Preventing Horse Spooking

Often a horse's natural reaction to something that it doesn't understand is to spook or shy. A spook is usually a startled jump sideways, or a quick change of direction with the intention to flee. The horse may or may not want to keep their eyes on the object that frightens them. In the wild, this quick reaction is a response that would allow a horse to flee a predator very quickly. Riding a spook can sometimes be fun—but often it is annoying and even dangerous if you come unseated. A horse that spooks in hand can knock you or others down, which can be very dangerous. For a beginner, a spooky horse isn't the best choice as being surprised by the startled reaction and quick movement of the horse may be unsettling and confidence eroding. A violent spook may land you on the ground, and nobody enjoys falling off .

Why Horses Spook

It's almost impossible to avoid every spook, but some horses are more likely to be reactive than others. As a beginner, you'll probably be looking for a bombproof horse , one that has seen and done it all. However, that doesn't mean your horse will never spook or shy. The quietest of horse can still react to something that surprises it. In the wild, this quick reaction response was what kept horses from the jaws of predators. Even though horses have been domesticated for a few thousand years, they still retain this very natural tendency. Sometimes there are situations where you encounter something there's simply no way to prepare for. 

While spooking is a natural reaction to being startled, some horses that are high energy will spook to burn off steam. A horse that is uncomfortable with a badly fitting saddle, too tight girth , or other physical pain such as chiropractic issues may be 'spooky' in response. Spooking may also be an indication of vision problems. Some horses are more insecure than others, and if they don't respect the handler or rider as a leader, they won't trust them to keep them away from unsafe situations.

How Your Horse Should Behave

Ideally, your horse will have a blasé attitude whenever you're riding or handling it, but the extreme opposite of this is the horse that seems to spook at every trembling leaf, change in light and shadow, a patch of daisies, or unexpected rock or tuft of weeds. This is very unnerving for the beginner rider and can make the spooking worse. Horses are emotional sponges, and if they sense the rider or handler is nervous, they will pick up the negative energy. Often horses that are relaxed when turned out in the ring or pasture will suddenly find things to be frightened of when they are ridden in those same places. This is because they are sensing the rider's worry and becoming worried about themselves. It turns into a vicious cycle as horse and rider each makes each other more insecure.

Why Your Horses Good Behavior Goes Bad

If your previously quiet horse has become progressively spookier, you first need to look at any possible physical problems—chiropractic, painful tooth issues, saddle fit or vision problems. If you're feeling nervous, a good coach or instructor can help you work past confidence issues. If your horse is afraid of specific things—like mailboxes, pots of flowers, or puddles of water, your coach can help you desensitize your horse. A beginner shouldn't try desensitizing a horse on their own because done incorrectly it is possible to make the problem worse. 

The better schooled your horse is, the more you will be able to control his reactions when he spooks. By applying leg aids, you may prevent a spook from turning into a 180-degree spin. However, first, your horse has to be taught to respond to leg aids. This again is where good coaching can help you learn to have effective seat and leg aids. Many horses will spook in one direction. So, it's important not to zone out completely when you ride. The better rider you become, the less likely your horse will spook.

On the ground, your horse should always know to keep its distance. It should understand that it is never acceptable to initiate contact. Again, desensitizing exercises with a competent coach can help prevent spooks or shies on the ground or in the saddle.

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7 Tips For Riding A Spooky Horse

Modified: Sep 19, 2020 by ihearthorses · This post may contain affiliate links · 5 Comments

Riding a nervous, spooky horse can be enough to unsettle even the most confident rider. These tips can help you to ride a spooky horse confidently and safely.

#1. Think Forward

When you’re riding a spooky horse, your first inclination may be to tighten up on the reins and slow the horse’s forward movement. This may have adverse results, though – horses often settle down when they’re allowed to go forward and move. Many horses feel claustrophobic if they’re held back – you could end up with a horse which tries to rear up, rather than spook, if you hold him too tightly.

#2. Look Up

There’s a saying among riders that if you look at the ground, that’s where you’ll end up. It’s true. While it may be tempting to look down while you ride, make sure to keep your eyes up and your focus ahead of you. This slight change greatly improves your balance in the saddle, increasing your chance of staying put if your horse spooks.

spooky horse

#3. Take Deep Breaths

Your horse can feel both your breathing and your heartbeat. If the horse is nervous, try to slow your own breathing to help calm him down. Keep your shoulders back and resist the temptation to curl down and forward – it’s a nervous response which reduces your ability to breathe. Instead, take deep, slow breaths and focus on filling your lungs with each breath as you ride your spooky horse.

#4. Change Your Focus

If your horse zeroes in on an object that he thinks is scary, don’t stare at it. If you focus on the object, then you’re reinforcing your horse’s decision that this is an object to be feared. Instead, focus on something in the other direction while you ride your horse past the scary object.#5. Don’t React

If your horse is feeling spooky, don’t make a big deal out of the issue. Reacting by either punishing your horse or by stroking him and reassuring him that he’s okay only teaches him that his spook was reasonable. If you punish your horse by yanking on the reins or kicking him, then your horse will grow to associate times when he is scared with physical pain, which will only make his spooking worse. Patting and soothing your horse also teaches him that the situation was worth spooking at. Instead, stay calm and ride confidently forward when your horse spooks.

teaches girl to ride a horse. Lesson with Riding Instructor. spooky horse

If you’re tense, you will only be contributing to your spooky horse’s nervousness. Do your best to relax. Try singing , talking with a friend, or counting your horse’s strides to help you relax.

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#7. Get Help

If your horse’s nervousness is becoming an issue, don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a qualified trainer. Getting help will allow you and your horse to stay safe and enjoy riding again.

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Reader Interactions

March 27, 2020 at 8:56 am

Enjoyed reading the information.

