As the rider of a horse that pulls a lot of spooks, I recommend going by your good instinct for your horse, based on each individual spook situation, and based on the results of your course of action. I think spook-iness or look-iness can be a bit different from horse to horse, and even from one spook to another.
My horse learned to use spooking as an evasion, an unintentional fallout of his early training. He learned to use spooking to avoid maintaining focus, and to re-direct whatever line the rider has him on. Something that started as a natural reaction grew and grew and grew into something else, over the course of years. For that individual horse it is not about what he is spooking at; it is about the spooking itself, and the benefit as he perceived it.
Maybe what is most important about the spookiness is not so much that she does it, but how you react, and any result she might perceive as a reward/benefit, even if unintentional on the part of the rider. Does she stay on task? Or does she get a break and a sympathy pat that she may interpret as a reward? As time goes on is she spooking more or less often?
I don't believe there is one answer for all spooking. I do think that a thinking rider that understands horses is often the best person to know how to handle it. Good instincts as a rider, for each situation, is what I think you should put into action.
My SO's big TWH likes to find things to spook at when he isn't being made to focus and is just kind of mosey-ing along.
You can see the wheels a-turnin' long before the spook happens. That big head and long neck just start swinging back and forth, his ears perk up, and suddenly *POOF* THERE'S A MONSTER.
A couple of weeks ago, we were riding alongside a cornfield and about eight stalks in the outermost row were flattened. . .and he spooked at that.
Corn. Flattened corn stalks.
He has also spooked at ground squirrels, large rocks, tree stumps, and metal gates. As long as you keep him moving forward and don't give him a chance to get "looky," though, he will not spook at anything.
Generally, if it's something inanimate, I will make a horse go up and face his "fear" to check the thing out. If it's something moving, like farm machinery or wildlife or hikers, we will just continue walking with my own body relaxed and some slack in the reins. I may talk to the horse a little and pat him as he relaxes.
Please copy and paste this to your signature if you know someone, or have been affected by someone who needs a smack upside the head. Lets raise awareness.
Ways to tell they are spooking for evading work:
--pinning ears RIGHT before or even during the refusal to go forward or the "spook"
---always "spooking" when heading out;
---always spooking at a crucial point of no return to the barn; when they know for sure you're going on a trailride; often at a trail intersection
I had a balky qh once that started always spooking/bolting when going thru a gate on our way out. He pretended there were birds in the bushes and he'd refuse to go forward.
Would shy in the first field or as we turned away from home. I was totally, utterly convinced he was scared of something or remembered that first spook.....I was being buffaloed. An observer of our experiences made me "get on him" with a crop and after a few "come to Jesus" moments...the behavior ceased. I occasionally had to tap him or say something growly to him to get him by that gate for years. Usually all I had to say was "DON'T even THINK about it!!"
Learning the difference between obstinance and genuine fear is hard. Gotta know your horse. Some are very, very shmart!! His previous owner used to get off him and walk him back to the barn whenever he was "scared" like that !!! He'd learned to get out of it that way. He DID have a "tell" for fake fear.
Ben is usually pretty level-headed...but he pulls a stupid sometimes. If we're in the arena, and something changes, it freaks him out! For example - if we do a round, and then a horse pees, and then we come past the pee puddle - FREAK OUT! That pee puddle wasn't there before! OMG! (It's even worse when it's HIS pee...*facepalm*)
Or the time when we were cooling down after Drill practice...I had my sweatshirt on the front of the saddle. It fell off, so I circled around to pick it up. Ben saw it...and SPOOKED. *headdesk*
Flags, sirens, bicycles, llamas, dogs, cars, ropes, cattle...a MILLION other things that would spook a "normal" horse, Ben has no problem. But God forbid there be a pee puddle in the arena.
Someone once told me that the cowboys' concern on the trail was getting from point A to point B and that they didn't make a big deal out of "scary" stuff because the goal was getting somewhere. I keep that in mind when trail riding and I'll let the horse look for a second or two, but then ask that she move on. A lot of times I will have to redirect her thoughts by moving laterally or doing something thought-intensive for her so she concentrates on something other than the scary thing. Last week we happened upon some Emu's running loose in someone's yard and we did a lovely half pass all the way around the corner because she was not letting those freaky things out of her sight, but she was not gonna stand still and look at them either. That was fine as she settled down as soon as we got a little ways away and the goal of our ride was not to stand and stare at Emu's LOL.
Allah took a handful of southerly wind, blew His breath over it, and created the horse. Thou shall fly without wings, and conquer without any sword, O, Horse! Anonymous Bedouin legend
I do not let them stop and look. If you do, they will always stop. And where there is a stop, there can be a spook, or roll back and RUN.
Move on I say, and that has helped me not to have spooky horses. Knock on wood. I have ridden all arabs forever, but have my first gaited horse now. She is not a spooker, very brave and very curious. A RM.
If the horse's attention is on the rider then the number of Horse Eating Boogers in the world declines sharply.
This. The number of Horse Eating Boogers will also increase proportionately to how worried said rider is about them. If you can act like said "H.E.B.s" don't bother you, they are less likely to bother your mount. Deep breathing and focusing on relaxing are good, despite whatever real or imagined terrors you encounter ...