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Falling Off From A Spook

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  • Falling Off From A Spook


    I was just looking for some advice/encouragement because of something that has happened recently which shook my courage quite a bit.

    First of all, I'm no stranger to riding. I've ridden for over 20 years, doing H/J, dressage, starting colts, and have studied Foundation Horsemanship philosophies for the last ten years. I've fallen off a bunch and have always gotten back on.

    I have an Azteca filly who will turn 4 the 17th of this month. I have ridden her for about a year and a half, lightly and with some breaks, and have no problems with her - no bucking, rearing, bolting, no falling off. I started her myself and even those she has thrown me some doozies in the spook department, I have been quite confident in my ability to stay aboard.

    Until a week ago last Thursday: I was riding along, enjoying myself a little TOO much, and she spooked. Before I knew it, I was on her right side, clutching at mane, rein, anything to stay on and then I landed on my side. She trotted off a little ways and waited for me to come to her. I got on and we resumed and had a beautiful ride.

    Okay, I thought. That was a fluke. I will just pay more attention and we'll be fine. Besides, it's been four years since I last was dumped...

    Or so I thought! I've ridden her about three times since that last fateful day and was feeling pretty alright again with things. Today I had a great ride, she was soft and forward and she even spooked once and I went with her, keeping my hands out of her mouth.

    But then I was just walking toward the fence and BAM. She startled, FARTED, and then did a God-Knows-What and I found myself in the same situation, skinning the exact same elbow. (At least the previous injury cushioned the blow of the new one!)

    I don't think she bucked...she probably kicked out after she got scared by something or other. But that's not really the point, I know.

    I know I have to be more on top of things. I know she's challenging. I also think I have done a pretty dang good job with her up until now because she can be very fruity at times. Maybe I was just getting a little comfortable. Also, about three days ago she got her feet trimmed and has been kinda ouchy on the gravel and maybe a little tender even in the arena.

    Aside from working on more core exercises, doing some lunge line work and just on the whole NOT STEALING ANY MORE RIDES, do you guys have any more advice?

    Also, my big concern is this: if I fall off more will she develop a bad habit of doing this?? I feel pretty confident in my ability to train her slowly because I have been doing just that with pretty good results, but I really hope that even if it takes me a few more falls to figure out how to stay on her reactive little self (and as long as I keep getting back on) that she won't decide she likes making me fall.


  • #2
    My thoughts?
    They might sound a bit harsh, but the intent is to get you to take a closer look, and go find the help you need before you get seriously injured.
    Or not, if you don't want to make any major changes to your horsemanship, that is YOUR decision and not my business.

    I also think I have done a pretty dang good job with her up until now because she can be very fruity at times.
    If you've been stealing rides (and I would say you have), you have been doing a pretty good job staying on a horse that is NOT OK with what is going on, she does not think she has YOU to turn to when she gets upset or scared.

    Lots and lots of people ride this way, and lots of people have 'quiet tempered' horses that tolerate the person not being their leader and source of comfort. People also ride horses in an environment to avoid new or challenging occurrences, so as to avoid having a horsie meltdown.

    As Tom Dorrance used to say, you need to get it to where the horse would rather be with YOU than anywhere else at all.
    There are tons of 'natural horsemanship' types out there who use what they call Ray or Tom's methods, who are doing nothing at all about having the horse being truly with you.

    There are also several people who CAN help you to learn how to get your horse to that place. I'd much recommend Harry Whitney. Tom Moates has written some really great books about his experiences with Harry, that can get you some exposure to Harry's methods.

    PM me if you want more info on finding someone in your region who can help you, if you want to. There is a lot of really, really good help out there (no dvd or majikal stik buying) if you truly want to learn it.


    • #3
      They get more agile when the turn 4.

      It's like the nerve sheaths finally get myelinated and the horse can do things with his body under saddle that he wouldn't have chosen to do a year earlier.

      IMO, you don't get to let your guard down on a young horse.... that comes gradually. But you have to figure out how to give them a good soft ride when they are good while being ready to tighten up and "keep leg on each side of 'em" when they go wrong.

      I'm riding some young ones now and I think about feeling my sitting bones, thighs melting around them and my heels stretching deep on these horses. I feel for my own symmetry. Also, I create a (long) bridge in my reins when I ride. That means I have the other rein in each hand. Make sense? I ride with 7' split reins and that makes it work out. Plus I have a ready strap to use behind a leg if I need it.