March 27, 2020 at 5:26 pm

Very good. I took my horse out first ride last year away from the barn. We heading back in. He ended up tearing twice and I got thrown and busted ribs. Now nervous.

Olivia M. Leichtweisz

April 22, 2020 at 6:33 pm

Sounds like some grounded advise. It always made me nervous when a horse was spooky, and according to this I made a lot of mistakes. Thank you!

July 28, 2021 at 12:18 pm

Tip#8 - Never ride a spooky horse without an ASTM rated helmet! Or any horse for that matter! You might consider updating the pictures you are posting with your tips...

Rebecca McCray

January 27, 2022 at 9:30 am

For first time horse riders how can one get to know the horse chosen for them before hopping in the Saddle to help the horse feel comfortable with you riding them?

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How to Help a Spooky Horse (and its Rider)

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Horses spook because they are flight animals, so it’s natural for them to be defensive and suspicious. A spooky horse will jump to the side in a startled fashion, sometimes called shying. This is often accompanied by a rapid turn of speed, usually involving going as fast as possible in the other direction.

There are lots of things that can help a spooky horse and its rider or handler, either separately or as a partnership. These range from health checks to management changes and assistive techniques like Clicker training and conventional schooling. Identifying the potential cause for spooking is the starting point.

How to Help a spooky horse

Why Are Some Horses Spooky?

Horses spook when in hand and under saddle, which can be frustrating. It can also lead to handler or rider injuries and a loss of confidence.

A horse spooking or shying away is a natural reaction to something that the horse views as untrustworthy or downright dangerous, and you probably won’t.

Take a moment to watch horses at liberty in the field. They will often run to the furthest point and then turn around and look at whatever the perceived invader is. It could be a large and unfamiliar bird that’s landed or a flapping bag that’s blown in off the road nearby.

Spooking is stereotypical horse behavior, so should we be curbing it or punishing a horse for doing what comes naturally?

What are the Characteristics of Spooky Horse Behavior?

One of the things you can consistently rely on with a spooky horse is that their behavior is often inconsistent! Here are some typical equine character traits which many horse owners and riders will recognize.

  • Horses spook at a familiar object like a wheelbarrow in an unfamiliar place. Leave one in the middle of the arena and see what happens next time you ride. Try their rug over the arena fence
  • Horses can spook and become difficult as a response to specific sounds that they don’t like. Spooking doesn’t have to be sight-orientated
  • Distant objects can cause as much of an issue as something nearby if the horse decides he doesn’t like it
  • A horse will spook at something he has walked past repeatedly on previous occasions. Usually, this is because there are other contributing factors like he is fresh or it’s a windy day
  • A horse that spooks at an object on a hack going away from home will spook again on the return journey. This is because he is passing it on the other side even though he has seen it before
  • A horse will go past something very spooky and ignore it, like a mini digger with the engine on. What about an inflatable Christmas decoration on a house? He’ll then spook at something utterly insignificant like a feather or an upturned stone
  • Color and pattern can incite spooky behavior. It is usually contrasts and patterns more than specific colors, such as white flowers in a ditch. Also, a corner of a field that is paler than the surrounding area can cause spooking.
  • Shapes and patterns cause some horses to react. That’s why show jumping course builders use fillers which these unusual designs

spooking horse

Why are Some Horses More Spooky Than Others?

Horses with ‘more blood’ like Thoroughbreds tend to be more highly strung than placid types like cobs and native pony breeds. They might be sharper and tend to spook. However, this is a bit of a generalization and not one to be relied on.

Age is relevant because young horses are less experienced. Grazing or hacking out with an older horse is an excellent technique to help young or ‘green’ horses. They may be unconfident when faced with something they have never seen before.

Weather is a great button pusher for horses. Some become unsettled when it’s windy or stormy and will spook at things that usually wouldn’t bother them. When it comes to spooking, it’s often a combination of factors. The rider or handler isn’t always aware of what they all are.

Horses that have had a past bad experience will usually spook at the same object repeatedly. They may associate their bad experience with an object which may not have had anything to do with it.

spooky horse

Spooking is Natural for Horses

Spooking behavior is a natural reaction in the horse. However, some horses certainly exploit it, and it just gets worse. This can pose a problem to riders and handlers, who need to be more confident and skilled to deal with it.

Some horses spook almost because they enjoy it. They are feeling well and confident and just full of life. The first thing to try and figure out is why your horse is spooking.

Several different reasons can cause repeated spooking at a variety of objects:

  • The handler or rider is not skilled enough to manage the horse – horses quickly learn to take advantage
  • The rider or handler is not confident. Horses can feel uneasy when people are unconfident with them, and can become difficult in these situations
  • There could be a mismatch between diet, exercise, turnout, and work levels. Spooking may not be the only thing you have to worry about!
  • Your horse may react to specific objects simply because he doesn’t like them

Spooky horses are not fun to ride for most people and can cause riders to lose confidence and become defensive. This can spiral into a worsening situation that won’t improve without professional help.

jumping fence

Helping the Spooky Horse

A spooky horse may have a genuine fear of a particular object. This is often based on a bad experience or a rider who has not been able to manage the situation effectively.

Exposing the horse to this issue can be done with a chilled-out companion who is not worried about that particular object. In time, the horse can gradually become more confident.

This technique is often used to manage the horse in all types of potentially tricky situations like shoeing, clipping, and loading. It works on the twin principles of time and patience.

Clicker training is a recognized technique that has worked very well in certain areas of equestrianism. This uses a bridging signal to indicate the moment of desired behavior, followed by positive reinforcement.

This is more effective than training with negative reinforcement or punishment. Clicker training rewards the horse for doing the right thing.

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Helping the Rider

Helping the rider manage their spooky horse will empower them. With the best will in the world, it’s impossible to stop a horse from spooking at absolutely everything. Teaching the rider how to handle the situation will make them feel more confident.

