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  1. #1
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    Default Mentally "recovering" from a spook; One-horse pressure?

    After writing this post, I realized I had 2 questions and thoughts that I think are related, and wonder if anyone has had the same issues:

    How do you mentally recover from a spook to foster and salvage a good ride, and secondly, how do you mentally prepare for one ride without putting pressure on you or the horse?

    Background: When my mare spooks (and its one of those "jump" then mini bolt/shuffle to the side), it really causes the rest of my ride to deteriorate; in both a training and enjoyment aspect.

    My mare is 5, and she's only been back in training for 3 months after being out since last July. She has a super work ethic, and always comes ready to learn. She has always been a bit looky and curious, and even now, its not a "dirty" spook, but for some reason, I become unraveled.

    I've had my girl since she was a yearling, and its been exciting to watch her come along. However, she is my only ride now, and I might be putting pressure on her to "perform" on every ride. I suppose I am officially an adult "re-rider", as I haven't had as much saddle time in the past 5 years as I had in the previous years before. When I used to ride several horses a day, I didn't put so much stock into one "bad" ride, but now, its hard not to put pressure on the horse and this one ride.

    Thoughts and wisdom much appreciated!



  2. #2
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    Well first of all I think there is no right answer! We are in a very similar situation:
    Did the circut as a junior, sold my horse and went to college. Spent the past 5 years catch riding and finall bought a green broke 4yo. While I was catch riding I was riding around 3 horses a day and showing in the 3' hunter/eq divisions. Now I am back to cross rails It is a big change in perspective to define what is a "good ride," and that is my challenge to you.

    With the young ones somtimes it is one step forward and two steps back. Case in point Tuesday I was able to do some challenging jumping exercises, had an amazing hack, but yesterday my boy must have been tired because we were back to having a tough hack. A lot of it for them at that age is more mental that physical. So sometimes we need to know as humans that what they do well one day might not happen tomorrow and maybe to scale it back or try something different. Maybe a really nice circle will be what we do that day. Or maybe your horse was just really good in the wash stall and wasn't before.

    So what I am getting at I suppose is not to be too strict in your mind in what goal you are setting that day that will make your ride "good." Come in with some ideas and change them if you are having trouble. Be a "big picture" rider and look for overall improvements, don't expect the same thing every day, and appreciate the little wins!


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  3. #3
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    I try to do three things for every ride:

    1) Go in having a plan of the goal I want to accomplish and visualize it. That may be "keep her straight and forward where she likes to comes off the rail at least three times in a row" or "stand quietly without getting impatient for two minutes" - something very specific that we have been working on. I visualize what achieving the goal looks like to get in a positive state of mind - if I imagine a perfect trot/halt transition and what it looks and feels like before I ask for it, it helps. It puts me in a state of mind of "I am going to ask for this correctly and my horse is going to do it beautifully" instead of "I hope she doesn't stumble through the transition and not stop square like she did last time".

    2) Adapt to whatever is going on that day. Two days ago we had really high winds. My goal changed from trot work outside to not wheeling around and getting silly when we turned into the wind. Once that was achieved, we went inside and worked on leg yielding.

    3) Remember that tomorrow is another day and another ride. Not every day is going to be your best ride ever, but as long as there are *some* good pieces and you end on a good note, it is not the end of the world.

    The other thing I do, and I think it's more for me than the horse, is when she gets looky/startled I will say things like "That is the hot walker, you have seen it at least a hundred times, it's nothing new" or "Those are the same jump standards that have been there for the last five weeks, nothing new to see" or "I know we haven't been down this trail before, but it's just like all the others except we'll walk by a pond". She is normally a very curious horse - if she were a person she would be an investigator, or possibly the office gossip queen - but when she is "up" that curiosity combines with energy and we get the little startles/spooks.

    I think most riders do #1, but #2 and #3 are what really help me when the ride doesn't go to plan.

    Hang in there.


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  4. #4
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    Nov. 20, 2008
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by TrakHack View Post
    I try to do three things for every ride:

    1) Go in having a plan of the goal I want to accomplish and visualize it. That may be "keep her straight and forward where she likes to comes off the rail at least three times in a row" or "stand quietly without getting impatient for two minutes" - something very specific that we have been working on. I visualize what achieving the goal looks like to get in a positive state of mind - if I imagine a perfect trot/halt transition and what it looks and feels like before I ask for it, it helps. It puts me in a state of mind of "I am going to ask for this correctly and my horse is going to do it beautifully" instead of "I hope she doesn't stumble through the transition and not stop square like she did last time".

