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Dealing with cows and flying bikes

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  • Dealing with cows and flying bikes

    Long story-Sorry!

    I used to board at a great place but moved because, in order to hack out, I had to walk about 100 yards on a road that happens to be part of a local bike loop and then go through cow fields and my horse is terrified of flying bikes and of cows. However, after moving twice since then, I have realized that this barn is the best in terms of care so I am thinking about moving back but the spook issues are troubling me. We need to hack out because of her stifles and because we get bored in the ring. The spooks were so bad that I was having anxiety about hacking out, which is something that I LOVE to do a lot. I’d get so nervous about it that I would try to talk myself out of it hours before I even got to the barn. I have never fallen off of this particular horse but some of the spooks have been big and so unnerving that I have had to get off because I’m shaking so much. I’m really scared of hitting the ground. It’s been a long time since I have fallen. So, it’s her problem and my problem all the same.

    The road happens to have two blind curves so I can’t see the bikes until they are pretty close. My horse is fine with cars. Cyclists in my area are pretty hard core, with fancy silks, and in it to win it, and there are a lot of them. They wiz by and my horse does any sort of whirl around and run, jump sideways, rear up and launch forward. She has been around bikes at horse shows and up close but it’s basically the part where they suddenly appear and then wiz by that creates the spook.

    Then, once we make it past the road, there are the cows. If the cows are by the gate, forget it. We can’t hack out that day. If they are in the distance, I can go through the gate and hack out on the part of the field that they are not on. If we are near cows, she will do the same sort of spooks. If we do ride near then, the baby cows always want to come investigate us and that totally freaks her out. I get turn and run attempts, lots of prancing and snorting and blowing, run and bucks, and general edginess even when we are past them. And if the farmer comes out with the tractor to feed them, forget it. They all start running and mooing and that really blows her mind and I have to get off and lead her back.

    So, I need help. I have asked for her to be put in the field next to the road. I bet that would help her get over the bikes but there isn’t a spot open in that field. The BO doesn’t like to move around established herds and I kind of feel funny asking for special treatment when I was the one who left.

    So, what do I do? I can lead her down the road but I’m afraid I’ll get stepped on or knocked over though. I thought about taking her to the cow field just to graze lots of times or even just to graze next to the cow field. I’ve thought about hiring a trainer but a lot of the trainers in my area are rough. Maybe that’s what she needs? Maybe I could send her away to someone who has cows but she has some special needs (stifle issues, uveitis, feet) that I would worry about her care and plus, I don’t really have a lot of extra cash hanging around. I’m pretty frustrated.


  • #2
    I would tell the BO that you would like to come back because you got the best care there but in order to do that, your horse needs to be kept near the road. Explain it, she might totally understand because I'm sure your horse isn't the first one to freak about those two things since they're so common there. What you need is repetition and a been there done that horse to ride with who doesn't give a flip about the bikes or the cows. I bet if you had a buddy a few times you might get a startle but not a spook anymore.


    • #3
      We ride bikes. My horses do bikes. However the first time they were not so happy to see a bike. I got my husband to go with me to the trail and I got my current horse to follow. Then my current horse became buddies with the bike and the person riding it. I also take her and pony her from my bike. Have done it in the ride camps. Oh yeah I have crashed, and the horse usually just waits.

      My arab knew better than I would when my husband would slow down on mt bike trails. (he could hear the brakes although they didn't squeel) Once my husband crashed right at our feet in front of us, and we were doing a huge flying trot. Horse stopped.

      Training for cows. How about pasturing your horse in a cow field. Why not go cow penning? FUN. Cow sorting is lots of fun too.


      • #4
        No, you don't need a rough trainer. Just... no.

        A buddy, as already suggested, may work wonders if she likes to follow. I agree with you, if she's that vehemenly opposed to the bikes and cows, leading her may be worse than riding her. If you do resort to this, wear gloves and go with a LONGE line.

        If she encounters something new in the ring, does she work through it better with a "lookie here" or a "work past it" approach? Whichever works better for her in the ring will be better for her on your hack. So, if she is a looker, then let her stop and look. It sounds to me like she wants to get past things, in which case let her hack out that stretch at a nice forward working trot and don't ask her to stop and look. In fact, when the scary parts come up, ask her to work harder (whatever she knows to do, a leg yield, a lengthening, increase her speed a little, a bend away from the scary thing). Have her follow a buddy that is also trotting and she may just want to keep up and stay with them instead of pulling her antics.