      The purpose of crossing the reins is two-fold. First, it helps me keep my shoulders square and my body turning with my hands. And also, if I should happen to start falling off one side, the bridge in the reins connected to the other side gives my "lower" hand something to stop it before my body is so far off the horse's side that I have no hope of righting myself.

      I do think it scares young horses when we come off them. A bad horse will learn to dump people, but most don't start out looking for that. Just stop falling of your young horse because it's bad for you!
      The armchair saddler
      Politically Pro-Cat


      • #4
        I was in a similar situation as you with my mustang. I had him for two years before he bucked me off, but when he did it was HARD and with gusto (and much pain on my part!). Until then I would say, yes, I was stealing rides, but I didn't realize it and just thought he was a good boy...

        Since my horse was older when I got him (5), I no longer think of training as an age, but in number of years since they were started - so he bucked me off in his second year of training.

        That incident led me away from strictly dressage training and into looking for something different. I just went to a Buck Brannaman clinic and feel like his teachings offered me what I really needed to be with my horse in the right frame of mind for training and for teaching him to be with me.

        My horse has since bucked with me but I haven't come off. It isn't his MO to buck me off just for the sake of it, because he could do that anytime he wanted if he really wanted. Bucking is his extreme reaction to something (I think it is ground bees, actually) that spooks him and I need to learn how to redirect his attention to me rather than to fleeing.

        It is hard to come back after two falls in a row and not have some fear. My recommendation (if you're not already doing it) is to prepare you and your horse with ground work before you get on. It will help her focus on you and help ground you emotionally as well as check out where she is mentally.

        Good luck!
        "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


        • #5
          One Rein Stop!!!


          It should be like second nature! It is a brake that if done correctly, WILL stop your horse. It is a confidence builder, knowing you can stop a horse whenever you need.


          AGAIN, do it correctly, pull towards your HIP!! He explains it well. Do it often, so it is your go to move if you feel out of control and your horse will understand what you are asking.

          If you stop the forward motion, your horse will not buck. You need to control the hindquarters and disengage them.

          Good luck!
          Riding is NOT meant as an inside sport, GET out of that arena!!!


          • #6
            Originally posted by Shermy View Post
            If you stop the forward motion, your horse will not buck.
            I was always taught the opposite of this. You ride forward out of a buck. Get the horse's head up and get him moving forward.
            "Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything
            that's even remotely true."

            Homer Simpson


            • #7
              Originally posted by NoSuchPerson View Post
              I was always taught the opposite of this. You ride forward out of a buck. Get the horse's head up and get him moving forward.
              Yes, that always cracks me up. My horse can run forward and buck like nobody's business - moving him more forward wouldn't make him stop bucking!!!

              Look at horses running around and playing and bucking and farting. For the most part, they don't do it standing still in place, do they?
              "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


              • #8
                Shermy and the one-rein-stop school means that the horse is going forward, but in a small circle.

                It's hard for a horse to do much evil with this hiney not straight behind his front end.
                The armchair saddler
                Politically Pro-Cat


                • #9
                  I'm probably a little slow but am not understanding- is the issue a spook, a bolt, or a buck?

                  I don't personally make use of the one rein stop as my first response but recognize that many do. In any event, if the issue is spooking, as in jumping sideways or wheeling, ceasing forward motion is in my opinion the wrong decision by the rider for several reasons. First- you are making the horse the 'decider' and not the rider. Second- whether you are wheeling them around one rein or making them go faster, you are busying them with movement which should redirect their focus away from whatever set them off.

                  If you stop forward motion, they get to focus even more on their demons and that is when things can get uglier. They certainly CAN explode back into a buck or wheel or spook from a standstill, more easily than if their feet are kept moving, preferably at a faster pace like a trot at least. And perhaps most importantly- pulling up ol' paint whenever there is misbehavior just teaches the horse that they get out of work when they decide they have an issue, and only encourages more such patterns. Remember the mantra, make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. Case in point, decades ago I had to fix a 4 yo selle francais mare, who had developed the skill of dropping her shoulder and depositing the rider- any rider- and being half way clever she quickly learned that often enough the rider chose not to continue riding so she got out of work. I set her up to pop me off, held onto the reins, got right back on and continued working. She never pulled it again with anyone. Rare that 'one' time would fix it but in that case it did.

                  As has been noted by others- the 4 yo year is quite the 'junior high school' year. Two year olds are easy, three year olds, still pretty easy, four year olds feel the power and test the limits.

