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Can you ever trust a spooker between the shafts?

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  • Can you ever trust a spooker between the shafts?

    My mule, who is usually as sensible as they come, has had three or four explosive spooks under saddle in the last three years. (One at a grouse, two at motorcycles, and one in harness while being ground-driven . . . that last was when I moved a tire behind him in an open bridle.) These spooks are pretty bad—whirling 180 degrees and bolting the other direction. Under saddle, I just ride them out and then we go on. Hitched to a vehicle, it seems this behavior could be deadly.

    I had been anticipating driving Fenway and have done lots of groundwork, but lately I've decided to give up completely. If I trusted him not to spook so dangerously in harness, I would stick with his training and get some lessons with a professional. With this occasional issue, though, I just don't want to invite that kind of wreck.

    How rock-solid do you expect your harness horses to be? Is any horse truly spook-proof? I've certainly had horses in the past that are braver than Fenway, but only one in my life that I would trust completely never to spook. Do all drivers seek out those one-in-a-million horses, or would a better trainer than me be able to teach him to spook in place 100% of the time?

    Thanks in advance for any thoughts.
    My ears hear a symphony of two mules, trains, and rain. The best is always yet to come, that's what they explained to me. —Bob Dylan

    Fenway Bartholomule ♥ Arrietty G. Teaspoon Brays Of Our Lives

  • #2
    Depends upon the level of the spook. I could get along with one that did a random small to moderate spook - meaning: splaylegged, jump to the side. As long as they continue to face forward, I have no problem with that. Horses spook. None are 100%.

    That said, I select my guys for a calm, steady, and a non-spooking personality. I like them solid and dependable. I don't mind the rare spooks that occur for a "real" reason that I could relate to.

    I would not drive a confirmed spooker. They take too much work and too much pleasure out of the driving. They are annoying and a pain in the butt. And "once a spooker, always a spooker". You can't train the spook out of a confirmed spooker. Yes, if you can find a medical reason why, and effect a cure, you have a chance. But if everything checks out, and the problem is in the mind, I write them off. If they can't go down the road without jumping and leaping and being frightened by every little thing, they won't find a home in my barn.

    I would also not drive anything that did a 180 when it spooked. And NEVER NEVER NEVER a bolter, or one who takes off running. Never, ever. That is an accident just waiting to happen. I personally knew two wonderful, knowledgeable drivers who were killed that way - one of those was Stacy Lloyd who founded the magazine COTH. The other was a neighbor - a long time driver - who had just gotten a new driving horse.

    Trust your instincts. Your neck is worth more than an unreliable animal between the shafts.

    JMHO

    Comment


    • #3
      When you used the term "explosive Spooks" that was enough for me. Explosive spooks are not normal. A few steps scooting away but not anything explosive. I could see maybe being scared of the tire chasing him but not a grouse or a motorcycle. He isn't confident enough to maintain his composure.

      Comment


      • #4
        How good are you at stopping the bolt? My trainer always said if you could not reliably get it stopped within 2-3 strides, then no, don't drive it.

        Now that he's no longer with us, I'll admit the late HRH Avery DID have the 180-degree spook. There was never really any problem getting him stopped - he never *bolted*, but he did occasionally do the 180. It was rare, but it did happen. This was why I never put him to a 4-wheeled vehicle. A 2-wheeler will just rotate on the inside wheel and follow the horse; a 4-wheeler will more likely jackknife, and can flip.
        "The standard you walk by is the standard you accept."--Lt. Gen. David Morrison, Austalian Army Chief

        Comment


        • #5
          Keep on riding Fenway if you wish, maybe he will steady down as he gains more experience in various places. As you say, a 180 turn under saddle is pretty exciting! NOT ACCEPTABLE in harness, even only in ground driving. Mules think very differently than horses and ponies. He sounds like he was really surprised to react so poorly, and one bad spook a year is not "consistant" poor behaviour. Though the spooks were really reactive, he wasn't running away from the causes.

          A lot of folks give young horses miles and time under saddle, to "see the world" in all it's weirdness, before they even think of driving the horse. Lots easier to ride a jump or spook than try to manage it with a vehicle hitched behind. What is exciting in the newly trained, young riding horse, is old hat to him with a couple years of riding time. Horse is then often much more accepting of new things when their harness training is explored at an older age. Horse has all that "nothing really happened" experience to draw on when facing new things that happen in harness.

