who IS chilled out alongside you...to be there to help coach you through some boogers so you can see the other side of the experience first hand, riding through a big spook where your first thought is support the horse, help them ease up...because your body is relaxed and attuned via TRAINING of you...get you trained, the horse will follow suit.

    Riders who worry about spooks are attuned to their horses, but with the wrong energy...they tend to study the horse's head and posture too much...rather than sitting chill, poised and relaxed, looking out on the world with soft eyes, breathing deep and easy, amused and happy. The latter is a spook eraser, the former...a spook maker.

    Best wishes, I love trail riding and want you to get to love it TOO!



  13. #13
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    Aug. 6, 2003
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    Lapeer, MI, USA
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    Default

    Riders who worry about spooks are attuned to their horses, but with the wrong energy...they tend to study the horse's head and posture too much...rather than sitting chill, poised and relaxed, looking out on the world with soft eyes, breathing deep and easy, amused and happy. The latter is a spook eraser, the former...a spook maker.
    I agree. When your horse reacted to the bicycle that you didn't hear, that degraded its confidence in YOU. YOU have to build the horse's confidence so that they take their cues from you and are willing to listen and react to what you tell them. You have to be the leader.

    Steady Eddy horses leading the way are the leader. The timid horse gets their confidence from that horse. When that horse is not around, your horse will look to you - or it will take the role - in that case, it's gonna go first, check later.

    Learn to deepen your voice (no shrill replies please) and talk to your horse. You need to tune in to possible spook things and reassure your horse with a calm demeanor and words before hand.

    I had a crazy one... at the trails area and some huge diesel utility truck was idling in the parking area. Not sure why he was there... eating his lunch, I don't know. But I tried to make a wide berth as my horse was the SteadyEddy leading another ... I KNEW there was the possibility of something happening because a HUGE diesel utility truck (think big boom - electric repair truck) is not something the horses are typically around... sure as sh&& - the dang air tank expressed itself - psssst... and my horse "spooked"... just a teeny, weeny, tiny little step - but it was enough to make me yell at the driver to shut his rig down. He apologized.

    Because I was relaxed BUT prepared ... it helped confine what my horse did and THAT confined what the other horse did.



  14. #14
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    May. 15, 2004
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    I agree that sometimes I can make it worse by anticipating a spook, but what about the times when I truly am relaxed, and chilling and feeling connected to my horse, and she spooks out of the blue? It has happened to me with my horse, and not just with me, but even with my trainer and other more confident riders than myself. I suppose you can theorize that she was giving me signals I was ignoriing, but I also believe that sometimes horses will always be horses :-). Again, thanks for the great advice!



  15. #15
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    Well, they ARE horses and as a result, prey animals.

    The core of my suggestion was this: Intentionally spook her in a controlled setting so she learns to look to you for help. With the right set up, another person on a steady horse can drag a scary noisy tarp/sack of cans, etc while your mare chases it...at a scared walk ....or ride past noisy wiggly things.

    You asked we answered. The key is becoming their trusted leader. I think actual applied work towards that end, makes sense.



  16. #16
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    Oct. 14, 2004
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    Quote:
    Huntertwo--yes, my girl knows how to sidepass--she is very responsive to the lateral aides, and I think that is a great idea to use in scary situations. Even in the ring, when I sense I am losing her attention to something outside in the woods, I do some lateral work and it brings her back to me. I bought that "Bombproof Your Horse" book a few years ago, and the auther mentioned moving their hindquarters when you feel that they are about to spook. I try to keep that in mind.
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------
    Phinneas,
    I mostly use this approach after the spook. Although it is effective when you feel one coming on.

    When my mare acts goofy around things that she has seen hundreds of times, that is when I make her side pass (maybe 10 steps or so).
    Or when she is in a hurry going back to the barn.

    She finally realizes that it is more work to side pass than it is to spook.



