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Stop & Look or keep 'em walking?

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  • Stop & Look or keep 'em walking?

    I'm starting to get my pony out on trails, with a goal of having a good calm trail horse. Of course, isn't that what everyone wants ?

    Her general nature is not terribly spooky. She will sometimes do the little spook in place and look, and if something really startles her, she goes about 5-6 steps and stops. She's smart, and generally once she's encountered something and found it to be harmless, it's not a problem again.

    So my inclination, as we go out riding, is to allow her to stop and look at things she seems concerned about. Briefly, then move on. But other experienced riders have told me not to do that, that I'm "rewarding" her for being nervous.

    I'm sure that to some extent, the answer is "it depends on the horse". But in general, which do you do...let them look, or push them on?

  • #2
    green horse, and letting her look seems to help? yeah, I'd let her look- now. Once she's had a bit more exposure you should start easing her out of looking at things.


    • #3
      I kind of do both. If it's a stump or a mailbox etc that horse is worried about, I might walk over and let them sniff. If it's some sort of commotion, like a farmer plowing a field or kids on a trampoline I try to act like nothing's going on and they better keep their butts moving because I said nothing's going on.
      Depends on what it is.


      • #4
        I agree with Kerri and my horse was terribly spooky when we first started trail riding. If it is an inanimate scary object that he has never seen before he KNOWS he has to walk up to it and sniff it, even if he is really afraid of it. If it is a moving vehicle he has to ignore it. If it is potentially very dangerous (i.e., motorbikes coming at us) I may even get off as he is not used to them at all.

        Scariest thing that happened recently - we were returning home from a trail ride on the road, no company. People across the street have large goldendoodle not leashed. Dog starts barking and running toward us. I halted, and started yelling "He'll get hurt!! Your dog WILL get hurt!!" They were calling dog at the same time but my yelling apparently made the dog stop and think and return to its owners. My good boy never turned a hair.
        What's wrong with you?? Your cheese done slid off its cracker?!?!


        • #5
          I agree with Kerri and my horse was terribly spooky when we first started trail riding. If it is an inanimate scary object that he has never seen before he KNOWS he has to walk up to it and sniff it, even if he is really afraid of it. If it is a moving vehicle he has to ignore it. If it is potentially very dangerous (i.e., motorbikes coming at us) I may even get off as he is not used to them at all.

          Scariest thing that happened recently - we were returning home from a trail ride on the road, no company. People across the street have large goldendoodle not leashed. Dog starts barking and running toward us. I halted, and started yelling "He'll get hurt!! Your dog WILL get hurt!!" They were calling dog at the same time but my yelling apparently made the dog stop and think and return to its owners. My good boy never turned a hair.
          What's wrong with you?? Your cheese done slid off its cracker?!?!


          • Original Poster

            Thanks for the responses. Our first trail ride for this year was Sunday, with two other horses/ponies. She was actually very good, on the buckle and relaxed. We encountered a guy with a bright shirt on a bicycle (she was good until the other pony spooked into her butt, then she took a few steps). Then a pickup pulling a large piece of farm equipment (we got off the road, she stood quietly while he went by, then resumed our walk). When the other pony spooked into her again (over nothing, just fear of some unknown) she didn't budge, just gave the other pony the "DUUUDE!" look.

            The only thing that frightened all three horses enough to make us change our route was when we got close to the river. They were fine with the sounds of the power boats (which couldn't be seen through the trees) but the sounds of the waves hitting the shore were really something to worry about! My previous horse was the same way.

            There are also two horses in a pasture that we ride by. I've hand walked her to that pasture and "introduced" her to the horses, now she seems good about ignoring them.

            I like the guideline of letting her look at stationary stuff, but maybe not moving stuff.


            • #7
              Originally posted by Hinderella View Post
              I'm sure that to some extent, the answer is "it depends on the horse". But in general, which do you do...let them look, or push them on?
              Yep, totally depends on the horse

              Though generally, I'll at least start out by letting them look. And if they're the type that seems to get more worked up looking, then I'll switch to pushing them on instead.

