In order to get to our lesson barn, I have to ride my horse along a suburban road for a short stretch (maybe half a mile, probably less). It's a quiet road and we're usually on it earlier on a Sunday morning, so traffic is generally light, and respectful. We generally ride on the same side either way, which is facing oncoming traffic going to the lesson barn, with traffic going home--we can ride on the other side, but there is a blind curve near the road coming from our home farm, so there is better visibility for drivers if we stay on the one side.
My horse has been good on the road; he's pastured near a road, and I rode him a lot next to the pasture where there's a wide grassy shoulder to get him used to traffic. As I said, most traffic is respectful--pulls over to the other side to give us space, slows down, etc.
Last week, we were riding to the lesson barn and a large moving truck was oncoming. I moved as far over as we could into the shoulder, but this particular truck driver decided to not move over, not slow down, and to speed up instead. Spooked my horse badly; he fortunately didn't lose his head entirely, but jumped into the ditch and was very wound up afterward.
So now, even a slow-moving, polite car oncoming on the other side of the road makes him spook. He's still holding it together, and he's getting better as he has more good experiences again, but I worry about what will happen the next time someone is a jerk...
Does anyone have any ideas for how to get him safer on the road? I guess I can go back to working on the side of the road where there's the big shoulder, but that's the only idea I've come up with so far...
Agreed with clanter that some of it is probably your reaction making your horse nervous. Take a deep breath and chat with him as cars pass... you might find it relaxes both of you!
Going out with another horse/rider pair might be ideal for a little while, until he settles back down. When I was getting my horse used to the road, I found he did best on a relaxed rein (not long, just soft) so he could walk along and look at things, but I wouldn't transmit tension down the rein. If there was a big truck or some sort of excessively loud vehicle approaching, we would halt and let it pass before continuing- I found that stopping the forward motion during spooky moments helped him relax and assess without panicking. We did the same last year when we moved to an area with Amish folks and he had to learn to pass carriages (ohmygodwhatisthatthingchasingthathorse!!!!). He settled in nicely and, worst case, he would stop if he was nervous and stand until the spooky thing had passed. I would much rather a horse stop to spook in a road situation than jump or run; traffic is dangerous and safety should be a priority! If worse comes to worst, is he easier to handle in-hand?
I agree that I'm definitely tense now--I keep picturing the truck coming at us, and I'm actively trying to release the tension and act normally and not be fearful--lots of talking and wither-scratching--but he's sensitive and I'm sure he picks up some anyway. I do need to consciously try keeping him on a looser rein, because I tighten up anticipating needing to turn him or stop him, and that probably increases the nervousness.
Most of his spooks are in place--just the big body-shudder kind--and even his sideways/forward spooks are easy to stop right away, because he always finds his brain again as soon as I react. I just worry about what could happen if he really panicked.
I was thinking about getting off and leading him to the lesson barn, at least--it's a pain, but I do feel safer with him in hand. My biggest fear is that he'll spook backwards and back up/spin into oncoming traffic, so at least being on the ground would keep him better in control for that--I can stop his forward or sideways spooks, but if he goes backwards he can run through my leg. Then I can ride back home, since he's too tuckered out to be worried then anyway, and we're on the side of the road with traffic--which doesn't bother him the way oncoming cars do.
Unfortunately, there isn't really a road-safe horse for us to ride with--we normally trail ride alone. ):
do you have anyone with a truck (although just a car will do) that can help you? drive with you riding and stop to give the horse treats out a window? rev the engine = treats.
my husband just randomly started doing this when we moved the horses home (he would toss apples and pears out the windows) and my horses are more than happy to see vehicles approaching and don't mind getting hit with fruit they catch on really fast.
* trying hard to be the person that my horses think i am
Have you considered "hiring" a jerk for a day? I've heard of a few people who did this with general traffic and one person who did it with a motorcycle because her horse had motorcycle phobia.
Get somebody with big, loud, minimal muffler truck. Start out low key - like the truck idling, you lead up horse to the window, person gives horse a treat. Work up to revving the truck. Horse sometimes - but not every time - gets a treat from it. Eventually get out on the shoulder, you holding horse, as loud truck drives slowly by, then slowly work it up to passing faster, a few revs, etc. Every so many times, truck stops to give horse a treat. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Drive it past him 50 times, getting louder.
The person with the motorcycle phobia horse had her horse from major freakouts to eagerly looking at motorcycles wondering if this was the time the loud, revving thing would stop and treat him in just half a day. He has never spooked at another motorcycle.
After a similar experience, my horse would use any passing traffic (especially from behind) as a cue to shift up a gear. If we were walking, he would startle to a trot. If we were trotting, he would canter. I knew better than to canter
For a year or so, I had to stop him and stand him whenever traffice was coming. Get as far off the road as possible, stop, face the road and wait. This, combined with a lot of hand grazing along the shoulder where I could control him better, has desensitised him pretty well. If there is a praticularly loud one, or a strange rattle or something, we have to go back to stop and stand. I would still hate to meet a truck or motor cycle with no way off the road.
I like the idea of treating him from a car/truck with a revving engine... and hand grazing near the road. Both are great ideas--our home barn is near a busier road than the one I ride on, so I could try that. There's also a FedEx driver next door who parks his truck there, and waves at me if I ride by; Sam's a little spooked of his truck even when it's just sitting, so maybe I can work on leading him over there, hand grazing him, and then asking the driver sometime to start it up and try the treat thing. Thanks!
My first piece of advice BREATHE. I have found by controlling my breathing I am able to calm not only myself, but the horse I am on. I ride a lot of greenies / start babies etc, and I find that they are very intune with my level of relaxation / breathing.
Way back when I took my driver’s license test, the examiner sensed I was very nervous, and taught me “pursed lip breathing” to help me relax. It worked! And I use it often to this day (along with breathing techniques I learned at a Sally Swift clinic).
I would do as others suggested, hand graze near a busy / loud area if possible.
But for me, the breathing makes a hug difference. When I climb onto the back that is wound up and nervous, I SLOW my breathing with long pursed lip exhales, and relax the tension in my core. I think of it as almost being like the long slow exhale, followed by licking and chewing a horse does when it is relaxed (and moving your own jaw around after you exhale, can help make sure you are not tense and clenching!). I find when I do my first big exhale and RELAX right after I get on, the horse will often drop its head and breathe a sigh of relief and relax as well. I talk to them, slowly scratch or pat (no nervous scratching!, long slow) and breathe with big, all body relaxing exhales and a ho hum, nothing is going on here attitude. When the horse feels that I am so relaxed, more often then not, they relax right along with me.