  17. #17
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    Jul. 2, 2005
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    Since I can't ride for a few days due to a cortisone shot in the hip, I decided to use this time to do ground work with his Nibs. Yesterday was ground driving next to his boom box with train noise cd's. No reaction. Today I upped the amps. Pool noodles tied together hanging over the entrance to the roundpen. He thought they were cute, didn't care if I banged him with them, walked right thru them. Drat. Now if they were laying on the trail.....
    tomarrow the boom box goes on the trail while we go out for a walk. I am running out of ideas.
    ********
    There is no snooze button on a cat that wants breakfast.



  18. #18
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    Oct. 14, 2004
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    Connecticut
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Bank of Dad View Post
    Since I can't ride for a few days due to a cortisone shot in the hip, I decided to use this time to do ground work with his Nibs. Yesterday was ground driving next to his boom box with train noise cd's. No reaction. Today I upped the amps. Pool noodles tied together hanging over the entrance to the roundpen. He thought they were cute, didn't care if I banged him with them, walked right thru them. Drat. Now if they were laying on the trail.....
    tomarrow the boom box goes on the trail while we go out for a walk. I am running out of ideas.
    Of course they don't spook at the barn, didn't you know that?

    Its more fun for them to spook on the trails and watch you tumble on to a bunch of rocks or into clump of bushes. And if they want some real fun, make you walk 5 miles back to the barn.



  19. #19
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    Aug. 6, 2003
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    That saying "What happens at the barn, stays at the barn" is what applies to your horse, Bankof Dad...

    I've got my horses all used to SO many things - but it's all in the comfort of their barn, pasture, yards. So... I have to haul all those tricks to a different place (luckily - we've got a few trail areas with arenas at the trail head for working horses beforehand). You might have a friend who's place you can go to and repeat all homework.

    Phinneas... when you are relaxed, that's transfers to the horse and makes the horse believe it has to be in charge again, because you aren't paying full attention. When your horse is relaxed (ears floppy, head down), that's when they will spook the worst as they are not prepared.

    I agree about chasing things. It's what is recommended for horses afraid of cars, bikes, dogs, etc. This goes back to herd dynamics. The horse at the back is NOT the follower - it is the PUSHER. Horses push things away from them when possible. Otherwise they run.

    Some fun things... string together some milk jugs with rocks in them. If your horse respects your space, you can lead your horse (with chain over nose or the extra-knot rope halters) with one arm and drag the "stuff" with the other - walk backwards. So that the horse is following the "stuff". Drag a small tarp. drag a branch. When you get to higher levels of trust and confidence, you can play soccer with your horse in a round pen. Horse in halter, no lead. "dribble" the soccer ball away from the horse and as the horse accepts it, go closer and closer until you can dribble/kick the ball and hit all 4 legs and the horse noses the ball without fear. This gets the horse over things moving at it from the ground (like blowing leaves, branches touching its legs, vines, running dogs, chipmunks, squirrels, etc.) When you can, mount up and have someone else dribble the ball.

    Anther thing I've done with 4H kids is to hang things on gates. Flapping tarps, helium balloons, stuff animals, etc. Hand walk the horse by them, against them, through the gates the items are hanging from. Then, drag the items and have the horse follow them, etc. etc. then mount up and start all over again.

    Your horse will always react to sudden sunlight or movement in the woods when trail riding. As you know, controlling the spook is the key and to do that, you need to build your horse's confidence in itself and in you!!
    Since you asked the question, I know you will conquer this!!

    Have fun and keep your heels down!



  20. #20
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    May. 15, 2004
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    Katarine

    I do think your suggestions are excellent and will look into mounted police clinics in my area. I know I exacerbate the situation with my nerves, and being the sensitive horse that she is, she picks up on them. I truly do want to help her reduce the quality and quantity of her spooks, and I agree that a structured situation is a great place to start. Bank of Dad is doing great things with her horse, and it gives me some ideas! Maybe I need a de-spooking clinic for MYSELF :-). I would love to be able to turn us into fabulous trail riding buddies--and I know it is ME that is holding that back.



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