    2) Adapt to whatever is going on that day. Two days ago we had really high winds. My goal changed from trot work outside to not wheeling around and getting silly when we turned into the wind. Once that was achieved, we went inside and worked on leg yielding.

    3) Remember that tomorrow is another day and another ride. Not every day is going to be your best ride ever, but as long as there are *some* good pieces and you end on a good note, it is not the end of the world.

    The other thing I do, and I think it's more for me than the horse, is when she gets looky/startled I will say things like "That is the hot walker, you have seen it at least a hundred times, it's nothing new" or "Those are the same jump standards that have been there for the last five weeks, nothing new to see" or "I know we haven't been down this trail before, but it's just like all the others except we'll walk by a pond". She is normally a very curious horse - if she were a person she would be an investigator, or possibly the office gossip queen - but when she is "up" that curiosity combines with energy and we get the little startles/spooks.

    I think most riders do #1, but #2 and #3 are what really help me when the ride doesn't go to plan.

    Hang in there.
    ^^^Excellent advice!


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  5. #5

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    Yeah, when my horse spooks (though it's never particularly explosive, I admit, maybe a quick hop to the side), I usually laugh at him and say, "it's just the mailbox/hot walker/a squirrel, you silly horse" and then we carry on.

    I think the laughing helps, even if you're faking it, because a lot of times your body doesn't know you're faking it so it provides a relaxation response anyway, which helps keep you from tensing up and feeding into each other's nerves.

    And if you feel like you can't keep working hard on stuff after that because you're worried about making things worse, I'd just fall back on having the horse do something you know they can do well. Nice straight backup...a turn on the forehand...nice forward trot down the rail and then a transition down to halt. Whatever

    Then you can walk out and end the ride on a good note and come back to it later if need be.

    At least that's what I do when I feel myself starting to get "un-zen" for whatever reason on a ride.
    The Trials and Jubilations of a Twenty-Something Re-rider
    Happy owner of Kieran the mostly-white-very-large-not-pony.


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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by pinkeqs View Post
    When I used to ride several horses a day, I didn't put so much stock into one "bad" ride, but now, its hard not to put pressure on the horse and this one ride.
    I think you are spot on here. When you are riding multiple horses a day, it is much easier to move past a bad ride on one (or more) of them because you are on to the next one and don't have time to dwell on the bad. I think it is MUCH healthier to move on and not dwell on a bad ride, but I do it all the time too (like you, I used to ride multiple horses a day at earlier points in my life, but now just ride my one horse).

    The really great riders I have known really live in the moment. They really don't dwell on the bad. They move on quickly and expect a good ride the next time. If the ride isn't good the next time, they deal with it in the moment and then move on to the next moment. Which, really, if you think about it, is exactly how horses operate and think. They are very moment-to-moment creatures. They don't go back to their stalls and think, "Well, I was really spooky today during my ride. I should consider what I will do tomorrow." They go back to their stalls and think, "Look, there is food here."


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  7. #7
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    Dec. 1, 2011
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    Default

    @Tua: Love your analogy "big picture rider"! That really resonates with me. I suppose you're right-I need to define "good" ride. I think a good ride is ending with a soft, supple horse and perhaps accomplishing that "one" goal for the day. But you're right, it sounds like perhaps modifying the goal based on the day might be necessary. I would love to take my girl out on a hack, but this mental block I have of "what if she spooks" prohibits me from going too far from the barn.

    I did fall off of her last spring from a spook, bolt, buck. We were cooling out, and I took her out of the ring, and failed to check my girth. Too loose, totally amateur mistake. I probably would've stayed on had my girth been tight, but I think she bucked because she felt the saddle slip, and off I came. I continued to ride all last summer before she went back out for the winter, but mentally, it just wasn't mentally the same for me. My mindset towards her spooks are better, but I'm just not as confident as I used to be-spooks really were something to laugh at (perhaps again attributed to riding several horses a day).


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  8. #8
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    Default

    @ TrakHack: Your horse sounds similar to mine… She has always been very curious and looky. I need to start laughing off these spooks instead of holding it against her and myself. But, the mind is a funny thing…and sometimes I just can't let it go, and I'm always on the look out for the next spook. Sometimes I think I might be spooking more than her!