A targeted program of professional help can help both horse and rider de-spook. This may involve the rider having a break and riding a more straightforward horse. The spooky horse can be ridden by a stronger rider to improve behavior.

A more experienced rider who is not worried will give the horse confidence. They can stop the horse from exploiting opportunities which could be the case with a less-established rider. There is a fine line between fear and naughtiness.

It’s about managing the horse in a safe and sympathetic way , ultimately sending him forward and past that scary object.

Spooking isn’t personal. Often, a horse and rider partnership can be polarised into a battle. This can be deconstructed quite easily with the correct input.

You also don’t need to replicate a specific object of worry unless there has been a particular problem. You need to teach the rider to manage the horse when faced with anything he doesn’t like. That’s relatively easy for a competent instructor or trainer to do in a safe environment.

Final Thoughts

If spooking is becoming more than occasional or you feel you or your horse are not coping, ask a third-party and independent professional for help. It’s essential to look at the situation in the round to rule out any possible areas of pain.

A spooky horse might be difficult going because of pain caused by a missed injury or an ill-fitting saddle. Perhaps he is not confident in the rider or handler. A holistic view of the horse is always the best starting point, especially with behavioral problems.

About the author

very spooky pony

Horse obsessive with a compulsive writing habit and a love of all things related to horses and ponies.

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Good spooks, bad spooks, fake spooks—here's spooky horse training techniques for a more enjoyable ride down the trail.

  • December 12, 2023
  • ⎯ Dan-Aadlandaimmediacom

very spooky pony

With good reason, trail riders are preoccupied with spooking. Some ask for a “spookproof” or “bombproof” mount. When I’m faced with that particular request from a prospective buyer, I have to choke back sarcasm. I want to say, “Wouldn’t you rather have a spooky horse that’s actually alive?” As prey animals, horses have survived only because of their ingrained instinct to spook. Their ability to jerk all their muscular capacity into a nearly instantaneous response to a perceived threat is their stock in trade.

[READ: Stop a Spook on the Trail ]

Besides, you spook, don’t you? Humans may be predators rather than prey, but when someone sneaks up behind you wearing a Halloween mask and lets out a great scream, you jump. That’s a spook. Adrenalin rushes into your body, and your heart rate jumps. What you don’t do is “lose it.” You don’t run out of the house and onto the street into the path of a speeding car. Your spook is likely limited to one big jump, while you assimilate the nature of the “threat” and decide that it’s actually harmless.

And that’s the whole point. The issue isn’t whether your horse will spook-assume he will. The issue is how he handles that spook, whether he controls it.

To improve that control (and reduce your horse’s tendency to spook at all), first understand that there are several types of spooks: Good spooks, bad spooks, and fake spooks. Here, I’ll explain each type of spook, and tell you how to handle each one.

Types of Spooks

Good spooks: Yes, there’s such a thing as good spooks; I see two kinds. The first “good spook” is the one that shows that your horse is superbly poised to handle natural fears in the face of sudden stimuli. A jackrabbit flashes from a juniper bush with a crackle of branches. Your horse’s “startle reaction” is a quick jerk that runs through his frame and then is gone. There’s no change of gait, no sudden stop, no attempt to bolt or buck. Your excellent horse has simply shown you that he’s alive, that he’s a horse, and that his disposition, training, and intelligence have allowed him to quickly dismiss the rabbit as harmless. He continues to do just what he’s supposed to do-carry you steadily down the trail at the gait you’ve chosen.

The second type of good spook results when your horse, with senses far superior to your own, detects real danger of which you, the insensitive human, aren’t aware. He’s afraid now for very good reason. He hears a gurgle under a thin crust of sod, smells the water, knows that the footing toward which you’re aiming him, the footing that looks just fine to you, is extremely treacherous and could result in his bogging down, perhaps even in his death. His spook takes the form of refusing to go where you ask to keep you both alive.

Managing good spooks: The first type of good spook needs no action. It’s over immediately, your horse having given that slight tremor or jerk through his frame. If the cause seems foolish or identical to something my horse and I have encountered a few minutes ago, I’ll sometimes say “quit” to remind him that he knows better. But for the most part, you can ignore these spooks. As your horse gains trail experience, you’ll likely see fewer of them.

When your horse detects real danger, managing the spook is touchier. In the case of the bog, when your horse has alerted you to a danger you’ve missed, your decision seems easy enough-you don’t go there! But it’s not quite that simple. You’re the leader, after all, and you must make the final judgment as to whether the fear is justified.

Also, the extremely savvy horse, because he gets release when you back off in the face of his fear, may try the same spookiness in a similar situation when it’s not justified, such as when he’s dealing with a puddle instead of a bog. You often have to pay later for allowing your horse to take charge, but usually you can climb back on top of the pecking order readily enough.

Never allow the possibility of a training setback to push you into insisting on your way in the face of danger. You don’t settle an argument with your horse in the path of a speeding train. Get off and hold him if that’s the only safe course; you can resume training later under safer conditions.

[READ: Test Your Horse Safety ]

Bad spooks: Bad spooks are probably the most common horse-related cause of rider injury. Here, a horse handles his perceived fear by a sideways jump severe enough to unseat a poor or inattentive rider, or by far worse things: attempts at headlong flight; bucking; rearing; or, worst of all, going over backwards. Much of horse training, particularly in the earlier stages, is aimed at preventing bad spooks.

Skywalker’s actions when the doe jumped from the patch of shade definitely constituted a bad spook, though not a severe one. He briefly lost control, turned around in a dangerous place, and, in the hands of an inexperienced rider, might’ve run away. As it was, I reminded him of his training with the one-rein stop and a sharp “quit!” No harm was done.