              On one extreme end, Gem, my little Arab, liked to have a look at things. Better yet, he liked someone else to play guinea pig and not get eaten before he'd brave the "danger zone". He would go past/over/through darn near anything without a fuss if I dismounted and touched it first. He was 14.2hh, knew every dirty trick in the book, and was very set in his ways, so generally it was just easier to humor him. And he was good about things like traffic, so I usually only had to get off and poke things like puddles and water and tarps

              On the other hand, Sadie, my current mare, thrives on routine and if I do something out of the ordinary, like stopping so she can look at something, she will automatically assume that if I'm acting weird, it's clearly something she should be concerned about. So with her, I blatantly ignore anything out of the ordinary, and proceed as if she's staring at nothing, and then she'll usually go back to business as usual.

              If stopping to have a little look is working well for you and your horse, I wouldn't worry about what other people think you should be doing.
              "In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming part dog."
              -Edward Hoagland


              • #8
                I agree that I tend to let my guys look at bushes and logs and water and cows and other scary things. But cars and trucks, I want those feet moving. We just walk right down the road, just normal, nothing scary here! Animals, same thing, want the feet moving.If they start acting up, I want the feet moving!!!


                • #9
                  I agree with Kas...

                  Nothing is worse than that suspended animation of "are we in launch mode or cope mode?"
                  “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey


                  • #10
                    In general, I'll allow a second or two of looking, but the looking stops when *I* say so-- with my horse, the longer he stares, the more he convinces himself that it's Going To Eat Him... and THEN he freaks out.

                    If he's looky in a curious way, I usually let him go up and have a good sniff (which usually immediately proceeds to Horse either trying to take a bite out of said object, or step on said object, or otherwise deface it or knock it down), but if it's an "OMG WTF is that????" then he gets to a count of ONE and we go about our business.
                    *friend of bar.ka

                    "Evidently, I am an unrepentant b*tch, possible trouble maker, and all around super villian"


                    • #11
                      If the horse's attention is on the rider then the number of Horse Eating Boogers in the world declines sharply.

                      I don't think there's a "school answer" for how any given situation is handled, beyond keeping control of the horse's attention. That might be a very difficult task or it might be fairly easy (based upon equine temperament, training, experience, etc.).

                      Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão


                      • #12
                        I too will let my gelding sniff an inanimate object like a mailbox or something, and he is curious enough that he likes doing this. But once he sniffs, we're to move forward and he is to forget about the horse-eating-mailbox.

                        If I hear a large vehicle/motorcycle/noisy vehicle coming (we do a lot of road riding), I move off to the side of the road (like in a driveway), turn him so he can see it coming, and then he stands while it goes by. But as soon as it goes by, we proceed in the same direction as we were.

                        This works for him. I figure its more traumatizing to have something come up from behind and have him spook (and he is a bolter by the way so I prefer to avoid this whenever possible!), then to let him see that its not going to attack him. Since i have done this, he has gotten better with motorcycles and big rigs going by us, he is getting used to the noise, and I don't always stop adn turn him now.
                        "If you think nobody cares about you, try missing a couple payments..."


                        • Original Poster

                          Thanks again for all the responses. This weekend I have a lot of non-horse commitments but I hope to get out on the trails with her after work next week, when this 100 degree heat breaks.

                          I'll put some of your suggestions to work. So far, it sounds as though I've been doing it right. If something catches her eye, I give her a few seconds to look, then I say to her (in actual words!) "OK, nothing to see hear, move on" and get her moving. When we've encountered vehicles (truck, bicycle), I do as SuckerForHorses says, turn her to see it, and as soon as it's gone, have her move on.

                          I also use a little grazing as a reward. If she encounters something that she looks at, and she reacts well and calmly, I have her walk a short distance away, then reward her with a few seconds of quick grazing. It seems to help put the scary thing out of her mind, like "scary thing, scary thing...oh, GRASS!!!"


                          • #14
                            Telling my horse not to be an idiot, because rocks (flags, oil rigs, whatever) don't eat horses works awfully well. I think my tone of voice lets her know there is nothing to worry over. She really isn't afraid of much - we have ridden right up to the aforementioned (operating and rather smelly) oil rig, as well as hot air balloons, school busses (way too close) and such.