    There are always good days…amazing days! But when the highs are so high, the not so highs feel like deep pits. That is where my one ride expectations and pressure come into play, and then turn into disappointments. I need to remember that this is a hobby and passion, and not so much a "business" or professional's barn, which is what I've been used to for much of my adult life with horses.



  9. #9
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    @ FineAlready: I love that: "Look, there's food in here". Maybe I need to have some chocolate (or wine) waiting in my "feed bucket" after a less than good ride!

    How have you learned how to "live in the moment" for your rides? Your situation sounds very similar to mine: going from multiple rides a day, to just one. Any suggestions for how to get over the mental block of "what if she spooks"?



  10. #10
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    One of the best pieces of advice I received is plan your ride, but ride the horse under you!

    I am one of the most timid riders out there and what I do to recover from a spook or "scarey" moment is the following:

    1. Go back and end the ride on an activity that is constructive but something I KNOW we can do. Maybe trotting over a pole, or sitting trot, etc. Heck, I've even spent time just standing in the middle of the ring for 5 minutes after my horse has come unglued to show both of us that the world is not going to end. Most recently, after coming off, I got back on and did a canter both directions. In any case, I end the ride so we both leave on a good feeling.

    2. Next time we do the activity that caused the spook (i.e. trail ride or hack in the field), I do the activity in steps. For example, I go for a really short ride outside of the ring instead of a full trail ride - maybe only 50 to 100 feet. Gradually, I increase this until I'm confident in the outcome.

    The key to all of this is to build up enough good moments for both of you that the bad moment becomes meaningless. This has been my method and has worked really well.
    ~ Because sometimes you need a rainbow, butterfly, unicorn kitten.


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  11. #11
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    Oct. 7, 2010
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    I am an adult re-rider with one horse, so I can definitely identify with you. I think one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is give up on long-term expectations (or defined milestones) and make your expectations more fluid. Take an "enjoy the journey"-type attitude.

    I got my current horse three years ago as a coming 5 year old. I had a path set out for him and, well, s**t happened and we are about two years behind that path. We have had a lot of deviations from the path during which I learned to celebrate small accomplishments and grow from a horsemanship perspective. While I can no longer say he is green, we are still working on fine tuning our skills. That's ok. I am enjoying every minute of it. The setbacks we have had have forced us to strengthen our foundations and build a pretty strong partnership.

    When I have a bad ride (or 2 or 10 ...), I have also tried to become more analytical and determine why it wasn't such a good ride. Is it just because we are having a bad day or is there something at the root of it? Sometimes it has been a pain issue and other times, I have had to figure out ways to fix whatever it was that made the ride not so good. Did I push to fast for something he wasn't ready for, did I not push enough, is there an exercise that will help fix it? The more engaged I am in fixing whatever it is that made the ride not good, the less likely I am to dwell on it. The other thing I do to stay positive is to track progress (at least mentally). Even if it was a bad ride, I say to myself, yes, but we weren't able to do X, Y, and/or Z last week, last month, or last year.

    As for the spook ... the best thing that worked for me was learning to laugh it off. My horse had a nice spin, so I rode defensively. As a re-rider, I wasn't in the best shape and I was trying not to fall off (which I did do, the first day I rode him ). There was one spook, quite a few months after I got him, where I didn't grip and just relaxed into his back and did not become unseated. I don't know who that event had a better effect on. For me, I realized I could be relaxed and not fall off. For him, he realized that I was not fazed by his his spook and whatever cause him to spook. After that, he stopped spinning and I started laughing at things that would startle him and it just helped diffuse both of us. Now he can work through *most* scary situations with minimal spooking, if at all.

    ETA: Last night I rode him bareback in a halter and lead ropes in the field along the road when a motorcycle came up behind us. He jumped to the side, cantered a few steps, and shook his head. Even though I knew the motorcycle was coming up before he did, I just sat a bit more around him so my center of gravity was a bit lower, but I stayed relaxed and did not grip with my lower leg. As he spooked I grabbed a little mane and just adjusted my weight to stay with him. It was a non-event because I was relaxed and laughed it off.
    Last edited by salymandar; May. 16, 2013 at 12:07 PM.



  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by pinkeqs View Post
    @ FineAlready: I love that: "Look, there's food in here". Maybe I need to have some chocolate (or wine) waiting in my "feed bucket" after a less than good ride!

