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Dealing with the Warmblood Spook?

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  • Dealing with the Warmblood Spook?

    I have a fabulous hunter. Quiet, cute and talented. Every once in a while he lets out a spook and a bolt or a spook and a spin. It is taking the fun out of riding him. If I plug his ears and put him on the walker for 30 minutes before riding it is less likely to happen. He is on "cold" feed, his saddle fits, he is young and fit and not in pain. I am a good quality rider. He has a huge living area and buddies to play with. I am stumped. My other horse - mostly TB - sends me an email before he spooks so I can ride thru it. The WB does it with no warning making it even more disconcerting.

    Please please please point me in the right direction or to an insightful article... Thank you!
    Last edited by hjrider1; Mar. 28, 2013, 10:12 PM. Reason: spelling

  • #2
    What is your immediate reaction after he does it (aside from hanging on)? When other people witness this, what are their thoughts? How old is he?


    • #3
      Does he usually spook when you've been doing the same thing for a while? I find that one of the easiest ways to prevent spooks is to keep the horse occupied. Change up your exercises a lot. Change the patterns that you're making. Don't go more than once around the ring without doing a circle or some other pattern. Keep it interesting so he's not bored and letting his mind wander.
      Proudly blogging for The Chronicle of the Horse!


      • #4
        To me: a spook is a spook and always will be their goto way to express themselves. Its probably part of what makes your horse jump cute. I've had plenty of them and I won't anymore now that I'm older. You learn to predict and ride the spook once you know everything about it and rule out pain or other physical issues as the cause. If it was me I'd learn to predict it better and then have your response plan: circles, on the bridle, kick forward - whatever works to end it. I know the natural horsemen types say they can eradicate it but I'm not sure I'm a believer. Others try de-sensitizing the cowboy way. I've never done that myself so I don't know how well that works.
        Last edited by equisusan; Apr. 1, 2013, 07:09 PM.
        You don't scare me. I ride a MARE!


        • #5
          Can you provide more info...

          Are there any common situations that create the behavior? As in, particular areas, type of lighting, riding before feed time, all alone or with other horses.

          Does the horse refuse to move or act "up" afterward, or is it more of a once he's done he's back to normal immediately?

          Is it at anytime during a ride, or towards the beginning, middle, or end of the ride?

          Is it at all gaits WTC with complete randomness, or more at one gait then another.

          How is the horse in cross ties and in handling on the ground, leading in and out, trailer loading, etc...

          Have you observed him in the pasture to see if he ever spooks while at liberty.

          Overall is the horse forward under saddle, or is this a horse that tends to suck back and resist work.

          What type of riding do you do with the horse.

          Have you had your vet check the horses eyes.


          • #6
            I had a catch ride that dumped his owner ALL the time. He was a lovely warmblood, but he just had that "punky" thing about him. He always seemed to spook when he was bored. If he was showing, doing a course, or on a fox hunt he was perfect.. If he was bored schooling in the arena on the flat, watch out for the snort and spin! I also found that if I didn't give into his spook, though sometimes it took me by suprised and almost unseated me, he was more respectful. I would just apply more pressure on my leg and school him for a bit where he spooked, make him go check the rock that suddenly was horse eating.

            Those are just little things. Usually it was boredom so I tried to keep him occupied!


            • #7
              My guy would do it also when bored. Shows he was amazing in the dressage ring but schooling at home he'd look for every horsie eating monster out there no matter how busy I kept him. He was spooky with jumping at shows though. If it was a new jump he hadn't seen at a show we've been to he'd spook at it lol. If it was a new show with new jumps he would make it through most but pick out one or two that were extra scary. I figured out he hated jumping lol. He was a happy dressage horse and loved showing but hated schooling and hated jumping
              Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


              • #8
                My mare does the occasional spook due to some invisible scary thing. I've found that pulling to stop her makes it worse, so I try to sit tight and use my body and voice to slow her down.


                • #9
                  I have a huge TB mare (coming 5) with an equally huge spook. It is always in the same two places, but aside from that, she gives no warning at all. I take the martingale neck strap with one hand when I get to the scary places, I put some inside leg on, keep a definite feel with my inside rein, and can often get past it. She is truly afraid of the scary corner, but she also uses it as an excuse to be a little naughty and have some fun. She's better when not fresh, but I too sometimes wonder how to handle it. Is it better to try to just ride through it or get after her.


                  • #10
                    Two different brains & timing reactions

                    -WB - quiet & young, he is behaving like a young horse in slow motion, by the time the thought gets to action, it is done
                    -TB - alert and young, he behaves moment by moment, you can read him easier, he will tense or do something else with body to warn before action.

