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  • Spooking

    When I bought my horse he really was not spooky at all. I bought him when he was five and I have now had him for a year. In that time he has learned to collect his canter, come down into the bridle and is jumping more consistently. In other words, his job has gotten harder than it previously was. Now, however, he is spooking all the time. The other day I got a very nice and light connection in the bridle and he was moving off my leg. We only kept that for a step before he decided he saw something and completley jumped out of his skin. I almost toppled off, but we got right back to work.

    I was just wondering if anyone else had instances where there horses spooked to get out of work. Is this something horses really think about or is his spooking something real. The spooks are never anything out of control. He never bolts, he just simply will leap five feet in the air or something and I am always trying to be ready for them. But it happens as soon as we get to doing some hard work, even if we have passed the same spot twelve times. I always bring him back to the spot he spooked at, but it is still worrying me with the prospect of showing him.

    I was just wondering if anyone else seemed to have this problem once they started pushing the buttons and really getting down to work.

  • #2
    First I'd suggest having his eyes checked at his next vet appointment. Many times starting to spook out of nowhere can be a slight loss or change in eyesight.
    Second, are you a nervous or worrying type of rider at all? Some horses will pick up being spooky if they feel any nerves or lack of confidence in their ride. And then get worse over time if the rider starts expecting the spook, the rider may be tensing up just a tad and the horse feels that and reacts. You don't have to be actually scared of him, but you could be worrying "what's he going to do today?" and if your body reacts even the slightest to that worrying the horse can be picking it up.
    Third, is he actually spooking? Is he reacting out of fear or could he be reacting to extra work/being more fit? I've had a couple horses a while back that would have some pretty spectacular leaps out of nowhere the more fit they became. It wasn't a spook so much as bottled energy being released. Always a fun way to release energy.
    You jump in the saddle,
    Hold onto the bridle!
    Jump in the line!


    • #3
      I've had horses like this, who seem simple, easy, breezy and become a bit more difficult as they get older and more broke. I think it is part in trying to make their jobs "easier" and in part not really understanding/accepting the fact they have to develop/maintain their work ethic. Kind of like we may like our jobs, but most of the time rather not work so hard!

      ((...of course this is all with the understanding there is no underlying physical discomfort of any sort or sudden eye issues...))

      I find having a plan, being a step ahead of your horse without being defensive is the way to go. It took me a long time to learn that addressing the spook/spooky area is unproductive; addressing what the horse did wrong when he spooked helps. For example, when my mare gets distracted and spooks, she grabs the outside part of the bit and falls in. SO I address that, NOT get upset over whatever she looked at. If I know she's going to spook at the deer over in the left corner, I make sure I have her attention way before, and do something, a leg yield, counter canter, transition, whatever before she can look up and spook. But I don't attack her or the corner where she'll spook, that just back fires every time.

      At times the best thing I can do with my mare is just stop. Halt and stand. Pat. The back to whatever we were just doing. Kind of gives us both a moment to regroup and get back to work.

      But yes, to your question, been there! It is part of the learning process for young horses: learning and accepting their jobs. You can make it an issue and end up with a defensive horse, but I do believe most want to be good, they just think there may be an easier way out!

      Having someone on the ground to shadow you every so often REALLY helps. Sometimes as riders we anticipate certain behaviors and actually create the issue. I've found just having someone to call out random things you can do, transitions or what not, helps a lot to work through things-you're more focused on the helper, horse is focused on you.


      • Original Poster

        Originally posted by MistyBlue View Post
        First I'd suggest having his eyes checked at his next vet appointment.
        I had his eyes checked a year ago with the pre-purchase exam, but I will definitely get them looked at again when the vet comes around.

        Originally posted by MistyBlue View Post
        Second, are you a nervous or worrying type of rider at all?
        I could be subconsciously being nervous as I know these spooks are something new to me with him and I want to be prepared.

        Originally posted by MistyBlue View Post
        Third, is he actually spooking? Is he reacting out of fear or could he be reacting to extra work/being more fit?
        He has gained a lot of weight over the last year and is getting a nice portion of food a day, so he could have a lot of extra energy. It could just be a reaction to feeling good I suppose.