Another form of bad spook is when your horse perceives an object as dangerous and refuses to move forward. In this case, you know that the object, perhaps a reflective boulder on the side of the trail, isn’t dangerous to your horse or to you.

Fake spooks: I’m told that endurance riders, watching their horses’ heart monitors during training and competition, have verified what we all suspected-that horses occasionally spook when they aren’t afraid at all. Perhaps they do this for the sheer joy of it, or perhaps they’re trying to bluff out their riders. Apparently, a horse’s heart rate will spike during a real spook, but not when he gives that sideways jump at an object he knows well and with which he’s normally at ease.

Have you ever noticed that your horse spooks quite readily on his way out from the barn at things he scarcely notices when he’s heading home? To a degree, he’s been faking it. Heading out, perhaps still cold under the saddle, knowing work lies ahead, he looks hard for something to fear. Heading home, warmed up, feeling fine, and secure with the promise of a pan of oats at the stable, all’s right with the world and there’s no need to spook.

The “barn sour” horse often begins his misbehavior with a fake spook. Wanting to return home, he finds something just a little scary-something that, were he in the company of a steady horse, would probably be no big deal. But because he’s not really crazy about going on the trail, he gives a little jump. If you’re an assertive rider, you simply rein him in the direction you want to go, cue him forward, and all goes well. But if you’re a timid rider, your horse might figure out that you’re “trainable.” This bit of equine insight can cause him to act all the more afraid, because he finds reward in this “fear.” Next, he might turn back toward the barn. At this point, you must avoid creating a monster-a horse that’s learned feigned fright gets him out of work and back home with his buddies.

Managing fake spooks: To nip this behavior in the bud, drive your horse forward at the first inkling of a spook. Reinforce your cues with the long lead rope of natural horsemanship or the tools of more traditional methods, whichever was used in his initial training when he was asked for impulsion. He should understand that the command to move forward is just that, a command. You can’t let him take charge and hesitate or balk at each new object simply because it gives him a chance to rest or sneak a bite of grass. To overcome any timidity in the saddle, work on your horsemanship with a certified riding instructor or reputable trainer.

Banishing Bad Spooks

To manage bad spooks, you need to step back and see the big picture. Horses, like humans, are products of both heredity and environment. Each is an individual. The excessively spooky horse might’ve inherited a more sharply honed trigger for survival purposes than calmer mounts. Or, he might’ve learned quick-to-spook tendencies from his dam, especially if she was the first in the herd to run from any surprise.

Of course, you can’t do anything about your horse’s genes or his experiences before you owned him. (But don’t fall into “the abuse excuse”-laying all your horse’s faults on alleged mistreatment by a former owner, and perhaps subconsciously, using these as an excuse for not exerting strong leadership.) However, you can decrease his tendency to spook, which will make spooks fewer and farther between. You can also eliminate those spooks that are truly dangerous. You’ll accomplish this through a two-step approach, desensitization and discipline; here’s how.

[READ: Be Aware for Safety on the Trail ]

Desensitization

First, take the perceived danger out of potentially fearful objects and situations so that your horse is convinced he has nothing to fear. This is known as “sacking out” in old-timer’s terminology or “desensitization” in modern, clinician’s lingo. The idea is to expose your horse to a wide variety of stimuli. Board him in a large pasture with varied terrain. Constantly pass a variety of objects over his body, such as your slicker, a lead rope, and a longe whip. In a small, enclosed work area, have a friend ride her bicycle gently toward you, then stop when asked. Push any desensitization routine through to completion. Continue to gently expose your horse to the stimuli until he stops reacting to it, no matter how many passes it takes.

Consider teaching your horse to pack. The weight of panniers, the breeching under his tail, and the sound and feel of packs scraping on trees will help to prevent future spooks under saddle.

Body Language

If your horse’s spook causes a balk, his body language is saying, “This scares me, so I don’t want to go there,” To manage this type of spook, use the low-stress approach described by John Lyons. Keep your horse facing this new spook, wait until he relaxes, then ask him to move forward toward it. Yes, you can use your legs, weight, and artificial aids to drive your horse toward what he fears, but I’m not sure he learns very much. The idea is to convince him there’s nothing to fear, and that takes time.

Another way to help your horse overcome his balking spook is to ride out with a patient friend on a steady horse. Make sure your friend understands that you’re on a training mission, not a joy ride. Take turns leading. Don’t always fall back and follow your friend over the scary place; you may find that when riding alone or in the lead your horse will still be afraid of an obstacle he crossed quite readily while following another.

If you’re quite certain you’re dealing with a fake spook, however, forget the low-stress approach, and drive your horse forward.

When you instill discipline and self-control in your horse, you condition him not to flee even though his genes tell him to. Keep in mind that discipline isn’t punishment; it’s a system of learning. Your own discipline keeps you from doing something dangerous when someone says “boo.”

Discipline training must include two basic curbs on behavior, and these must be absolute. One is “whoa,” which means stop and stay stopped until cued to move. (Never use “whoa” as a command to slow down, or you’ll dilute the cue’s meaning and confuse your horse.) To teach the whoa, give the verbal cue, “whoa,” and simultaneously apply rearward pressure on the reins (no more than necessary). Immediately release the rein pressure when your horse stops.

The other fundamental is lateral flexion, which means your horse allows you to bring his head around to the either side with little direct-rein pressure. To accomplish this, he’ll need to learn to “give” (respond) to the bit or bosal.

You can then use lateral flexion to enhance the one-rein stop in a panic situation, when a “whoa” accompanied by rearward rein pressure may not do the job. In the one-rein stop, you’ll bring your horse’s head around until his nose almost touches his shoulder; in this position, he’ll have difficulty running away or getting his head down for a buck. If you ever need to use this technique, be sure to release the rein pressure the instant your horse regains his composure, as a reward. However, note that if he’s truly afraid, be ready to repeat the drill.

