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Spooky pony

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  • Pocketpony
    started a topic Spooky pony

    Spooky pony

    First time posting but long time lurker... we bought a pony for our 9 year old. The pony is 8 and is a saint - until he is not. He spooks at seemingly nothing and then his world falls apart. He is not like any other horse who spooks and gets over it. He remembers it for weeks and it takes a lot of work to desensitize him again. When he spooks he does whatever he can to get away. It is a genuine fear response. Everything else is in order.. saddle fits, HEALTHY, feet all good etc.

    He has trouble with things moving around him like taking off a jacket while mounted, or another horse centering near him, some invisible monsters. Yet he will pick up and play with things that are not being moved by humans such as tarps, brooms, lead ropes or anything you accidentally leave within reach.

    Totally babysitter type pony and really lazy normally. These spooks happen every 2 to 3 months and set us back a lot. Daughter of course LOVES her pony and I can't bear the thought of moving him on unless we try everything to help him first.

    She has fallen off once when he bolted.

    What are some things we can try?

  • horselvr77
    replied
    In addition to the other great suggestions the pony could be suffering from malfunctioning adrenals. I would suggest looking into that because if they are putting out too much adrenaline when an equine spooks it causes a major over reaction. Getting this back into balance is the key if that is the issue.

    Leave a comment:


  • CPL713
    replied
    Originally posted by Pocketpony View Post

    When things are going well I stop doing groundwork, not on purpose, I just sort of forget because we are busy and I have my own horse to keep going too. I'm making it a fun game for my daughter now, she has to find a new thing every few days from the house that we can take to the barn to "play" with. Yesterday we took the scary rain coat. This time I could flap it everywhere and he got very wide eyed but didn't move. He looked at me and then I dropped it and praised him. He chewed and licked his lips. I think we will try a pool noodle tonight.

    Funny you should mention bikes... I ride him on trails that are full of bikes and people with off leash dogs. He doesn't spook at that stuff at all. We ride by cows, pigs and sheep, no reaction at all. I wonder if he internalizes a lot of his fear until he can't keep it in anymore and then explodes, or if he is calm in most situations.

    On the ground he is a real lovebug and does not put a hoof out of line. I think that he will be a solid citizen one day but its going to take a lot of time, effort and patience
    The part I bolded in your post is exactly it. Horses rarely ever blow up out of nowhere. I think I've MAYBE known one horse who would do that, because he'd learned that was how to get out of whatever he was being asked to do that he didn't like, but even then that's not really out of nowhere, is it?

    Their capacity for the worry they are holding on to just finally overflows and that's when you get the explosion. For instance, in a scenario I just made up: maybe a bike whizzes by and he seems fine, then you pass a herd of sheep and he's fine, then a dog runs up behind you barking and he gets a little tense for a moment but seems fine, then a rabbit jumps out of the underbrush and he gets a little startled but otherwise doesn't react...then your kid puts on the rain coat and that is the LAST STRAW. His capacity to hold it together has finally been maxed out. It's not just the rain coat; it's the bikes and the sheep and the dogs and the rabbits and the change in barometric pressure and the weird sound the tractor is making and then OMG THIS COAT IS ON ME I JUST CAN'T.

    Good groundwork teaches them to let go of that worry and fully come down in between worrisome occurances so that you can hopefully avoid reaching max capacity. But I think we have to be careful when we are desensitizing to be sure we are really allowing them to come down, and aren't teaching them to shut down.

    I really find all of this (groundwork, desensitizing, horse behavior, etc.) very fascinating.

    Leave a comment:


  • rhymeswithfizz
    replied
    Great advice here
    Is he any better if he has a friend in the arena sticking with him? Sometimes it helps the spooky ones to work through it more easily when they have a babysitter who is unconcerned about scary raincoats.

    Leave a comment:


  • bt
    replied
    1. Every saint is going to have a bad day(few days) every few months 2. I would never have put a rain jacket on while on any pony he had every right to be scared...normal jacket mayyyybbeeeeee but rain jacket UH UH. How close and how many horses cantering does it take to spook him? And honestly from what you describe "desensitizing" him may just "traumatize" him maybe a more experienced "pony jockey", slight diet change, more turn out may help but bottom line you have to decide wether his good outweighs his bad as is.

    Leave a comment:


  • Pocketpony
    replied
    Originally posted by beau159 View Post

    I would not bother with desensitizing him after the spook, because his brain is FRIED. He just panicked and he is in panic mode and not thinking mode. You can't train in panic mode.