          Some animals NEVER get over the huge reaction to new or peculiar things they hear or meet. For me, a 180 turn with a young horse meeting a exploding grouse would not be "unworkable". Grouse doing upward thing are REALLY loud, seem to appear from nowhere! Can almost be like gunshots or firecracker bangs beside you as wings hit together. I certainly would rather have my mount FACE the scary thing, than just run blindly from the noise!! With that twirl he may never drive, but he will probably be a good trail horse in time. Working with them, sometimes you can take out that over-reaction response. Worth a try to improve saddle work, though they may not ever drive.

          These folks put out CDs of MANY noises that horses react to. You can work at desensitizing your animal by playing the CDs quietly while stalled, being fed, then raising the volume and moving animal and noises out to a ring setting while riding. Equine will be under control, maybe getting food while noises play, so actually rewarding to them. Changing settings will keep noises still not scary when he hears them. Then if you finally run into the setting where noises like motorcycles are roaring, equine says "Yeah, so what?", gives no reaction.

          http://www.spookless.com/productsandservices.html

          You have to learn your animal, know his regular responses to stimuli, both the carefully introduced things and the surprises. Some run, some kick, some spook and twirl, some walk right over to see "What IS that?" Runners and kickers also probably are not going to change either when surprised. I love the lookers, bold enough to go look closely at new stuff.

          I had a riding horse for years. Broke to face about anything, she would go wherever you aimed her. Managed traffic like a Police horse, trucks, horns, did crowd control in tight conditions of screaming crowds in the multi-thousands, worked cattle, trails, small children! She just always noticed EVERYTHING. Startle reation was to jump sideways about 6ft. Then stopped and stood, figured scary thing out. Just that jump was ALWAYS her first reaction when startled. You almost never can TRAIN out that first reaction in experienced equines when startled, jump, kick, twirl, it is part of that equine. Reaction could have been learned as a youngster in the herd, but is now established behaviour. Training a youngster may let you train in a different reaction to being startled, perhaps instill a stand or spook-in-place response (John Lyons methods) when scared. Animal is allowed a reaction to fright, but not such a dangerous one.

          My riding horse would have hurt someone if we had ever tried to drive her to a vehicle. She ground drove FINE, anyplace you wanted. Just that her wariness and sideways jump was her self-protective, first reaction, so it was a deal-breaker for carriage driving. We joked that she was wasted in modern times, should have belonged to a Calvary Scout because she noticed EVERYTHING and would have warned them about any ambushes way ahead of time.

          Comment


          • #6
            ya know, my gut and experience tells me that spookers are always a potential carriage wreck


            but....


            I have raised and trained a National Champion carriage horse who was very insecure under saddle but when she had her "armor" on, she was very confident. It was almost as if the blinkers made it a "i can't see it so it isn't scary" attitude and the shafts were her protective fortress. Dare I say that she felt the security of the shafts protected her from the goblins. On the rare occasion that she popped sideways in early training, it's as if bumping into the shafts showed her she had, i don't know, something between her and the world. She was very very reliable in harness. Under saddle, I think the world was a little too wide open for her liking.

            Now this is not a proven theory as this was the only horse I have ever had with this way of thinking. I have yet to come across another that felt bolder in harness than under saddle by such a big degree as this one.
            ...don't sh** where you eat...

            Comment


            • #7
              ^^I have your mare's brother. As a riding horse my Morgan was hyper aware and a terrible spooker, drop spin and bolt. I would not have considered driving this horse were it not for his back injury that ended his riding career.

              Ground driving training had 'interesting' moments, but he still never got away from me, and I was always able to send him instantly back to work.

              Somewhere along the line he turned a corner and he becomes a different horse when his harness is on, his blinkers especially. Workmanlike and confident, eager to set out. Polar opposite of what he was as a riding horse. He too feels the world is too big and never really enjoyed trail riding. Now as a driving horse, he adores the trail. He's revealed the horse I hoped was inside.

              It was challenging preparing a horse I pretty well felt was unsuitable for driving due to his spooking in his former life. I felt like I could never trust him, even when he was well behaved, I had 'boogers' in my own mind. I was easily frustrated during training and it was hard staying motivated. I worked him for months before I ever hitched him, and then once hitched I worked with a team of people on the ground for months, then escorts on the trails for months. But I went really slow, never overfaced him, always made sure he approached everything with confidence, and the hard work is appearing to pay off (touch wood). For me too, because I was there every single step of the way, and everytime there has been a dicey moment, I gave myself the confidence that I could handle it.

              I am in no way condoning driving spooky horses, my dear friend who taught me how to drive has broken both of her legs, arms and collar bone and suffered many concussions driving spooky horses over the years. I have no desire to end up like that. But, I'm glad I stayed the course with my own because as a driving horse he blossomed.
              Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.