Lastly, look to yourself. Is there anything you may be doing to complicate the situation? When a potentially fearful situation arises, do you tense up? If so, your horse feels that and becomes more tense himself. To better handle a sideways jump, get in shape. The portly torso and weak legs that tend to come with middle age compromise a secure seat.

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Tips for Riding a Spooky Horse

By Sarah Shade

Riding a spooky horse can be frustrating at times. When a horse spooks, it can change the dynamic of your ride and be unnerving for some riders. A spook can start out as something small, and can escalate to a difficult ride if the rider doesn’t help that horse focus. A calm, effective and confident ride during a spook can help the horse go from being anxious and worried to confident, secure, trusting the rider, and secure in his surroundings.

Here are some tactics to help a spooky horse.

Provide Positive Reinforcement A spooky horse can also be worried, and needs positive reinforcement from the rider. Even if the horse is not giving you exactly what you are wanting, any positive step forward deserves positive reinforcement. This will help to create a horse who is more confident, more secure, and wanting to please his rider.  

Keep Calm & Carry On Work on being your horse’s “rock”—the stable, unflappable person that he can look to in order to help settle down and be able to go back to work. Take a deep breath so he can’t feel your tension, and relax your shoulders and seat so you can be quiet and effective

Redirect Redirect your horse’s nervous energy to something positive. This can be something as simple as moving him forward on a circle, or moving away from what he is spooking at and going to work in a different area until you regain his focus. Give the horse a task that is simple physically, so you can regain his focus and attention. 

Circle & Reapproach When your horse is spooking at something, bend away from the object and circle away from it. Then, slowly bring the circle closer and closer back toward the source of the spook. 

These tools can be used alone or together to help your horse during a spooky situation. The biggest things to remember are to stay calm, be positive and effective, and to regain the horse’s focus in a positive way. 

Meet the Pony Club Expert Sarah Shade is a USPC National Examiner, a member of the USPC Instructional Board, and a Co-Chair of the Regional Instructional Committee. She is an A graduate of Pentucket Pony Club. Sarah has competed through the 3* level in eventing, 1.20 meter show jumping, and hunter derbies. Sarah owns and operates a boarding/training farm in Georgetown, Kentucky and enjoys teaching all levels of riders in eventing, show jumping and dressage.

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Tips for a Nervous Hunter Horse Who is Spooky at the Jumps

  • October 6, 2015

Julie Winkel

  • Ask The Experts

Featured Image Credit ( CC ): Nikoretro on Flickr

Submitted by member: Jennifer

Tips for the common horse? I have a project… a warmblood who was gelded late that I show in the equitation and hunter divisions. He is a converted jumper and came to me pretty messed up. He is spooky and has a common streak. For example, I showed in a hunter derby last weekend. First round looking at jumps… but goes… 4th out of 23… happy. Next round props and wheels at the first jump. We had already done that jump the other way. Most of the time it will happen on jumps away from the schooling area. When he is scared he runs at the jump and peeks; when is being bad he props and wheels. From his previous owners, using a stick only makes him mad. Last year a trainer rode him in the schooling ring and took a stick to him and he wheeled and dropped him (I did warn him). When I got him you couldn’t walk out of the barn or down the road without wheeling. I try making it his idea and it has worked well, he’ll go calmly and willingly. He enjoys trail rides is much more relaxed on them.

Answer by Julie Winkel

This is really a problem dealt best using horse psychology and good old horsemanship. This horse has baggage due to poor training and understanding from his past. Often people that are scared of horses or don’t understand them try to use force rather than basic horsemanship to train horses or solve behavioral issues. It sounds like this is this case with your horse.

Being firm and encouraging, rather than forceful is the key. His behavior of shutting down comes from nervousness rather than wanting to be a rouge. Not over-facing him, nor over-working him is very important. Be aware of situations where he could balk, and encourage him, even verbally to be brave and go forward. A lot of praise for a job well-done goes a long way to build a horse’s self-esteem.

Also you mentioned he stopped on the approach to a jump he had already jumped the other direction. You need to know horses see things differently than we do, out of each eye, therefore a jump approached in the opposite direction is an entirely different jump to them, due to the approach.

I hope some of these suggestions will shed light on helping your horse through his problems by encouraging you to think like a horse.

More Learning

How to Handle a Horse When it Spooks by Jim Wofford and Olivia Loiacono

Video Recommendations:

Thinking Like a Horse Julie Winkel To effectively communicate with your horse, there has to be a mutual understanding within the partnership. This understanding, in large part, stems from the rider’s ability to accurately read his or her horse. In this topic, Julie Winkel teaches us to accurately interpret the various expressions and behaviors horses use to convey their state of mind. Running Time:  12 minutes and 46 seconds

Introducing the Green Horse & Training the Spooky Horse to the Liverpool Bernie Traurig This member requested video features a horse that is afraid of liverpools, affecting his show performance whenever this obstacle presents itself. Bernie tackles this issue using the same techniques he uses when introducing green horses to liverpools for the first time. His tried and true methodical approach leads to success. Running Time:  15 minutes and 44 seconds</e

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Julie Winkel has been a licensed Hunter, Equitation, Hunter Breeding and Jumper judge since 1984. She has officiated at prestigious events such as Devon, Harrisburg, Washington International, Capital Challenge, The Hampton Classic and Upperville Horse Shows. She has designed the courses and judged the ASPCA Maclay Finals, The USEF Medal Finals and The New England Equitation Finals.