                    Give yourself & your ride a little more time to get in tune, to fully collect and be as one. You will then know and be ready for the fun your WB is trying to have with you!
                    Last edited by HealingHeart; Mar. 29, 2013, 04:44 PM.


                    • #11
                      1. Make him think harder-- use up his brain cells so that he doesn't have any extra to spend on looking outside the ring.

                      2. Teach him that a spook earns more work. Right afterwards, then, it's back to business, All Business, and something harder than what you were doing before. That can be a transition, change in direction, lateral work. You are calm, but by God the job gets harder after he takes his own coffee break without permission. You aren't punishing him so much as teaching him that *you* decide when he's on the clock and when he's off it.... and that the horse never knows when he'll have to do something new. He had better stay on his game.

                      3. If he is scared or resentful of the "real work" you do in the ring, try doing "errands" or "ranch work" first. This means that you get on and rather than going to the ring, you ride out to open and close gates, look at fence lines, get the mail from the end of the driveway, whatever. This can and should be slow work, but unexpected.

                      The stupidest TB I fixed had to let me use him as a ladder while I pruned branches from a part in the trail where they always hit me in the head. His job was to stand still under the tree while branches rained down on his a$$. After that, he gave up having opinions about how hard things would be in the ring. This horse had some anxiety about training rides so everything went better during those if I gave him something different to think about first. I faked him out so that he never knew when I'd ask him for the stuff that had previously made him tense and spooky.

                      IMO, part of the reason the ranching stock horses are so mentally mature when they are broke, and get that sooner is because they are asked to do all kinds of crap from the very beginning.
                      The armchair saddler
                      Politically Pro-Cat


                      • #12
                        I have a gorgeous warmblood hunter who is 16 years old and still has the spook in him. I think some horses just have more of that "flight response" in their DNA and it is nearly impossible to train them out of it. I bring him into our ring every morning, and he shies and snorts at the same spot every single day (the corner of the ring where jump equipment is stacked if not in use). We circle there for 5 minutes and then he is over it. But if a jeep or ATV drives by, he goes wild. If my trainer takes off her hat in the ring as we pass by her, he startles. It's not a work-avoidance thig; he is genuinely scared. The only thing I can do is to get him really focused on his work; put him seriously on the bit, doing lots of circles, sepentines, lateral work, lengthening, shortening....all of which is good work, anyhow, but should not have to be resorted to as a self-preservation measure. When he gets really focused that way, a bird could land on his head and he would not notice it. At shows I just need to keep his attention in that manner while I warm up and school, and then he is pretty good; generally, if he does not shy or spook at something that happens ring-side, he wins the class. It's a matter of praying that nothing happens along the ring during the 90 seconds I am in there. One time a lady stood up in the bleachers, opened her red umbrella, and "catapault" cannot begin to describe what happened to me!


                        • #13
                          If you put the horse on a contact and do some for reals dressage schooling during your flat session, he will be much less likely to spook. Lateral work, half steps, counter canter, etc etc etc. Make shoulder in your best friend. The jumps can be his time to relax and stretch out.

                          A lot of hunters just doodle around on a baby horse contact doing big circles and changing direction across the diagonal. Horse and rider are in la la land. Ergo spook.
                          The Noodlehttp://tiny.cc/NGKmT&http://tiny.cc/gioSA
                          Boy Wonderhttp://tiny.cc/G9290
                          The Hana is nuts! NUTS!!http://tinyurl.com/SOCRAZY


                          • #14
                            The hardest lesson to learn when switching to WB's... Don't try to fix it. The biggest roadblock for so many people is wasting their time and energy trying to "fix" something that probably won't ever totally go away.

                            Learn to live with it. Learn to ride it out and be prepared. It's going to happen, with nearly any horse. Ride it through, correct him, try again.

                            The best of hunters still have "dumbass days". The current illusion out there, created by commission happy trainers, is that there are hoardes of these 100% perfect, saint-like hunters out there. I'm sure Rumba has spooked too.
                            Last edited by Angelico; Mar. 30, 2013, 09:35 AM. Reason: Spelling

                            "Pat the horse; kick yourself" - Carl Hester


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by meupatdoes View Post
                              If you put the horse on a contact and do some for reals dressage schooling during your flat session, he will be much less likely to spook. Lateral work, half steps, counter canter, etc etc etc. Make shoulder in your best friend. The jumps can be his time to relax and stretch out.

                              A lot of hunters just doodle around on a baby horse contact doing big circles and changing direction across the diagonal. Horse and rider are in la la land. Ergo spook.
                              My TB is normally not a spooker but he just has days where there's a bug up his but. Even with warning he can have MASSIVE spooks on those days, and the warning is a constant sense of "relaxation does not exist today" - so on those days I keep a slight inside bend at all times. Since he spooks at things outside the arena, a correct inside bend keeps the inside shoulder lifted enough he can't drop it and spin, and instead sends himself into half pass with his spook. WAY more rideable. Even if your horse isn't doing half pass in lateral work, getting a correct bend can do the same thing - I think my horse actually started to understand half pass from spooking rather than my novice and don't know what I'm doing attempts to train it...