              Comment


              • #8
                I have a 5 year old who at 2 and 3 did not seem overly spooky...just maybe looky. Now after driving off and on for 2 years, she is more spooky and reactive and very suspicious of new things. I have tried to figure out something that would work. Driving her with company, be it ridden or driving, seems to be a positive, but not always feasible. I have seriously considered driving her with a pairmate. But I do not have a steady eddy single. What has been the experience of others who have addressed this issue. If it helps, she is KWPN x Arab. Thanks.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Just reread the OP and saw the BOLT word with the spin. Somehow I missed that last night.

                  If mule has bolt to go with spin, he is not going to make a driving animal. So my suggestions for "letting him mature" will probably not be helpful to you to progress to being able to drive him. Sorry.

                  Some animals just are not ever meant to drive, not worth getting anyone hurt over. They are quite wonderful in many other ways, but they are not suitable for driving.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    In addition to the above description, my 5 year old will spin a 180 to the left, and if totally frustrated will half rear and leap forward, but no bolt.

                    Comment

                    • Original Poster

                      #11
                      Thanks for all the replies! I'm already resolved not to try to hitch this mule—he's 17 and is very happy in his job as a trail mount, and I'm far more experienced as a rider than as a driver. I'd rather keep riding him and save my driving dreams for a horse or mule that won't kill me and/or hurt himself!

                      I was interested in hearing your thoughts on spooking in the driving horse in more general terms, and it's nice to see the range of opinions. I think that next time I add an equine to the family I'll seek out one with a solid foundation in harness. Green + Green = Black and Blue, right?
                      My ears hear a symphony of two mules, trains, and rain. The best is always yet to come, that's what they explained to me. —Bob Dylan

                      Fenway Bartholomule ♥ Arrietty G. Teaspoon Brays Of Our Lives

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I think you are making a wise decision

                        If he has a tendency to cut and run, this is not an easy thing to deal with in the carriage

                        green + green does not ALWAYS = black&blue
                        BUT neither of the halves have a good foundation to back them up, so when things go wrong - I think they can escalate faster into a real problem

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by War Admiral View Post
                          How good are you at stopping the bolt? My trainer always said if you could not reliably get it stopped within 2-3 strides, then no, don't drive it.

                          Now that he's no longer with us, I'll admit the late HRH Avery DID have the 180-degree spook. There was never really any problem getting him stopped - he never *bolted*, but he did occasionally do the 180. It was rare, but it did happen. This was why I never put him to a 4-wheeled vehicle. A 2-wheeler will just rotate on the inside wheel and follow the horse; a 4-wheeler will more likely jackknife, and can flip.
                          I agree with all of the above, especially the part I bolded. Spooking in itself isn't too dangerous when driving, it's the BOLT that will get you in trouble.

                          I've found that most "spinners" as I call the ones who turn and run - do not do it at ALL in the shafts because they feel their sides are blocked. The might step or jump sideways or turn and spook, but will not do a 180.

                          All you can do is try it and see what happens... but I'd put him through some serious sacking out first.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            and this is a prime example of using BLINKERS. She was using a open bridle and mule spooked when she moved a tire from behind him.
                            There is a reason why they use blinkers on a driving animal. I do not want to start a ..."I have always used open bridles" bickering. This mule was known to have spooked 3 times before. She should have known better.
                            www.facebook.com/doggonegoodgoodies
                            http://doggonebakedgoods.com/

                            Comment

                            • Original Poster

                              #15
                              On the blinkers question—I had ground driven and lunged the mule in both open and closed bridles for several months, and he was pulling a travois of PVC poles quite well, but the sound of a tire behind him would make him nervous. After weeks of trying the tire behind him in a closed bridle (nervous) I made the mistake of trying the tire behind him in an open bridle (also nervous) thinking he might like to see what was frightening him. While I agree that I probably made things worse, I also don't feel that this would have fixed him . . . he's always acted spookier in a closed bridle than an open one other than this one isolated incident, and frankly I don't think I'd feel safe driving an animal that can't be allowed to see his vehicle without panicking. I think training in open AND closed bridles makes sense as a foundation for driving in a closed bridle later.