                            • #15
                              another thought too.

                              I like everyones advice but I'd add too that sooooo often how they act is up to us and how we're feeling. There are of course those situations where an experienced & frisky horse will spook at something they've seen 1000 times just because they're feeling good. It's good to try to figure out what they are "saying" because it's not always that they're scared. There's a lot of "I feel good" spooks especially when they haven't been ridden recently. There's a lot to be said for riding a tired green trail horse or one with the kinks outa them! I had a horse that always squealed when it was a "I feel good" spook!
                              So...we need to do everything we can to not be scared. Sit loose, don't grip, don't pull reins tight, pet their necks/manes (to distract their little pee brains!), and talk to them in our best "Moms not scared so why should I be" voice! Thats hard too.
                              So.....try singing when you trailride. Humming keeps YOUR breathing rhythmnic and busy so you don't lock your diapghram and stiffen up. Singing spooks away the wildlife earlier. The horse gets used to the singing and MAY find it soothing! I KNOW it calms me down. Trying to sing during a long posting trot is HARD! But calming! Really! Even if you don't know the words. It's moms calm singing voicel. Makes mom laugh at herself and her pony. (makes the wildlife giggle too!) makes mom happy and calm.
                              Oh...and the deerhunters won't shoot you either! Thats good isn't it?


                              • #16
                                Since your girl sounds level headed and doesn't react much, I'd let her stop and check out the object that she is apprehensive about.

                                It doesn't sound like she is trying to get out of work, so I don't buy the "You're rewarding her" from the other riders.

                                As you mentioned, when she is curious about something - You stop to let her check it out and she is fine after that.

                                Curious, but not to the point of freaking out over something.

                                That's a good trail horse.

                                Actually, your mare's mannerisms remind me of my POA, Twinkie.
                                She is curious, which is good when we explore new trails and she is more than willing due to her adventurness and curiosity.

                                But as another poster mentioned - If it is a big deal scary monster situation, I just look forward and keep walking. Stopping to let her look at something that I know is not going to change her mind (scary vs curiosity), is setting her up to spook.

                                She does better if I don't stare at the scary monster object. If you don't look, and don't tense up, then your mare will take your cue.

                                Good luck.. She sounds like a great trail horse.
                                MnToBe Twinkle Star: "Twinkie"

                                Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by cowboymom View Post
                                  I agree with Kas...

                                  Nothing is worse than that suspended animation of "are we in launch mode or cope mode?"
                                  Lol or horseeatingcowomgomg mode


                                  • #18
                                    I have found with my TB mare it is best to let her look. Once she satisfies her self that the object is not going to eat her she walks on(couple of minutes). If I try to make her go, she gets all fussy and tries spinning and won't go forward. A quiet stand there and look is way easier.


                                    • Original Poster

                                      Lots of good advice here, thanks again.

                                      She is actually a pretty smart mare. To tell the truth, it's more often sounds than sights that startle her. But I haven't wanted to try earplugs with her, to tell the truth I just want her to get more miles and more relaxed, since she's not naturally nutty.

                                      Waterglen, I do sing...badly I think, but it's true, it relaxes me, and the pony has come to consider it a sign that we should at least be trying to relax. Sadly, I can't seem to remember too many lyrics, so she gets to hear a lot of repeated songs...especially an old drinking song about liquor on the barroom floor, and the mouse who licks it up

                                      Hoping to get out again this weekend! Hot sleepy weather is my friend.


                                      • #20
                                        You are doing fine. A sudden noise close-up will often make even the most worldly wise horse jump.
                                        I'm a believer in letting a horse stop and look. I watch the ears, and when I see a wee twitch, or a small dip of the head, I know I can ask for forward without risk. I never hurry them, and I never ask them to approach to sniff something when they are reluctant. I let them do a huge detour if that's what they want, because I have found that the next time, it'll be a walk-on-by.
                                        BUT - only from the same direction. Sometimes the same object is equally astonishing when approached from the other side!