For more information, visit her website: www.mwstables.com

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Dealing with stressy spooky pony

So my pony has always had issues with stress that I struggle with. Can’t take a horse away from him even on property or he calls, looses focus which cant be gained back for something like an hour, and will at times rear out of anxiety. It should be noted he is very polite and well behaved otherwise. Other things trigger him too but this is one of the main ones. He is also very spooky and always on edge. When he is worked up he gets completely liquid projectile poops. I have never been to a show with a clean horse. Anyways I havent been able to do much about it where I boarded but I moved him home a month ago. He has been fine but something has set him off and he has spent the last day and a half running around and pooping up a storm. Nothing has changed and he is kept outside 24/7 with free choice hay and is only grained a small bit of topper for the vitamins. Anyways what would you recommend for a calming supplement, if that would even help? I am in Canada and struggling to find options for long term. Thanks!

There is not a calming supplement that’s going to touch this unless he has some type of deficiency. First step I’d scope and if necessary treat for ulcer but even if there is ulcers, it’s also a training issue.

Not a training in terms of obedience but rather his mindset. He sounds like he is worried and obedient rather than calmly connected to you. He knows that if he does the right things then he doesn’t get in trouble but his comfort and safety are reliant on the horses around him. When there is a stressor he has zero tools to de-escalate and doesn’t see you as a trusted resource. That’s why changes in his environment rock his world. If he’s calmly connected to you, as long as you are calm he has no reason to care about what is going on.

I’ve spent the last three months and ($$$) working with a very niche trainer for this exact thing. I have a highly obedient but incredibly anxious horse who would stand on the other end of the leadrope not putting a toe out of line but have baseline of a 7/10. If you didn’t know how to read the lack of blinking, hard ears, shallow breathing, she didn’t present as stressed. However, the wind would blow the wrong way and she would spin out or start screaming for her pasture mates. The traditional concepts of “moving the feet” and “establishing respect” would make her obedient but not any calmer and she too could take hours to come down.

Unraveling that and addressing the root cause is the willingness to invest a few hours a day for a month, maybe two, maybe five. I didn’t have that time so I sent her out for three months and am now trying to build off of that. I’m happy to talk via PM about the overall methodology. It is painfully simple but requires large blocks of time and the ability to be very zen. A few weekends ago my mare almost fell asleep in a ring with 8 other horses actively working. The transformative power is pretty tangible if you invest the time.

Thank you for your pm about your trainer’s methods. I read it before the forum change, but didn’t get a chance to reply. Now in the new forum I don’t know how to find it again to reply, so I want to say thank you for sharing your experience and your trainer’s perspective with me! I am trying some of the method with my mare and it’s helped me to take a step back and chill with her, rather than just pushing harder to keep her moving and working and occupying her brain. Thanks!

I have seen some incredible results with MagRestore. Its inexpensive to try and you’ll know in a week or less if it works for your horse. https://shop.performanceequinenutrition.com/magrestore-p45.aspx

I have also used it with success. And I know quite a few others as well. MagRestore - not other products.

Magnesium helped my horse in that it allowed him to slow his response and have a moment to think. It wasn’t a fix for his anxiety but allowed him to learn to calm himself through the exercises we did to teach him that he was okay. If insufficient magnesium (for your specific individual horse ) is not a factor then supplemental magnesium won’t help. I freely admit that I tried magnesium as a bit of a desperate measure not expecting anything.

The exercises were based on Warwick Schiller’s. I didn’t have to spend hours at a time, but did have to do them when he needed regardless of what I wanted to do. I saw signs of progress over the winter but only saw how much we had really accomplished when we got out in the spring. Two years later I am doing things that I hadn’t thought possible for this horse and seeing the future possibilities as more likely than not.

I had issues like this for years with my PSSM2 mare. On particularly bad days she would be hurting so bad she didn’t want me to catch her and would run from me for hours. Once I got her diet dialed in and supplements in order she became a different horse. Easy to catch, no longer spooky, eager to work, and much much better under saddle. It was a huge lifestyle change for her, but well worth it.

Can you post the method in here or PM me? My boy isn’t this anxious, but he’s close.

@Dreamraiderr for the liquid poops, I have a friend who has found some relief with Redmond™ Daily Gold™ Stress Relief

Sending a PM! I’m long winded and don’t want to take over with a novel.

@GraceLikeRain I am also very interested in hearing more about this method

Hi, sorry to add to the bombarding of requests but may I also see what you wrote about your trainer’s methods? My gelding has become super attached to his pasture mates in the last year he has been on vacation…I haven’t yet taken him off property again but I can foresee a potential issue. Just want to be prepared.

I’ve typed novels worth about my gelding’s journey through anxiety over the past year. He’s a horse I raised, broke, and trained myself, and he’s now 12 years old. He’s been shown very lightly, and while certainly more “up” at horse shows (including large, multi-day shows), he was always reasonable and got through it (sometimes quite successfully!).

I sold my farm and moved him to a nice boarding barn last October. At first he was great. Then he slowly started being not-so-great. A spooky, anxious, nervous, freaked out hot mess…that’s what he became. I’d never seen him like that in his entire life. And what’s weird is he’d already been at the new place about four months when he started getting crazy.

Long story slightly less long…I believe to this day that it boiled down to pain. He hadn’t been ridden in a few years when I moved him, and then I’d started riding him more regularly. He was his usual good self at first, but the more I rode, the more he had issues. He was also being fed a high NSC grain that wasn’t agreeing with him. I bought a new saddle, thinking I was doing him a favor, and he continued to get worse. We changed his feed. He was still a mess. Had the vet/chiro come and work on him and she said his entire back was in spasms. She suggested MagRestore or another good magnesium supplement. I had some SmartCalm Ultra already that I had started him on but he wasn’t fond of eating it. We started him back on it and disguised it in his feed enough that he ate it and slowly but surely he started to improve. I started messing around with padding under my saddle, had a fitter out to work on it, and he still improved…though his back was still tender after riding. He also seemed to be very sensitive over his SI area

Enter the new barefoot trimmer. She made some pretty big changes to him, showed me how off his angles were in his hind feet, told me that could definitely cause him issues with his back.