    So yes, work with him 5 minutes each day, with whatever random spooky object you can find: blue tarp, plastic grocery bag, bicycle (seems to be scary for most horses), large cardboard box, raincoat, etc etc etc. Be creative.

    You need to push him far enough to make him a bit nervous, but not too far that you cross the line into panic mode. Timing and feel is knowing when to push, when to hold, and when to release. Since you say you are well versed in ground work, this should be familiar to you.

    Although .... I do not mean this to be snarky in anyway, but if you are indeed "well versed" in ground work and natural horsemanship, you should have already known that daily ground work is going to benefit this pony -- not just working with him after the spook. But I know we tend to "forget things" when it comes to our own horses.

    You won't stop him from spooking when he's going to spook under saddle but if you can make him "controllable" during the spook, your daughter may be just fine. By repeated exposure to scary objects, you are going to retrain him to look to the rider/handler for guidance when he is scared, and not just running blindly.
    When things are going well I stop doing groundwork, not on purpose, I just sort of forget because we are busy and I have my own horse to keep going too. I'm making it a fun game for my daughter now, she has to find a new thing every few days from the house that we can take to the barn to "play" with. Yesterday we took the scary rain coat. This time I could flap it everywhere and he got very wide eyed but didn't move. He looked at me and then I dropped it and praised him. He chewed and licked his lips. I think we will try a pool noodle tonight.

    Funny you should mention bikes... I ride him on trails that are full of bikes and people with off leash dogs. He doesn't spook at that stuff at all. We ride by cows, pigs and sheep, no reaction at all. I wonder if he internalizes a lot of his fear until he can't keep it in anymore and then explodes, or if he is calm in most situations.

    On the ground he is a real lovebug and does not put a hoof out of line. I think that he will be a solid citizen one day but its going to take a lot of time, effort and patience

    Leave a comment:


  • beau159
    replied
    Originally posted by Pocketpony View Post
    Beau159 I think that is where I'm failing. I desensitize him after the spook and then just carry on the next day as usual instead of challenging him with new spooky things each day. We are working with a trainer once a week. She rides him also and gives my daughter lessons. She said that he is a quirky pony and that he will always have a little edge to him. I love and trust my trainer, but wanted some ideas from other experienced horse people / pony moms to see what we can do day to day.
    I would not bother with desensitizing him after the spook, because his brain is FRIED. He just panicked and he is in panic mode and not thinking mode. You can't train in panic mode.

    So yes, work with him 5 minutes each day, with whatever random spooky object you can find: blue tarp, plastic grocery bag, bicycle (seems to be scary for most horses), large cardboard box, raincoat, etc etc etc. Be creative.

    You need to push him far enough to make him a bit nervous, but not too far that you cross the line into panic mode. Timing and feel is knowing when to push, when to hold, and when to release. Since you say you are well versed in ground work, this should be familiar to you.

    Although .... I do not mean this to be snarky in anyway, but if you are indeed "well versed" in ground work and natural horsemanship, you should have already known that daily ground work is going to benefit this pony -- not just working with him after the spook. But I know we tend to "forget things" when it comes to our own horses.

    You won't stop him from spooking when he's going to spook under saddle but if you can make him "controllable" during the spook, your daughter may be just fine. By repeated exposure to scary objects, you are going to retrain him to look to the rider/handler for guidance when he is scared, and not just running blindly.

    Leave a comment:


  • Pocketpony
    replied
    Yes certainly not a great place to be in right now but we are going to stick with him for a while and see if we can at least put some more training in to at least make him a better sales prospect. We are not going at it alone and have huge support network including a trainer and barn full of amazing people all willing to help.

    I have been riding for 29 years, started on lesson ponies and horses, did hunters, jumpers and dressage, rode my brother's poly ponies and uncle's farm horses, leased a few and own a couple now, and one or two of those had zero spook in them due to age or whatever else.

    This pony's spook is too big for a kid, I agree, but if we move him on and look for another, I don't know where I'm going to find a unicorn that is going to be 100% safe. In my experience there just aren't that many out there and they are usually not for sale.