    How have you learned how to "live in the moment" for your rides? Your situation sounds very similar to mine: going from multiple rides a day, to just one. Any suggestions for how to get over the mental block of "what if she spooks"?
    Sadly, I don't have any great suggestions for this. I almost got bucked off yesterday and have not stopped thinking about it (ahem, obsessing over it).

    I guess what I *try* to do is think about how some really good pros or talented amateurs I know would react to the same situation. Then I try to do what they do and think the way they think. A very talented friend of mine was breaking a bunch of babies a few years ago, and one of them bucked her off. She told me about it and mentioned that her helmet had fallen off when she did. Her comment was, "Yeah, so and so bucked me off this morning and my helmet actually fell off. I should probably get a new one." Then she laughed and walked out to the arena with her horse and proceeded to jump around a 4 ft course. Later, she asked me if I was available to stand behind one of the babies she was breaking with a dressage whip because it wasn't getting the concept of "forward." From what I could tell, she completely emptied her head of thoughts about getting bucked off earlier that day and just moved on. Like a horse would do!

    I basically *try* (mostly unsuccessfully) to empty my head of thoughts about my last ride until it is time to ride again, and then I just try to start the next ride in a matter of fact way. I do plan and try to make good decisions, but I also try to live more "in the moment" the way a horse would do.

    If a boss mare chases a horse off of a pile of hay, she chases it off and expects that it won't return unless she allows it. If it returns, she chases it off again (perhaps more aggressively) and goes back to what she was doing. She doesn't just stand by the pile of hay and worry "What if this horse comes back over here? What will I do?" She just chases it off, means it, and means it EVEN MORE if the horse comes back.

    Sorry for rambling. I guess what it comes down to is that I try to empty my head and think more like a horse...which is kind of what I think some of the best riders do.



  13. #13
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    Yes, envisioning a pro and how they handle the spook/silliness is a good idea (which is basically ignoring it). Also, salymander, your insight is helpful too...perhaps I just need to relax in the spook, become "one" with the spook . I do try to always end on a good note, or finding something she's good at to end our ride on a positive note. Sammicat, I like your idea of "baby steps" too. I miss hacking out and riding out of the ring. You all have been a wealth of information and support so far, I hope this is helpful to others too!



  14. #14
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    I find it also can depend on the circumstances around the spook. I tend to just ride through them as if nothing happened, but occasionally for some of the bigger ones my sense of self preservation kicks in.

    For example last summer I was riding alone in an outdoor ring and seemingly out of nowhere some animal making insane sounds I'd never heard before (it sounded like someone murdering a donkey?!? but there are no donkeys at this barn) streaked at full speed through the parking lot next to the ring. My horse spooked and bolted and was scared silly, but so was I! I had no idea what that thing was and wasn't sure if it had been coming for us! Eventually when the dust settled I realized it was a dog, no idea why it sounded the way it did. My horse was snorting and just really up and I just got off because we were both so shaken I didn't trust myself to keep going.

    Then the other day, again riding alone on a fresh mare in heat in an outdoor ring next to a pasture with a high strung TB gelding. She spooked and took off on me. I stopped her and noticed that gelding was running around his field too. I tried to get her back to work, but she wasn't getting over it and kept looking for something. So I walked her over to the indoor and had a great schooling session without the distractions.

    There was a time when I was younger and more fearless I would have stubbornly just continued to work the horse through anything. But now I don't feel bad about putting my safety first when I am riding alone. So I guess it's about realizing what your comfort limit is, and being ok with it.



  15. #15
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    As for the mentally recovering from a spook, I think it's best to take a quick walk break, regroup, and then start over, though possibly with something easier. I know for my boy, he is one of those who will spook (usually at stupid stuff, like someone opening a car door 30 feet from the arena= last night's ride) and then is over it in 20 sec-- I usually even have my best rides after one of those spooks-out-of-nowhere! But I know how it is, one minute you're just trotting along, and the next you feel them scoot or jump and go hurtling forward. I've had several where I can feel myself shaking after. For me, the best thing is to just laugh it off, walk for a minute, realize that I did stay on and will be able to stay on if he does it again, and then go back to work, making sure he is really paying attention to me and not the monster outside the arena.