        Don't leave the barn assuming you are going to go 5 miles that day, or even 1. Go 25 yards and if all is well turn around and come back ON YOUR TERMS. The next day, go 40 yards. The next, 50. Each day, go out a little farther, and maybe after one scary bike or cow has happened go just enough farther to have a good stretch and THEN go home. Just make sure that each hack ends with a pleasant stretch in a direction away from home. If possible. Hey, we've all been in these situations and I know that just doesn't always happen. But we try, right? The important thing is, set up a plan but be ready to modify it if it doesn't work... and stay safe!

        We had an OTTB that freaked out about Amish buggies. The kind that went down the road right by her pasture. My DD literally had to ride her to the end of the driveway (now 5 feet closer to the road than her pasture.... ooooh) and we'd wait for one to go by. She'd freak out and back herself up into a pine tree or something, then she'd have to wait for another one. Eventually when we would get a non-reaction, she'd get to go back down the driveway to the barn (her reward for not having the reaction). Without this 'training', we'd never be able to trail ride her on Sundays around here because we need to go on roads to get to our trails. Backing up and being stupid in our driveway is one thing, doing that in other locations (ditches, bridges, etc) is simply dangerous. (She was the 'looker' type. We just never asked any of the Amish to stop so she could 'look'.

        So, if you can get her up and close to those cows, without there being a road next to you, that would be awesome.

        I also have an S-curve I have to ride near my house, too, so I "get" the blind curve riding with no shoulder! I've got a bit of a shoulder, still not fun! No cyclists though, just cars going double the speed limit.


        • #5
          Ditto rmh's suggestions, they're exactly what I would say. Also, would it help with the blind curves if you had some way to alert the bikers, or would they not care? You could ride with some jingle bells...
          RIP Victor... I'll miss you, you big galumph.


          • #6
            I think you need an instructor to work with you both. As long as you are scared, and not a calm relaxed leader, showing the horse there is nothing to worry about, the horse will feed off of your emotions and be scarred and worried.
            APPSOLUTE CHOCKLATE - Photo by Kathy Colman


            • Original Poster

              Thanks everyone for all your replies and suggestions!

              So ive been at my current barn for 6 months and we hack out a lot and ride about 5 minutes on a low traffic country road to get to the trails. I have never seen a bike on the road and today of all days, one snuck up on us. She reared up and launched forward then spun around to look at it but was about to leave. The lady stopped, jumped off and was so apologetic so I asked if she would do me a favor and stay with us until my horse calmed down. I kept asking her to take a step forward until we were pretty close. There was lots of blowing and dancing but we kept talking to her and I think once she realized she was a human, she was ok. I thought that was a sucess but later all this doubt crept in like will she continue to be bad, what about when we move, will she associate one good experience with the bikes at the new place? Also, this experience gave me a really good reminder at just how bad her spook can be. I thought about asking a friend who bikes to come over and ride with us. Do you think that will help? I thought I could ask her to ride slowly out and back in sight and try to carry sugar cubes. The BO told me today that she may never get over it so that's great for my confidence, huh? My horse if very smart so I guess thsts helpful. I agree with getting a trainer. Im meeting the BO of the new barn tomorrow and plan to tell her all my fears and see what she suggests. Shes a trainer so im hoping she will be able to help me. At the new barn, there is a yard area next to the road but large enough that I can keep some distance between us and the road that I can take her to for grazing if I cant get her into the field next to the road.

              Sorry this is all jumbled together. Thanks!!


              • #8
                What a nice lady to stop! One "look-see" is probably not going to solve your issues but it's step one.
                YES to your friend with a bike coming over to ride with you. Maybe ride WITH you for a while, then send them off and have them ride AGAINST your slowly and then increase their speed. It sounds like your horse does not like them coming at you quickly.
                Your BO is possibly correct, but possibly incorrect. I would not just take her word for it until you put some calm, directed effort into de-spooking her to the cyclists. She might never get to be perfect but you definitely want to get her to knock off the dangerous behavior. No offense intended, but it would be worth having someone else (a trainer) ride her out and see if she does that with them. Maybe she knows you too well (knows your weaknesses) and is controlling you instead of the other way around. A trainer may definitely be in order. Again, no offense intended, but with dangerous behaviors like this, it's not time to play around with sugar cubes.


                • Original Poster

                  plans made with my friend to bring over her bike next week and plans made with another to bring her bike too one day. I have searched around and there seem to be a few western/natural horsemanship trainers in the area that specialize with "problem" horses and spooks, etc so I will look into them. The trainer at the new barn specializes in hunter/jumpers and doesnt allow outside trainers but I bet she would let me have someone out to help me with the bikes and cows because it would be special circumstances and not like I would be taking lessons. Im feeling positive about this now. Thanks so much!!