                  My two horses are now 8 and 10 and this time of year they are both apt to have 'the willies' on a day or two, and 'spook' at things they don't normally pay any attention to. And I had a gelding for 25 years who, even in his early 20s, would pick a random rock to shy at now and again- and he was quite skilled at just wheeling around and leaving you looking like Wile.E.Coyote who just overran the edge of the cliff. I note that these are all explanations- not excuses- they know 'I' know and so they don't persist. If they are truly fearful of say, the smell of a mountain lion, they do have my empathy and we react accordingly, as a team.

                  As for not being able to buck going forward- sure, they can crow hop a little bit, but if you are actively URGING them forward, while raising your hand (not pulling back on the reins) to get the head up, no, they can't get in any NFR quality moves. If you're just 'sitting' and not 'riding,' that's another matter. If you keep after them until they are cantering/galloping and make them work at that a spell, that will give them some good food for thought- bucking means more work for me- and they'll get over it.

                  So, for the OP- no, if you fall off a horse now and then, including from these spooks, it won't necessarily establish a habit for the horse- provided that your reaction is to get back on! And there are variations on this theme if you need them in order to be more comfortable. If you are on the trail or in some dicey environment and have reservations- then lead the horse to wherever you are comfortable getting on, say the nearest arena- and get on, and cheerfully work that horse, substantially. And then go out to the bugaboo point 'assuming' that your horse will have no issue with the gremlin (and riding such that your body language is clear on that to the horse) and just ride on by and complete your lovely hack. A horse that understands that doing the 'right' thing means less sweat becomes a very pleasant ride indeed, even as a youngster.

                  Handy tip for spooking in general- if your horse is looking at some perceived goblin- ignore. Keep your eyes and legs going in the direction you want to go. Sometimes, for variety, even look down on the ground on the side opposite where the horse is looking, focusing on the spot where you next expect that front foot to land. Your positioning is commuicating to the horse that you are paying attention to where that foot should be, and so should the horse. You might be amazed at how that keeps a spook from happening. If a horse is truly spooking at something- keep going forward, use a leading rein to keep horse's nose where you want, and look straight ahead or opposite the spooky thing. And keep moving. Your horse might make a bit of an arc, no worries, will get past scary thing and keep going and you'll be able to reward for positive action.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Pocket Pony View Post
                    Yes, that always cracks me up. My horse can run forward and buck like nobody's business - moving him more forward wouldn't make him stop bucking!!!

                    Look at horses running around and playing and bucking and farting. For the most part, they don't do it standing still in place, do they?
                    On the other hand... watch bronc riding. A hard-bucking bronc is not going to run across the arena. If one does, he probably wasn't bucking that hard and the guy is going to get a re-ride. Yes, horses can buck and move forward, but to truly buck HARD, they have to lose some forward motion. I personally do NOT stop a horse if they start bucking. To me, that teaches them that bucking was a way out of work, and they won. I'll keep sending them forward, but in a productive way (work circles, keep changing directions, etc). They are going to learn that life will be a lot harder if they choose to buck, and they're better off not bucking.


                    • #11
                      How long are your ride sessions? Is it possible that they are too long and that she gets too tired to cope?

                      Go back to the beginning...there's something she's not understanding. Confusion = lack of focus. If it were me...and I have done this to build MY confidence back up...I would get back on do a simple walk trot once around in each direction and get off. Stay in the arena...ours is out doors only...stay where everything is fairly predictable.

                      Oh, and sorry to mention this...but hardly anybody can do what they did 20 years ago, the way they did it 20 years ago.
                      Last edited by ezduzit; May. 8, 2013, 06:49 PM. Reason: add after though
                      Ride like you mean it.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by mvp View Post
                        Shermy and the one-rein-stop school means that the horse is going forward, but in a small circle.

                        It's hard for a horse to do much evil with this hiney not straight behind his front end.

                        Yes, if we are splitting hairs, u are correct. My point was I can take my horse and stop him from taking off w/me, by doing a ORS (one rein stop). I do it often, so my horse knows what I am asking when I do it, so he stops quickly.

                        It is automatic, like I said, if you practice it, if becomes 2nd nature for both your horse and YOU.
                        Riding is NOT meant as an inside sport, GET out of that arena!!!


                        • #13
                          I redirect his energy, by doing a ORS. I can get my horse stopped no matter what the situation. PERIOD. If my horse is not paying attention, I will disengage his hip until his mind comes back to me. Usually does not take too long.

                          Once I learned how to do the ORS correctly MANY years ago, in a clinic, it totally changed so much w/me.

                          My horse would take the bit and take off on me at random times. This was a LONG time ago, when I wasnt as good of a rider as I am now.