    And as for mentally preparing for a ride, I usually take something from my last lesson that we worked on (I am focusing on dressage at the moment, so w/ my greenie, it's all about being soft, on the bit, and working over his back) and working towards that. Though many times, I try to start w/ something he loves first. For example, after warming up, I usually start w/ trotting and cantering over poles and flower boxes--he loves this and it usually helps him to relax and get ready to work. Then I work on my main goal for the ride-- though if I am having trouble, I just go back to something he is good at and call it a day on a good note...
    Hope all that rambling is helpful



  16. #16
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    You've gotten some great replies!

    Wise horseman saying: "Keep a leg on each side and your mind in the middle".

    I am an adult re rider too, and used to get mentally derailed by spooking. I've come a long way in last year and will share a few insights that worked for me:

    1) Keeping your horse engaged and on the aids and on a bit of contact can often prevent a spook or at keeps it more contained and manageable.

    2) What turned it around for me was changing my attitude. This may sound weird, but look up on the internet and watch cutting horse videos. Those horses are "spooking" all the time, (as they spin and duck and skitter sideways with the cattle). That is their job! The riders of course just sit there and go with it the motion, ( they hold the horn, but still)

    Anyway, instead of thinking of a spook as some dreaded thing, I started to decide to see them as a part of my horse's talent, and pretended I was riding a cutting horse when he did them! I swear he felt my more relaxed attitude as now spooks much less and when he does it is actually a bit of fun!

    The best thing we can do immediately after a spook is let it go, pat our horse and move back immediately to some kind of work or direction to move off in.


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  18. #18
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    When a horse I am riding spooks I laugh and carry on with my ride.

    If the horse is just being a tool I will address the situation in a way I see fit.



  19. #19
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    I don't have much to add, as I'm going through the same thing with myself and my horse (a new 5 year old who is still maturing mentally and physically). When I got him he was very quiet but inquisitive and now that we're asking him to come along and he's coming out of his shell more, I'm learning more about him. Since then he's spooked at a garbage bag, at a horse coming up behind him, and at a horse in the distance going from a canter to a walk. Usually it's when he's so busy thinking about the puddle on the ground in front of him that he doesn't pay enough attention to his surroundings and get startled. It's baby stuff, and I KNOW it, and my trainer knows it too.

    But still...I fell off and broke my ribs last year, and a hard spook (spin and wheel away, or spin and bolt for a few strides) makes me shake still. I can't help it. Then my horse feels it, and he's "up" even more. It's hard for me to mentally recover.

    I don't have anything specific to add as this thread has been more helpful for me than anything, BUT I will add that my trainer has echoed many times what others has said. In the "big picture" with a young green horse this isn't a big deal, and it will happen. And if we have a bad spooky day, a single good lap around the ring or a moment of softness and impulsion is a victory. It's hard for me to see that sometimes and I admit I do get frustrated when we have a bad day. So, you're not alone. Keep the big picture in mind.



  20. #20
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    Be careful this does not get worse...at least it's summer and hot weather helps.
    There are spooks from real fear and then there are stupid/silly spooks for a variety of reasons. Overreacting to the sillies can teach one it rattles you and a good way to get out if work. Put the wreck last year out of your mind, probably really was scared by something and caught you by surprise and you caught her in the mouth and/or jammed a heel into her trying to stay on. Forget it. Isolated incident. Sounds like you got the stupid/silly spooks to deal with.


    Try not to put yourself in a situation where she is likely to spook. Get on her and go to work. Keep her on the aids and working, if you feel her tense? Ask for a leg yield or change direction. If she's got a "booger spot" , a corner she always spooks in? Don't go there until you have her well warmed up and working then keep her busy with a few leg yields of transitions. If she's good, go away from the spot. Don't tempt fate and quit while ahead.

    Some of them are punching the clock too. You get 30 minutes and that's it, they are done and will make you miserable if you try to continue. Be sure to vary you times and routine. Never WTC turn around and WTC the other way and hop off and don't flat, jump and hop off. Mix it up and keep them guessing.

    Finally, there is no reason you have to get on her if she is obviously fresh- that's why we have trainers and why God made lunge lines. Get a stronger rider on her once a week or so, preferably when she is coming from days off, good school and hard work go a long way to keep them honest. If/when you lunge her, put the tack on her and side reins. She can blow off some steam and give herself a lesson in self carriage.

    You are not a Pro who HAS to ride everything as is. Don't kick yourself for feeling a little sketchy from time to time. Ask for that other rider or get out the lunge line before you get on.
    Last edited by findeight; May. 17, 2013 at 10:21 AM.
    When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

    The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


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