                  • #10
                    Do you know anybody with a field of cows you could turn your horse out with, preferably with another horse that doesn't care about cows? This might solve one part of the problem.



                    • #11
                      One looksie of a bike will not make all bikes friendly. It will have to be a rinse and repeat on many occasions, and all occasions should be positive to start out with until your horse "gets it".

                      My horses are totally bike friendly. Pretty much all the bikes we encounter they want to stop to rest and more importantly visit. And so then the horse sees the bike rider as a person, also that they are friendly, they smell cool (to them), usually have good smelling treats with them, talk like humans - just that they are wearing a different set of gear. Some times we do not stop to talk, most times we do. My horses can hear a person coming on a bike, they can be quite noisey. And these days they do not think OMG, they think OMG I get to see and talk to somebody. I do not always stop.

                      I think my horses get more wigged out seeing other horses on the trails.

                      Also, runners can be a problem. But once again, follow along with a runner and the horse will love runners too.

                      I am very very careful with bikers and runners when I ride. I want to make sure they are safe. When I ride my bike or run or walk on trails and I see horses, I am super careful and most definitely get out of the way. Go figure.

                      OP you can do this yourself, why PAY a trainer?? It will come down to how you handle the horse when it encounters something out of the norm.

                      If I say it is ok for my horse, then the horse knows it is ok, but if I say no this is not ok, then the horse knows it is not ok. I am directing/telling the horse. Not the horse dictating what we are going to do. I am in charge, not the horse. As in should the horse be cautious or be ok with a bike or runner or a walker or "name your scary thing".


                      • Original Poster

                        If I pay someone to help me, it will be because Im so wound up with anxiety over how bad her spook can be. I know what can happen and how easy it is to be hurt. Im so lucky to have stayed on last night. She reared up on a muddy shoulder. I know she could have slipped over or backwards on me. I know too much and I cant shut that part off. I thought I handled it very well last night when I got off and chatted with the bike rider and made my horse get closer and closer.

                        And (most) bike riders I will encounter are road bikers chasing speed. Think college bike team riders, Lance Armstrong wannabees. The are like silent monsters to her, flying by. They have no interest in stopping and hanging out. Sometimes riding in pairs. No warning. Ugh. So frustrating!


                        • #13
                          We had a close call with a mountain biker last year, and my horse who didn't care a bit about bikes suddenly decided they were dangerous (can't say I blame her). I asked a couple of friendly, helpful bikers to work with us, out on the trail, petting her and feeding her treats, and I think we are over it. It just takes repeat good experiences to replace those bad ones. (Kudos to you, though. Spooks that big would put me out of the running for dealing with the problems.) I'd look for somewhere to pasture her with or very near cows for that issue. Is she that bad even with a buddy horse who doesn't care about bikes/cows?


                          • #14
                            When you think about the bikes whizzing by do you only think about what your mare has done/might do/how bad it could get? When you do see a bike what do you do - wait to see what your mare will do?

                            You need a plan to deal with bikes, and you need it before your friends come out to help with their bikes. Without using negative words, what do you WANT your mare to do when a bike whizzes by? Be specific. Be realistic (stopping and calmly watching the bikes go by is not realistic for your horse at this point). And figure out if expectations should be different depending on whether the bikes are coming head on or from behind. Then think about what you need to ACTIVELY DO to get your mare to do what you want.

                            Your fear is fixated on what was and how close to disaster it could be. Reprogram yourself. Have a plan. Ride the plan when your friends come out. Starting slowly for sure, but you must know exactly what you want and be entirely focused on directing your mare to do it.

                            Chasing the scary object can often help horses learn to control their fears about something, so having your friend ride along with you following at various speeds would be a good exercise to try.

                            Once you get your plan in place (don't be afraid to modify the plan as needed) and you get comfortable seeing it work, you'll be able to transfer the plan (maybe adapted a bit) to going past the cows. When you are working out your plans bear in mind that horses are flight animals and asking them to stop in a scary situation often makes things worse. Moving in a specific way or direction helps to lower the stress because you aren't asking them to stand still while the tiger attacks. Learn to ride forward into a slower gait even when she wants to go faster. Holding them slow is a block on the flight desire, but pushing them forward into a walk keeps them slow without the constant blocking of flight.

                            Good luck!