She’s done him three times now (maybe four? I can’t remember). He’s been on the SmartCalm Ultra and the low NSC feed since this summer (and will stay on it). I just got him yet another saddle, a Wintec Isabelle, and he seems to love it…much lighter weight, fits his back great.

He’s calm, cool, and collected now. Even when things that used to send him reeling are going on. I could actually see during the transition that he’d get startled or see something and it was like he expected pain to happen (back spasm) and when it wouldn’t he’d just sigh and get over it.

Oh, and he was stupidly herd-bound during all of this too. Now, we did change his turn-out situation away from a few horses that he was way too attached to (and were too attached to him), so that’s probably helped. But I felt like it was a perfect storm of crappy situations (feet out of whack, poor saddle fit, new farm, magnesium deficiency, high NSC grain, clingy pasture mates).

Hopefully you’ll be able to narrow down your pony’s issues and check them off one-by-one to figure out what’s triggering him. It’s so frustrating, but if you’re diligent, hopefully you’ll figure it out.

:slight_smile:

Can you PM me as well. My boy sounds very similar.

Me three, me four! Can you PM me this method? I’m going through this right now after moving my guy to a new barn. Thank you in advance!

I too would like to hear your technic!

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Nervous pony

  • Thread starter Loveponies
  • Start date 19 December 2021
  • 19 December 2021

Active Member

I have had my current pony just over two years. He is 8 and a stocky native type. He had only done a little hacking in his previous home and not been ridden at all for 6 months before I bought due to owners poor health. I only tried him in a muddy paddock and could hardly get him to do move but that suited me as I prefer a quiet kick along type. He was initially very very spooky to hack out but I put it down to just needing time to settle. Although the random shooting forwards and spinning at nothing has stopped he is still incredibly looky and spooky at things . I hack out 5 times a week every week on forest and heathland so I would have hoped he would now be confident and relaxed but he still flinchs and reacts to virtually every squirrel/rabbit/piece of bracken. More frustrating is he often spins and shoots off when he sees a walker. It is quite busy with a lot of walkers and cyclists so he gets plenty of practice but still randomly hugely over reacts to some. He is a handsome chap and quite a few people like to stop and stroke him so he gets lots of positive interaction and is only too happy to stand and doze while I chat but is always quite suspicious of the initial contact and has run backwards when some people have gently put out a hand. I am very cuddly with him and when poo picking or doing jobs in the field I always pat and stroke him as I walk past but even with me he can be a little suspicious. Today after I untacked him I stepped forward to stroke his neck and he jumped away slightly. I am certain he was not mistreated by his previous owner and I certainly am always kind and gentle. He is generally suspicious of anything new but I have done lots of desentising of the usual things such as plastic bag etc. He has also done trec obstacles. I have long reined and walked him in hand on the hacking routes and he is less spooky than when ridden but still looky and sometimes has tried to take off when a dog has appeared etc. I tried a calmer supplement but no affect. Hacking out with others he is just as spooky and infact nearly knocked my friends horse over when my boy was in front and spun and ran into her. He is bossy in the field with other horses and can be pushy with me when anxious. I would love him to be confident and relaxed. Any ideas please.  

Well-Known Member

Is he spooky when schooled too? If so, I’d be wondering if it’s a magnesium deficiency.  

Pinkvboots

I would try magnesium first and see how you go then if no improvement you could try a different kind of calmer I have used the global herbs TB one and I think it really helped. one of my horses is reactive to any sort of distraction and I have found that the acoustic ear bonnet really helps he just seems generally a lot more chilled and less spooky. Out of interest what is he fed?  

  • 20 December 2021

J&S

Antw23uk

Does anyone have a link to buy magnesium? I dont want to buy a 'horsey supplement' with a dribble of the stuff in it, I'd be keen to know where you buy good quality pure magnesium from? Sorry for jumping on your thread OP. I have a similar horse.  

Antw23uk said: Does anyone have a link to buy magnesium? I dont want to buy a 'horsey supplement' with a dribble of the stuff in it, I'd be keen to know where you buy good quality pure magnesium from? Sorry for jumping on your thread OP. I have a similar horse. Click to expand...

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/333603662007?hash=item4dac53e8b7:g:V~wAAOSwPc9Wvn-q I bought this one: You would need to give your horse probably 1.5 teaspoons. Its 1 tsp per 400 k.  

Gloi

Too little time, too much to read.

It might be worth getting his eyes checked , just in case there is a problem making him spooky .  

twiggy2

I would get his eyes checked too  

Thanks everyone for your replies. He was very spooky in an arena but much improved although still ‘looky’ Sorry should have mentioned he is already on magnesium which I think does help to a degree and he is defo better spring and summer but spookier autumn and winter. He is out 24/7 on grass and hay all year and a tiny amount of sugar beet (about 10 pellets ) to hide the magnesium and a vit supplement.He is a good doer but I keep him reasonably slim. I will get a vet to check eyes  

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COMMENTS

  1. Horse suddenly very spooky/nervous

    Horse suddenly very spooky/nervous. Thread starter gaby2615; Start date 11 March 2013; 11 March 2013 #1 G. gaby2615 Member. Joined 11 December 2005 ... Sorry for the twenty questions but I have a wee pony who gets spookier if something out of ordinary is going off in the yard - he was a nightmare when the school was being resurfaced.. 12 March 2013

  2. Why Horses Spook or Shy and What You Can Do

    A spook is usually a startled jump sideways, or a quick change of direction with the intention to flee. The horse may or may not want to keep their eyes on the object that frightens them. In the wild, this quick reaction is a response that would allow a horse to flee a predator very quickly. Riding a spook can sometimes be fun—but often it is ...

