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Horse is spooky "from behind"..any suggestions on ground exercises?

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  • Horse is spooky "from behind"..any suggestions on ground exercises?

    We have a young mare who is just a joy, very sweet horse. However her pet peeve is that she HATES to be in the back on trails or even walking across the yard to the arena. She is a wonderful leader but boy, once she's in the back she's on high alert and spooks easily, always worried about that predator (plastic bag, etc) behind her. I'd like some suggestions as to what ground exercises I could do to desensitize her in that area and then slowly work that up to the saddle. She's going to be seven, but still a little bit of a green bean, has some natural horsemanship basics (mostly Parelli but I'm open to ANY suggestions). Thanks!!

  • #2
    Originally posted by rodandmicha View Post
    We have a young mare who is just a joy, very sweet horse. However her pet peeve is that she HATES to be in the back on trails or even walking across the yard to the arena. She is a wonderful leader but boy, once she's in the back she's on high alert and spooks easily, always worried about that predator (plastic bag, etc) behind her. I'd like some suggestions as to what ground exercises I could do to desensitize her in that area and then slowly work that up to the saddle. She's going to be seven, but still a little bit of a green bean, has some natural horsemanship basics (mostly Parelli but I'm open to ANY suggestions). Thanks!!

    If you have her standing solidly on a halter/lead or ground tied, you could use pretty standard desensitization type exercises with all kinds of object....plastic bags, tarps, balloons, pool noodles, umbrellas...whatever you can think of. Start small/folded up and don't stop approaching/touching/ rubbing/flapping over her head and back until she settles....she can go around and around you over your rubbing a plastic bag on her but you keep rubbing it until she stops moving her feet and then IMMEDIATELY stop rubbing/brushing over her with it....she gets rewarded for stopping her movement. Start working around her head/neck/shoulders and work your way back...keep a safe position in case she decides to cowkick (and some will)...when she is comfortable with head/neck/shoulders you can go to barrel and then hindquarters by moving to those areas and then back to her more comfortable areas as she begins to get anxious....expand that comfort zone gradually and remember to stop using the pressure on her when she stops moving...when she gets to the point that she stands quietly for being touched, rubbed all over with a small folded object unfold it or expand it and start all over again....she should be bored silly with your idea of things that will spook her by the time you are done.

    You could then enlist the help of someone to lead her and you provide spooky items behind her (a long lunge whip to tie things to the tip of the handle keeps you out of hoof range)...begin slowly by rubbing whatever you are using on her and over her butt/croup/hind legs and then begin swishing it around/over her rear as she's moving. Be sure and instruct your help about what you are going to do.

    Another exercise, maybe used better before going to her rear with spooky objects, is to have her "chase" them...ie...wave a flag/balloon/plastic bag..whatever...in front of yourself as you lead her forward....many horses find this to be a lot of fun as soon as they figure out that whatever it is is moving AWAY from them (so therefore isn't all that scary as it is, after all, apparently afraid of you and the horse).

    Once you are comfortable with her lack of response to all these things that you have come up with you can begin using them around her while just sitting on her....might want to have help to talk to her, reassure her at first and to control her if she decides she's had enough.....usually by this time they are pretty ho-hum about things but they can surprize you. Next would be to ride her in a confined area with all kinds of things flapping, bouncing, etc.

    When she's good with the above you can begin riding her with other horses that are pretty unflappable (if you know of some). If she's nervous about being in the rear play things like leap-frog on the trail where each horse gradually passes others to the front and then steps over and drops back through the group to become the last...no horse has to stay in any position for long and each learns that all positions are safe. On wider open fields you can also ride in side-by-side positions across and then "braid" your positions back and forth, gradually widen the area to where some horses go out of sight briefly if that is a problem for any of them.

    Hopefully these suggestions will help.
    Colored Cowhorse Ranch
    www.coloredcowhorseranch.com
    Northern NV

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    • #3
      Honestly I don't believe there is anything that will help except lots of wet saddle blankets. My gelding was the same way when he was a greenie...he didn't like a strange horse behind him so I purposely rode him at large trail rides where he was certain to have strange horses behind him. He got over it after awhile.
      "My biggest fear is that when I die my husband is going to try to sell all my horses and tack for what I told him they cost."

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      • #4
        You could do lots of "leap-frogging". Take her out in-hand with someone else either riding another horse or in-hand with theirs as well. Then lead her in the front for a while, then have the other horse pass her, and have her walk behind for a while, then switch it up.

        I would probably keep her behind the other horse until she settles and relaxes as you walk, then allow her to pass the other horse to the front as a reward for being such a good, brave girl! Maybe even just allow her to draw up alongside the other horse and let her graze for a few minutes.

        I'm currently working with a very green, spooky horse, so I feel your pain on this one. Good luck!

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        • #5
          Originally posted by rodandmicha View Post
          We have a young mare who is just a joy, very sweet horse. However her pet peeve is that she HATES to be in the back on trails or even walking across the yard to the arena. She is a wonderful leader but boy, once she's in the back she's on high alert and spooks easily, always worried about that predator (plastic bag, etc) behind her. I'd like some suggestions as to what ground exercises I could do to desensitize her in that area and then slowly work that up to the saddle. She's going to be seven, but still a little bit of a green bean, has some natural horsemanship basics (mostly Parelli but I'm open to ANY suggestions). Thanks!!
          Many horses are afraid of things behind them. One of the techniques I use is to teach them to ground drive. In my preparation for ground driving I introduce the idea of pleasant things coming from behind. I have an assistant walk up from behind with a bucket of grain and get the horse to turn her head back to look for the grain, then give a small handful of grain. Do this from both sides. Then depending upon the response, you can have the helper drag a blanket (or some such) on the ground as they walk up from behind. Your goal is to build slowly and not to make it scary enough to freak her out but to always allow her see what is coming and figure out for herself that it is okay. You can gradually use more and more scary or noisy objects, always with a bit of food at the end. The food helps them associate something pleasant with the object and the act of chewing keeps them calm and thinking.

          I find that it is most useful to get horses over their fear of "scary" objects by gaining their acceptance of these things. If I am introducing something new that they may be afraid of, showing it to them and allowing them to sniff it, then touching them on the shoulder with it and immediately allowing them to sniff it again is the easiest way for them to get over their fear. I proceed slowly, touching the object to different parts of the body, then immediately allowing them to sniff it again. In this way the horse learns quickly that it is not an object to be feared. If I don't keep allowing them to sniff it, the whole process takes longer and some have a harder time getting over their fear of it.

          Riding with friends, you can alternate taking the lead and the rear throughout the ride.

          I wonder though, is your mare herd bound or overly attached to her buddies at the barn? I find getting them over their fear of being alone helps their bravery on all levels.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by rodandmicha View Post
            We have a young mare who is just a joy, very sweet horse. However her pet peeve is that she HATES to be in the back on trails or even walking across the yard to the arena. She is a wonderful leader but boy,....
            Keep riding her.... Some horses feel they are leaders. Move her around when riding in a group. Front to back then back up. Keep riding her. Do you ever ride alone? How is she then? And keep riding her, more often if necessary.

            My mare prefers to be in the lead and is a very forward horse. She also is alpha in the herd of 7 she's in. She's always felt in charge.

            Just curious, how well does your horse back up?
            The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.

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