        Thank you so much. I will definitely try to relax when I ride him from now on!


        • #5
          Lazy Spooks

          I actually have a pony that does it just about every ride.
          He is one of my student's pony and it always comes out of no where, the pony is 12 so in my book it's just unacceptable now. She recently broke her arm last month because he was hacking in the ring and he didn't want to be there, his spooks used to be a little gaze or a stop maybe. It's gotten to the point of crow hopping around the arena at full speed.

          When I get on him, he doesn't try it at all, obviously because I'm 5'8 and he's a pony, but we've put him on calm & cool which is surprisingly affordable and has made a change in his jumpiness. I would try that if its a constant occurance like it is for us.

          The habbit grows from annoying to dangerous.


          • #6
            Oh, I have a spooky.lol He has actually got 10times better since I bought him 3 years ago. He use to spook and throw people or buck but now he is a nice guy and rarely ever spooks unless someone shoots close by (which around here they do) or if its a really scary jump The main thing is don't react when he spooks, just keep working thru it. Don't let him stop, don't pet him etc.... Just work thru the spook, if you want tell him its okay really calmly and keep going. Also, do you get him out of the ring much?? A good hack in a pasture or a trail ride will help him. Some horses just get ring sour and start acting out and dumb things because they are bored. Get him out of the ring and do something fun. Try different things also. Set up some jump standards in a barrel pattern or pole bending pattern and trot him around them and then canter them (don't actually do like a barrel racer, ride them like a hunter ) change up his work and make it interesting for him. I've found alot of horses get bored with the day to day work and start thinking to much about other things around them and start spooking.
            Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


            • #7
              Try to think, "Spooks are no big deal" instead of "I won't be nervous."
              It's a little thinking trick...if you try to NOT think of something, that's probably all you'll think about.
              Try this: While you're reading this, do NOT think about a giraffe.

              How's that working for ya?

              He spooks somewhat regularly and you've survived so far. So now you know he's going to jump around every once in a while, it's expected, but don't try to anticipate. Just accept the fact that yup, he probably will leap out of nowhere...and I already know that...I haven't been launched....no big deal. Think of it like a training issue, nothing more. No different than "he usually breaks to a trot if I _____." If a horse does something like that, you don't overthink that and overreact before he does it, you just wait for a sign to show and correct it then and just go right along with the next thing. Try treating the spook that way. If it's a non-issue in your head, it will prbably become a non-issue for him. If he's doing it out of fear, your confidence helps get rid of his fear because you're being the leader. If he's doing it out of frustration or just feeling good...he'll quickly pick up that he'll be corrected immediately and it won't get him out of work or let him play more. Either way the rider worrying abut it less makes the horse worry about it less too.
              Usually. Nothing is 100%....but it's worked for me on the vast majority of horses with issues. I like the fruit-loopy horses.
              You jump in the saddle,
              Hold onto the bridle!
              Jump in the line!


              • #8
                I used to ride a pony like that. He'd "fake spook" and then bolt when he got bored or didn't want to do something. And because people let him get away with it, he kept doing it. When I started riding him I rode through the spooks, ignored him being stupid, and didn't let him get more than a stride when he tried to bolt. After a couple months of that, plus doing exercises that kept him interested, he did much better and only spooked occasionally. Good luck with your guy!


                • #9
                  Originally posted by winegum View Post
                  I had his eyes checked a year ago with the pre-purchase exam, but I will definitely get them looked at again when the vet comes around.

                  I could be subconsciously being nervous as I know these spooks are something new to me with him and I want to be prepared.

                  He has gained a lot of weight over the last year and is getting a nice portion of food a day, so he could have a lot of extra energy. It could just be a reaction to feeling good I suppose.

                  Thank you so much. I will definitely try to relax when I ride him from now on!

                  I had one who got worse and worse depending on his feed....anything high in sugar made him spook 20 times more than usual.....and the more grain the more he spooked. He was the absolute worst on strategy.
                  Happily retired but used to be:


                  • #10
                    I find the more energy my horse has, the more he spooks.
                    He's young and when uppity, he will spook. Knowing this I will put him on a lunge line, or ride through the spooks until he settles down.