    Leave a comment:


  • BeeHoney
    replied
    Originally posted by Pocketpony View Post

    For now I'm going to keep them on a lunge line for everyone's safety.
    I know that you are just working through this and thinking this through, but a pony can still have a bad spook while being longed. No human has quick enough reflexes or is strong enough to physically control a spooking, frightened pony. You are deceiving yourself to think that a spooky pony is safer on a longe line.I have seen (multiple) nasty falls take place even when ponies were on lead lines. Not trying to be harsh here. For sure, you are not the first parent to hope that an unsuitable pony can somehow be reformed.

    Spookiness is extra tough because it requires you to try to control the environment, which is always tough when ponies are involved, because people do not expect them to be spooky. Sooner or later, someone is going to walk up to the pony with something scary in their hands or accidentally flap the hood of their rain jacket or walk by with some arena decorations or whatever.

    Spookiness plus a child adds yet another layer of difficulty, because as much as you think that your child is responsible enough not to do something that will scare the pony, sooner or later she is going to, by accident. Dealing with a spooky horse requires a level of sensitivity, planning ahead and a level of awareness of the surrounding environment that a nine year old just doesn't have.

    I understand that it is a hard thing to "give up." Or, even worse to tell your child that you are "giving up." That's the wrong way to look at it. A pony for a child has a tremendous amount of responsibility and should be looked at as a teacher. Would you ever engage a teacher for your child that was fabulous for two months at a time but then would fly off the handle in some inexplicable manner? Of course not--what child would thrive in that situation? It's okay to tell your kids that a pony is not suitable or that it has a problem that is beyond your ability to fix.

    Leave a comment:


  • North Dakota
    replied
    BeeHoney, I totally second what they said. When my little sister was 9 our mom embarked on getting a second pony so we'd each have one (crazy I know). Our coach found a pony that was a kick ride, show experience etc. That pony was a bucker. Like explode out of a slow trot bucker. This was 15+ years ago, and I still remember how scared it made my sister. Long story short, they tried to work through the pony's bucking, she ended up being sold on to someone who could deal with it. It did a number to my sister's confidence. She'd been w/t/c jumping, hacking out etc. before all that. When they found her a new horse (the most perfect horse ever for someone scared) she was in tears if anyone suggested coming off a lunge line to walk around the indoor.

    Anyways, point of my story, is don't let your daughter's confidence take a hit seeing if an effort will make a difference.

    Leave a comment:


  • Pocketpony
    replied
    Originally posted by RedHorses View Post
    My younger horse has a high escape drive too. He has learned to overcome it to a large extent with much work, but not entirely. This past spring I tried a magnesium supplement and noticed a difference within a couple of weeks. I wish I had tried it sooner.

    Magnesium only works if the horse isn't getting enough, but if that is the case it will keep working.

    Another horse I had used to get focused on something and then spook when something he hadn't noticed got too close???. He learned to have a broader focus and have smaller reactions over time, and became virtually bomb proof in company, but before then he also had a traumatic experience that I had doubts he'd ever recover from.

    So, my experience suggests trying magnesium and checking his general focus on his environment/handler. I think Warwick Schiller does some of the lattter to teach the horse to look to his handler in the face of scary/worrisome things.
    Yes, hopefully the magnesium will help. He has some of the signs that he is deficient... tight muscles, especially his neck, nervous poops, etc.

    Leave a comment:


  • Pocketpony
    replied
    I appreciate your feedback and know in my heart of hearts that you are probably right. I am going to give it a good go for 6 months to see if the effort will make any difference. If not we will be moving the pony along to a different home.

    For now I'm going to keep them on a lunge line for everyone's safety.

    Leave a comment:


  • RedHorses
    replied
    My younger horse has a high escape drive too. He has learned to overcome it to a large extent with much work, but not entirely. This past spring I tried a magnesium supplement and noticed a difference within a couple of weeks. I wish I had tried it sooner.

    Magnesium only works if the horse isn't getting enough, but if that is the case it will keep working.

    Another horse I had used to get focused on something and then spook when something he hadn't noticed got too close???. He learned to have a broader focus and have smaller reactions over time, and became virtually bomb proof in company, but before then he also had a traumatic experience that I had doubts he'd ever recover from.

    So, my experience suggests trying magnesium and checking his general focus on his environment/handler. I think Warwick Schiller does some of the lattter to teach the horse to look to his handler in the face of scary/worrisome things.

    Leave a comment:


  • BeeHoney
    replied

    Leave a comment:


  • Pocketpony
    replied
    Originally posted by CPL713 View Post

    He also has a facebook page where people can post questions and get thoughts from others who have had similar experience, and Warwick is extremely active on there (though slightly less so right now as he is comepeting at WEG). The group is called Warwick Schiller Performance Horsemanship - though I recommend subscribing to his video site so you will understand what the heck people are telling you on the fb group, and obviously that is where the real value is. The FB group is just a nice place to get some questions answered.