                            • #15
                              I'd move back. However, I'd do a couple things first. I'd ask the cattle's owner if you could do some training with his cattle. We actually wound up setting up a whole cutting clinic to get our horses over their fear of cows. They learned to push the cows around and most of them even had some fun. At the very least, they got over themselves. If that isn't an option, I'd just see if you can't let her live in the cow's field for a week or two. Make her get over herself.

                              As for the bikes. I'd stop a nice looking group of them and ask if you can't set up a training session or three with them. Most people *want* to get along with everyone. I've set up impromptu training sessions with all kinds of folks over the years. Found some kids on ATVs that were spooking the horses. Hey kids! Come here a minute! Can you guys help us for a few minutes? I need you to do X, then Y, then Z to help us teach the horses not to be afraid of ATVs/bikes/bears/dogs/whatever.


                              • #16
                                I've had bikers creep silently up my horse's tail on a rails to trails in NJ. It can really scare the horse and you as well! Luckily, one of the state parks I ride regularly here in PA has TONS of mountain bikers. They are extremely polite and go out of their way to share the trails with horses, so my horses have had many more good experiences with bikes than bad. If you can keep giving your horse positive bike experiences, she may come around!

                                On the cattle side, I have cutting horses plus my "helper" horse who turns cattle back during cuttings. Can you find a trainer in your area who works with cutters, reined cow horses or penners or sorters or even roping? You may be able to find a local cutting horse trainer at www.nchacutting.com. It may take multiple sessions to get your horse over her fear of cattle, but I can guarantee if you find the right trainer, you will get help learning how to handle her fears.

                                Another resource might be a despooking or bombproofing clinic. I do see them advertised occasionally here in the northeast and they do look like they can help.

                                Best wishes! Please stay safe and remember to wear a helmet on every ride!
                                "You can't fix stupid"- Ron White


                                • #17
                                  Just an add on to what RedHorses said...You mentioned she reared on you, that's usually because you are holding tight and pulling back trying to stop her from acting up. When you do that, all that energy needs to go somewhere and it's usually up since you're blocking forward motion (ie-the rearing)...if you go ahead and push thru to a walk you have much less chance of rearing. It's something you will have to actively think about rather than react to, I know it can be tough when it happens.


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by ActNatural View Post
                                    If I pay someone to help me, it will be because Im so wound up with anxiety over how bad her spook can be. I know what can happen and how easy it is to be hurt. Im so lucky to have stayed on last night. She reared up on a muddy shoulder. I know she could have slipped over or backwards on me. I know too much and I cant shut that part off. I thought I handled it very well last night when I got off and chatted with the bike rider and made my horse get closer and closer.
                                    This is what I was detecting in your earlier posts (the anxiety). I would be the same way. You may even be making things worse by sending that message on to your mare. In my younger less brittle days maybe I'd be OK with that type of behavior, but now... not at all. I know I'd be getting a trainer in if this was my horse and things were going THIS badly. I can deal with a little rear or tiny buck here or there, but you've got quite a situation on your hands. It sounds workable though, so good luck!!!


                                    • #19
                                      Wow, I feel for you. I have been there and am there now.

                                      My young horse in 2007 totally freaked out with cows. So I put him in the corral with a calf with our trainer there. He broke his leg trying to jump out the of pen.

                                      Current horse was a child's lesson pony. The one they put the scared kids on. HATES bikes coming at her. Really doesn't like horses running ahead of her, or passing her.

                                      She's for sale.

                                      My next horse will come from the zoo where it has been totally exposed to everything.

                                      My DH's deadhead horse isn't scared of anything. Not the brightest star in the sky, but safe.
                                      There is no snooze button on a cat that wants breakfast.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Bank of Dad View Post
                                        Wow, I feel for you. I have been there and am there now.

                                        My young horse in 2007 totally freaked out with cows. So I put him in the corral with a calf with our trainer there. He broke his leg trying to jump out the of pen.

                                        Current horse was a child's lesson pony. The one they put the scared kids on. HATES bikes coming at her. Really doesn't like horses running ahead of her, or passing her.

                                        She's for sale.

                                        My next horse will come from the zoo where it has been totally exposed to everything.

                                        My DH's deadhead horse isn't scared of anything. Not the brightest star in the sky, but safe.
                                        Wow. Was it the trainer's idea to put a horse in a corral with a calf? I can see a ranch horse in a large paddock with a calf, to learn to sort, but why a corral?

                                        What happened to the horse? Do you/your trainer still put horses and calves in corrals together?