  3. How to fix a VERY spooky horse??

    if you love this horse as you profess then you will either send him to a trainer or more sensibly, sell him. he will continue to be spooky and, because you did not have the girth/cinch tight enough, he is going to be even more frightened of the saddle. For your and the horse's, safety get help or get rid of him.

  4. How to Train a SPOOKY Horse (Easy Method)

    How to Train a Spooky Horse | If you're working with a spooky or unpredictable horse, it's important that you know how to train them correctly. In this video...

  5. 7 Tips For Riding A Spooky Horse

    Instead, stay calm and ride confidently forward when your horse spooks. #6. Relax. If you're tense, you will only be contributing to your spooky horse's nervousness. Do your best to relax. Try singing, talking with a friend, or counting your horse's strides to help you relax. #7.

  6. Any way to help a spooky pony?

    I'll have to find a friend with a non-spooky pony I think! He's generally very good with things that most horses would spook at, but today in the school he spooked twice at a jumping pole that was lying on the ground, and has been in the same place since before I started riding him! It's things like that which frustrate me the most, he'll walk ...

  7. How to Help a Spooky Horse (and its Rider)

    Spooky horses are not fun to ride for most people and can cause riders to lose confidence and become defensive. This can spiral into a worsening situation that won't improve without professional help. 'Scary Fence', photo by Thowra_uk (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Helping the Spooky Horse. A spooky horse may have a genuine fear of a particular object.

  8. How to Train a Spooky Horse

    In a small, enclosed work area, have a friend ride her bicycle gently toward you, then stop when asked. Push any desensitization routine through to completion. Continue to gently expose your horse to the stimuli until he stops reacting to it, no matter how many passes it takes. Consider teaching your horse to pack.

  9. Diary of a Pony: What I Spooked at This Week

    Here are the Spooky Things for today. One very scary wild turkey. She ran out of the bushes right past me. I was almost a goner. Even my human spooked. This was such a scary, spooky thing, I think it excuses the next one. I am a very honest pony, otherwise I wouldn't admit this. One nothing. I spooked at nothing.

  10. Tips for Riding a Spooky Horse

    Circle & Reapproach. When your horse is spooking at something, bend away from the object and circle away from it. Then, slowly bring the circle closer and closer back toward the source of the spook. These tools can be used alone or together to help your horse during a spooky situation. The biggest things to remember are to stay calm, be ...

  11. Tips for a Nervous Hunter Horse Who is Spooky at the Jumps

    Not over-facing him, nor over-working him is very important. Be aware of situations where he could balk, and encourage him, even verbally to be brave and go forward. A lot of praise for a job well-done goes a long way to build a horse's self-esteem. ... Introducing the Green Horse & Training the Spooky Horse to the Liverpool Bernie Traurig

  12. How To Ride A Spooky Horse

    In this video, I discuss how to ride a spooky horse. While all horses can spook, some will more than others based on their personality, age, and past experie...

  13. Dealing with stressy spooky pony

    So my pony has always had issues with stress that I struggle with. Can't take a horse away from him even on property or he calls, looses focus which cant be gained back for something like an hour, and will at times rear out of anxiety. It should be noted he is very polite and well behaved otherwise. Other things trigger him too but this is one of the main ones. He is also very spooky and ...

  14. The Mega Spookypony-goes-to-Ireland Thread!

    Nevertheless, the Spooky Pony was very relaxed about the whole affair: The bits of the route which we investigated mostly looked quite ok, although there was one horrifyingly stony stretch of forestry track. It did appear, though, that the worst of the stones were avoidable by going in the shallow ditch along the side; nevertheless, this ...

  15. My Little Pony

    Rainbow Dash My Little Pony Adult Tail Accessory. $6.99. Products 1 - 35 of 35. Welcome to our magical My Little Pony Halloween Ideas category! Get ready to embark on a colorful adventure filled with friendship and enchantment. Whether you're a fan of Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, or Pinkie Pie, we've got all the pony-tastic costumes and ...

  16. Spooky Ponies : r/mylittlepony

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  17. Is he spooky or just normal for a horse

    My companion pony (who we ride) is very spooky. She doesn't mind about the biggest vehicles/trailers/tractors etc but a bit of grass the wrong shade can have her turn 180 degrees! She is sooo quick too. You need a good sense of humour to ride her but she is fun. Reactions: ChristmasCarrot and Amymay in a manger.

  18. Sunshine Stables: Sophie and the Spooky Pony

    At Sunshine Stables, dreams become adventures! Young pony fans will love this fantastic pony club series from Olivia Tuffin. Sophie loves playing tricks and telling jokes at pony camp. When the ponies start acting strangely, Sophie suspects a very spooky explanation, but no one will believe her! She and her beautiful Exmoor pony, Gorse, will need all their courage to solve this mystery ...

  19. De spooking a pony for driving

    some good advise on the preovious posts, and i would be doing a lot of long reining out and about to get him confident in an environment away from home too. one of the things you could do is rig scary things up at home ie stuff some old clothes with straw and prop it in a hedge or something so that when you work him past it you are in a safe environment for dealing with the spook, and it helps ...

  20. Nervous pony

    I have a pony that very much fits your description. She came from a riding school to be a companion/ridden pony. ... He was very spooky in an arena but much improved although still 'looky' Sorry should have mentioned he is already on magnesium which I think does help to a degree and he is defo better spring and summer but spookier autumn ...

  21. Top 10 Most Creepy MLP Moments : r/mylittlepony

    Top 10 Most Creepy MLP Moments. Discussion. This show is cute and cuddly but it is also has very creepy moments today we'll be counting them down. 10th The Smooze: He was by far a scary creature, he's pretty silly but he is also very spooky. 9th Tirek's introduction: It showed Tirek as a really scary and creepy villain, while later he's less ...