                    • #11
                      It appears you are in Tennessee, but up here in the Northeast whenever we have one whose behaviour changes, we test for Lyme disease. It can manifest itself in a lot of strange ways. I'd test him anyway. . .

                      Other than that, he sounds too fresh! How about a good romp in the arena before he works? or a night or two of all night turnout?
                      http://www.facebook.com/olddominionsaddlery Like us on Facebook!!


                      • #12
                        Did I read correctly that you've had him for a year? If so, have you had him at the same place the entire time?

                        The reason I ask is that my horse didn't spook at all the first few months at my barn. Then she started spooking at every new thing she saw. I think it took her the first few months to get used to where things were. Then, when anything changed, it was scary. It's the same thing as when horses don't spook at shows at things that would set them afire at home. They expect new things at shows but not at home.

                        She did get over it and learned that things can change at home without the world coming to an end. It took a while though.

                        That's probably not what's going on with your horse if he's been at the same place for a year now. But I thought I'd toss it out there just in case.


                        • #13
                          My horse has the same problem, except he has diagnosed eye problems.

                          I have seen people use sheepskin on the cheekpieces to act as blinkers. I have never used them myself but it seems that it would be a good idea.

                          I have been considering trying it to see if it helps my guy (his vision is going to go eventually anyways) and keeps me SAFER!
                          A quick tutorial on interval training: Conditioning your horse for eventing


                          • #14
                            Dogchushu...aren't they fun when they do that?
                            My mare used to do that too. When she was boarded or out in public, few things spooked her. After bringing her home...heaven forbid I move the location of anything. For the first year, the littlest things would freak her out on and off, no predicting it. I spent a whole lotta time calling out, "Are you kidding me?" as she was hightailing it back across the paddock because she wandered into the barn after me and the wheelbarrow was 5' from it's normal spot or I had the fork leaning against the wrong wall. or the worst; letting the horses out in the morning and having left something new outside the paddock...meant she'd walk out in the morning all calm and 2 seconds later be trotting and snorting bug eyed back into the barn because there was a Horse Eating shovel/new bucket/whatever left outside overnight.
                            (she didn't do it too much under saddle, then her spooking was just a prop and spin, then stand and quiver)
                            You jump in the saddle,
                            Hold onto the bridle!
                            Jump in the line!


                            • #15
                              If you find that the spooking mostly occurs as the work is getting harder, it may simply be an evasion. I have found the best way to handle that is just not to notice the spook, put all the parts back where they are supposed to be, and keep on working. It is most effective when you can do it without any emotion at all... easier said than done, but once you accomplish it, it does wonders for your confidence and usually - the horse "gets" that it is not effective and gives it up.

                              So, as an example, rider is trotting around the indoor arena, and the horse spooks as they pass the "scary corner" ... horse bulges or scoots away from the rail, head in the air, maybe humps their back a bit or offers to buck. The rider grabs the reins, grips with their knees and hauls on the outside rein while trying not to fall off. Rider gets the horse stopped, cooing "oooh, it's OKAY Pookie, there's nothing there to be scared of! Pat, pat.

                              Horse thinks, "hmmm, if I bulge and brace a bit, I don't have to bend properly or trot through the corner; I get to stop and get a pat."

                              If instead, the rider just deals with the horse in a "ho hum" way, they stretch up, deepen their heel, add a bunch of inside leg to push the horse back out to the outside rein and say, "I don't think so, buddy - you stay in front of my leg and push with your hind legs and trot through this corner." Even if the corner is not beautiful or the horse scoots a little, the fact that the rider is unfazed tells the horse, "it is harder not to do it correctly," and they will be less likely to try it again. For one that is intent on evading - the work simply gets harder. Perhaps the rider trots the corner in shoulder in, or works the horse on a spiral in that end of the ring to reinforce the response to the leg aids. When the horse gives, the rider rewards with a softened contact - and maybe *then*... a pat makes sense. Usually I think that makes the rider feel better, too!
                              We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.