                              Boredom is a big part of it with the warmblood spookers I've worked with, too. Most of the warmbloods I've worked with were, fortunately, not really spookers - but there were a few who would kind of lull themselves into a trance then suddenly do the whirling dervish spook. They tended to happen during things like walking on a loose rein or working on fixing something in my position where I just asked them to pack around at their innate tempo and not ask more of them.
                              Originally posted by Silverbridge
                              If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.


                              • #16
                                I've got a looky/spooky horse, though it's become more of a startle than an actual spook over time, and it's over quickly. I spent a lot of time riding around looking for things she might spook at, and sitting through it. Pretty much what everyone else says: it's very hard to train out, keep the horse's mind occupied, don't reward them for spooking, learn to sit it, learn what triggers it. My biggest problem these days is anticipating a spook if something weird happens; in a way, I'm spooking before the horse does!
                                You have to have experiences to gain experience.

                                1998 Morgan mare Mythic Feronia "More Valley Girl Than Girl Scout!"


                                • #17
                                  Some never get over it; you just get better at anticipating and dealing with the spook. I have one that is 13 and he still has moments. Had an absolute meltdown in the barn the other day as the dentist had the audacity to set up a TABLE in the aisle. The horror! And that is just him.

                                  Does anyone else like a trainer ever ride the horse? It can be interesting to see what happens when you put someone else on the spooky ones. Might help to see if they are just toying with you or really worried about whatever gets them.

                                  You mention young so I also have to add that many of mine (besides the 13 yo mentioned above) have gotten much better as they have aged. One was a meltdown kind of spooker when younger -- he wouldn't just spin or spook sideways, but he'd then just lose his brain after that and would not get over anything. Deer by the ring ... you might as well not ride for a week as he'd be looking for them and not settle. But he has finally grown out of it. Lots of time in the saddle and just quietly dealing with his stupidity paid off. He's 12 now, but I'd say around 8 is when things started to get good. My shoer always says they ship the warmbloods over first and then send the brains a few years later (none of mine were imported, but he seems to think they all are!).

                                  At least if they are cute and talented, it makes it worthwhile to deal with the spooky years! Long as you can survive it.


                                  • Original Poster

                                    He is 7. I just try and ride him thru it. If he gets me off then I get back on and keep riding. If he does it at the walk I turn him in a circle to get his attention back on me...


                                    • #19
                                      At first when reading this thread I wasn't going to post because I just couldn't figure out if I could help you or not... but saying that I understand what you are going through and it is very strange. I love the part where you write your TB sends you an email.... And that has been my experience TOO.

                                      I have always ridden TB's when I was younger and they definitely wear their hearts on their sleeves. Warning warning as they are animating up for the big spook or take off.

                                      Then my first WB was 1/2 TB and he had the warning spooks that I was used to so all was good; then I purchased my first BIG Danish WB... and he did that - dum-de-dum going along just fine and then OMG time to spook. I hated it. It made me anticipate every ride. I even hired a good rider/trainer to work with him. Then I decided something was wrong, that this couldn't be just because he was a full blooded European WB.... of course vetting, saddle fitting, feed all checked and adjusted.. I started over with him as if he were a young horse I was training for trail or police work. And that REALLY helped. We did a lot of walk work over tarps, poles, around cones etc. (edited to add that I also had some friends with some extremely solid horses that I rode him with and that was a HUGE help too).

                                      And I kind of got tough with him; I wasn't mean when he spooked, I just put him to work and said were not doing that Mr!!! I also had another trainer help me put my big guy in a training program and when he was getting this type of care he was MUCH better too. With time it did get MUCH better. I spent a lot of time on the ground getting to know him too and as much as I was frustrated at that time, the number one rule when training a horse other than it's about the horse - is training is not on OUR time frame, it's on the horses!

                                      My new horse is also a European WB but so far (knocking on wood) the myth of TB sending an email is spot on. This horse may be from Europe but he has A LOT of TB blood in him.

                                      I know what you are going through. I don't know if I have helped you out but at least know this stuff happens and your not alone.
                                      Last edited by doublesstable; Mar. 29, 2013, 04:31 PM.
                                      Live in the sunshine.
                                      Swim in the sea.
                                      Drink the wild air.


                                      • #20
                                        This is why I still choose TBs to ride and show. Long live the TB hunter!!!
                                        You don't scare me. I ride a MARE!