    There is a 7 day free trial, and he also has some shorter videos on youtube so you can get a taste of what he's all about.

    When you subscribe or start the trial, there is a list titled 'Start Here' that takes you to various playlists that are the best starting point. I watched a lot of those videos during my free trial and they are what convinced me to subscribe. Plus, it's a month-to-month thing so you can cancel at any time.

    Also, reading through the responses to your thread has made me think more seriously about having my own horse tested for magnesium deficiency...I just feel like there is still something going on with him that isn't a training issue. So thanks for posting.
    Thank you for the info I'll keep this tread updated in case anyone is interested in following progress with training and the magnesium supplementation.

    Leave a comment:


  • CPL713
    replied
    Originally posted by Pocketpony View Post

    I am definitely going to take the recommendation for Warwick S. Lots of things to try now and I feel way better about the situation
    He also has a facebook page where people can post questions and get thoughts from others who have had similar experience, and Warwick is extremely active on there (though slightly less so right now as he is comepeting at WEG). The group is called Warwick Schiller Performance Horsemanship - though I recommend subscribing to his video site so you will understand what the heck people are telling you on the fb group, and obviously that is where the real value is. The FB group is just a nice place to get some questions answered.

    There is a 7 day free trial, and he also has some shorter videos on youtube so you can get a taste of what he's all about.

    When you subscribe or start the trial, there is a list titled 'Start Here' that takes you to various playlists that are the best starting point. I watched a lot of those videos during my free trial and they are what convinced me to subscribe. Plus, it's a month-to-month thing so you can cancel at any time.

    Also, reading through the responses to your thread has made me think more seriously about having my own horse tested for magnesium deficiency...I just feel like there is still something going on with him that isn't a training issue. So thanks for posting.

    Leave a comment:


  • Pocketpony
    replied
    Originally posted by CPL713 View Post
    I was just coming to suggest Warwick Schiller and Palm Beach beat me to it! Seriously go check him out. He has a lot of interesting things to say RE incorporating a horse's focus and relaxation into desensitization work that I think might really help you. Also, I hate to be the person to shout, "hey it's probably ulcers!" but this does sound like my horse when his ulcers are flaring up.
    Haha! Yup I will chat with vet about ulcers when he comes to do teeth next month.

    I am definitely going to take the recommendation for Warwick S. Lots of things to try now and I feel way better about the situation

    Leave a comment:


  • CPL713
    replied
    I was just coming to suggest Warwick Schiller and Palm Beach beat me to it! Seriously go check him out. He has a lot of interesting things to say RE incorporating a horse's focus and relaxation into desensitization work that I think might really help you. Also, I hate to be the person to shout, "hey it's probably ulcers!" but this does sound like my horse when his ulcers are flaring up.

    Leave a comment:


  • Pocketpony
    replied
    Beau159 I think that is where I'm failing. I desensitize him after the spook and then just carry on the next day as usual instead of challenging him with new spooky things each day. We are working with a trainer once a week. She rides him also and gives my daughter lessons. She said that he is a quirky pony and that he will always have a little edge to him. I love and trust my trainer, but wanted some ideas from other experienced horse people / pony moms to see what we can do day to day.

    Leave a comment:


  • Pocketpony
    replied
    Originally posted by TWH Girl View Post
    OP, is he getting grass hay or alfalfa hay? Usually with spooking, I address: 1) feed, 2) pain, 3) training/behavior. When was your PPE? Did they do flexion tests? It wouldn't hurt to have an evaluation with your vet and also address appropriate feed for him and if magnesium or other supplementation would help. Honestly, I'd send him off for 60 days desensitizing myself but that's me. He needs 5-6 days consistent work and if you can't do that, it's not going to make much impact.
    He gets timothy hay and a vit/mineral supplement and that is all. I'm going to buy a magnesium supplement this weekend to see if that will help at all. The PPE was in May this year. There is no pain or health issues at all. I'm well versed in groundwork and natural horsemanship and not new to horses. I know horses can and will spook, even the most docile, but I'm just worried about how big his explosions are. I am working with him 5 days a week. He is a great boy on the ground and under saddle it is just that his spooks are huge.

    Leave a comment:

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