                              I do want to seek out a thoroughly well-trained driving horse, pony, or mule in future. It's an interest that I don't think I can safely pursue with this particular guy and I would much rather just enjoy our trail rides than try to train him for a job he's ill suited to.
                              My ears hear a symphony of two mules, trains, and rain. The best is always yet to come, that's what they explained to me. —Bob Dylan

                              Fenway Bartholomule ♥ Arrietty G. Teaspoon Brays Of Our Lives

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                While I never actually drove my Morgan open, not ground driving or hitched, I did always have a sequence of introducing new elements to him that involved being hand walked open first. For example, when first putting PVC poles in the tugs I would first start by walking him harnessed but in a halter and lead and I would drag the pvc pole myself along side us for a while, then do the other side. Then I would walk holding the pvc pole between the two of us, so it bonked into me and him as we walked but wasn't attached. Again, both sides. Then I'd put the pvc pole in the tug and hand walk him. Then put a pole in either tug and hand walk him. Then put his blinker bridle on, ground drive him, then put the pvc poles in. If at any time I felt he might get unsure, I dropped back a step. Same for dragging tires, logs, my super noisy bucket/waterjug/tarp contraptions, etc.

                                First time with his jog cart, I did the same exact thing, hand walked him around in his harness and halter and lead, while I held the jog cart beside us and wheeled it along, and advanced from there slowly slowly slowly. Same thing with our new 4wheeler, though that was a bit tricky to drag around But I did do it, I hand walked my horse while I pulled the 4 wheeler, I had someone else get in it and bounce up and down and make all kinds of noises, I pretended to hitch him (went through the motions while never actually attaching anything) while people got in and out of the carriage behind him and made all sorts of noises and bounced and wiggled it around, etc. Did all of the prep work in a halter and lead, but at his head at all times so he would stay straight, square and forward, never dropped back behind his shoulder driving.

                                The other day we were driving, waiting while a riding friend was fiddling with her tack, and my boy craned his head around and looked directly back at me for the first time ever. It was cute, he was relaxed and happy and 'hey how you doing back there', and I thought, gee, I'm glad he's seen this before and me sitting on this big contraption with a huge whip and a water bottle isn't coming as a shock to him

                                Re your mule... listen your gut, if you have reservations, trust that.
                                Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  I think it's a good idea (with a WELL BROKE driving horse) to teach them to accept driving without the blinkers for emergency purposes.

                                  Twice now I've had blinker issues. Once when a trainer I was working with put a blinker hood on a horse, we hooked him and off I went only to discover the hood was HUGE and had a big fist sized gap under the blinker part on each side of his head. Horse could see me and the cart perfectly. Didn't bat an eyelash.

                                  Second time, horse caught bridle on something (I was field driving, must have been a tree branch) and flipped the whole thing forwards over his face (which makes me give a PSA for properly fitting throatlatches). He kept his mouth closed so the bit didn't fall out (THANK GOD!) so I was able to pull back and whoa and he stopped, stood there holding his bridle in his mouth while I panicked LOL. Yes, I yelled at the groom... and I always check my tack now before I ever get on a horse or in a cart. I don't trust anyone tacking up for me anymore.

                                  Live and learn!!!!

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    Tiffani B - we use a strap that connects the throatlatch to the noseband. Fits in the groove of the jaw and you just don't see it.

                                    It does stop a horse from removing their bridle without having to crank down on the throatlatch and cutting off their wind.

                                    Best piece of equipment that have for my pairs and single!
                                    Horse Feathers Farm

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      That's a great idea!

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        OK Im a beleiver in driving with Blinkers -
                                        BUT my belief in the blinkers is NOT that it prevents them from seeing the scary carriage behind them

                                        If that were so, there would be many more incidents from horses turning their heads and seeing a glimpse of the carriage etc

                                        I beleive it helps them focus on YOU and the chore you are asking them to do NOW - this work - I need you to pay attention to what I direct you to . . .

                                        I have always driven with blinkers but
                                        we recently introduced the cheek attachment of a set of Hungarian Sallings to our bridles to TRY to deal with some of the biting flies on the horses necks and faces

                                        These are about 18inch long braided leather fringe pieces that swing from teh bridle rosettes. When the horse figures it out he can get it to swing and hit the neck - or swing forward towards the face

                                        If anything was going to "scare" a horse - seeing something sudden around them - these would have a good possibility
                                        BUT we tried them on both horses and both the boys accepted them readily
                                        ESPECIALLY when they realized that they help in comfort by swishing bugs

                                        SO . . . one mre reason I think the blinkers help with focus but dont really prevent scares from "something behind you"

                                        On another thought - Our Cooper took a while to settle in to the blinkers - he "thought" he wanted to see everything. We "knew" he didnt since he looses focus when he can see too much. To help him get used to the blinkers we used them as his riding bridle for a while so he could understand that he could still do his job and listed to the rider when his visual field was contracted.

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