                          The ORS gave me a TON of confidence. NOW, if my horse takes off, it is no big deal at all, I can stop him whenever I want.

                          ORS work, IF you know how to do it the right way and do it on your horse everyonce awhile, to keep it sharp in their minds.

                          I do understand that if you run your horse fast enough, MOST can not buck, BUT I ask, did you read into the OP's post that she had LOST her confidence?!?! I dont think in that situation, I would recommend that she should go FASTER when her horse starts to buck. That is probably a bad way to go.

                          Most times when I ride, I warm my horse up by disengaging the hind, then bringing their front over, works for my horse, so the ORS is a nature movement that my horse is very used to doing.

                          Riding is NOT meant as an inside sport, GET out of that arena!!!


                          • #14
                            Bucking horses can't run and buck b/c of the bucking strap-it prevents them from stretching out to run and if it's applied correctly, the horse stops to buck rather than run. There is no "choice" on the horse's part really unless there is no strap.

                            I definitely use the ORS if a horse is familiar with the concept in kinder gentler times. If you use it hard for the first time in the middle of a bucking fit you're going to have a mess but if they're familiar with it, as it sounds like your horse is OP, then you're good to go. If I have a horse throw a bucking fit I don't just turn them loose but I will try to bring them around so the brain can reconnect. I had a young QH filly try to buck me off for a full hour once and the ORS thwarted her every time. It's the definition of taking them out of gear and if you have your timing down well so you release just right and catch her just right you will take ALL the wind out of her sails and gain yourself a lot of confidence back.

                            OP I've been in your shoes and my advice to you is to stay where you feel confident and in control and from there take little side trips into the more risky situations. Do arena close to home work and work work work and work on keeping her focus and then foray out into the wilds but DON"T STOP WORKING, keep doing little gives and stop for a side pass and just keep her mind so much on you and your asking that she won't notice a weirdness appear. Rides don't get to be an open book-she needs to keep her brain on your and not so much imagining boogers.
                            “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Shermy View Post

                              The ORS gave me a TON of confidence.

                              The key here is not the ORS. It is that no matter 'which' tool you are using, you are riding with confidence. THAT is what the horse is responding to- your confidence- and as you've described it the ORS is the means of communication, and the horse knows exactly what you mean. The same will apply with any other tool we choose to use, including the standard 'two rein' stop or just leaning back and relaxing or even a verbal cue.


                              • #16
                                You said she's an Azteca....no harm meant but is she a narrow little thing or a chunk of a horse?

                                Narrow= easy to get plopped off, you're sitting on a fence. Sit BACK sit deep- soft butt cheeks, madam. Soft and heavy in the seat. Even a little slouchy on your pockets...

                                If not, nevermind


                                • #17
                                  He was not green, but I had a Quarter horse, three quarter chicken. There was an underlying physical reason for his spookiness, but it was years before we found it. On some level his brain recognized that he was the lame horse and would need as much escape time as possible if he were to escape being eaten.

                                  Anyway, the image that worked for me was that of grass growing in a pot. If you whip the pot sideways the grass bends and then comes back over it's roots as the pot comes to rest. If I found that connection in my seat, the grass image allowed my body to be tall, flexible, and relaxed enough to follow wherever my seat went and gently return to center over my seat again. Kind of an odd image, but it worked for me.


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by Beverley View Post
                                    The key here is not the ORS. It is that no matter 'which' tool you are using, you are riding with confidence. THAT is what the horse is responding to- your confidence- and as you've described it the ORS is the means of communication, and the horse knows exactly what you mean. The same will apply with any other tool we choose to use, including the standard 'two rein' stop or just leaning back and relaxing or even a verbal cue.

                                    Well, I know I can stop a horse whenever I want or need to do so. So, kinda like the chicken & the egg, what came first.

                                    I am not saying the ORS is the only way to stop a horse, but done CORRECTLY is a huge tool to have when you need it.

                                    If a horse tries to run off now, sometimes, I laugh. The panic is totally removed from those situations, for ME, the changing point was being taught & made to practice the ORS so it is second nature for my horse & me.

                                    Whatever horse i ride, is disengaged & given a quick lesson in the ORS. For me, that is a standard thing to ask for whenever I feel my horse may not be totally with me. I may add some different things, like backing up or bringing around the front.

                                    It has saved my butt many times. I would never wanna go back to riding w/out that in my tool box . JMO!
                                    Riding is NOT meant as an inside sport, GET out of that arena!!!