All, Behaviour Issues, Orla & Coco

Dealing with a Spooky Horse

***DISCLAIMER***
This is based on my own experience of spooking with Coco. 

Horses spook for any number of reasons – a dog jumped out at them, a bird rustled in the bush, a rock looked a bit funny, the grass was a different shade of green…you get the picture. The hardest part about a spooking horse is finding out what the actual cause is.

Why do horses spook?

For most, the horse is genuinely fearful. We have to remember that horses are natural flight animals so when something seems threatening their first response is to turn and run. But what about when you’re certain your horse isn’t afraid?  What’s causing them to spook then? In my experience, I’ve come across three causes of spooking: 

Pain

The horse is experiencing pain from somewhere and is literally trying to run away from it. This could be ill-fitting tack, a sore back or they need their teeth checked. Regardless, it’s your job to get it all checked to make sure the horse isn’t uncomfortable.

Burning off Energy

Some horses simply have excess energy and they spook or run off because they just can’t contain their energy.

Boredom/Napping/Misbehaving

Other horses use spooking as their way of getting out of work. Simple as that. They might be bored or they may just not be in the mood to work today. When it comes to youngsters, everything is possible!

What To Do

So what can you do when your horse starts spooking? First of all, you need to stay on! I have many tricky riding school horses to thank for giving me the seat I have today – I call it sticky bum. And as I’ve been working with Coco for so long now, I can read her quite well so can mostly sense her spooks before they come (which isn’t always a good thing).

In my experience, I’ve had to deal with two different types of spooking incidents. There’s the once off spook that is completely random, your horse is just wary about a particular object or something they’re not used to. This can usually be dealt with by using one of the following methods:

  1. Try to slowly coax them over to what they’re spooking at. If you’re struggling to convince them to move forward you may have to get down and walk them over by hand.
  2. As you come to the thing/area that they spook at try to keep their head bent to the inside. I do this with Coco as I find it helps keep her attention on me and what I’m asking her to do. 
  3. Other’s think its best to keep your horses nose pointed at what they’re spooking at. I’ve seen both methods work, it really depends on the individual horse.

The other type is the consistent spooking that occurs daily. This is the one I’m currently dealing with on Coco. She has a particular area of the arena that she is super wary of. It’s been going on for months now. It has definitely improved since it started but it is something I have to work with every time I ride in our arena. There are two key things I need to do to get Coco into a space where I can keep working with her and these are things that are so important for dealing with any spooking horse:

#1 – Don’t React

This is something that has taken me quite a while to learn but its probably one of the most important things to know. When your horse is spooking they need to see that you’re not afraid. They need to feed from your confidence so they know that you’re not worried about what they’re worried about. So regardless of why your horse is spooking, you need to remain as calm as possible.

Try to resist correcting them every time they spook as this can make them worse. Especially if they continuously spook in the same spot. If they know you’re going to correct them every time they go near that area, it’s going to put them more on edge as they anticipate the correct as they get closer. So do your best not to overreact. 

Tip #2 – Keep them Moving Forward

With Coco, when she starts spooking she becomes quite tense and tight and if its really bad she’ll stop completely and start bunny-hopping to avoid going near what she’s spooking at. The key here is to keep her moving forward. As soon as I start to feel her back off the leg needs to go on straight away. I don’t care if I don’t get her anywhere near what she’s spooking at, so long as she moves forward past it. The more I bring her around and keep her moving forward, the more confident she gets until eventually she’s going past without running out to the side. 


As I said before, this is what I do to deal with Coco when she’s being spooky. I’ve tried every single method there is to get her over her fear of the corner in the arena. We are getting there but it is a slow process. Main thing to remember is to be patient and try to keep your cool. I had a lot of arguments with Coco before I learned how to properly deal with her and the progress speaks for itself.

If you’re having difficulties with a spooky horse, give the above a go and if you have any questions don’t be afraid to ask  🙂 

Thanks for reading,

Orla

5 thoughts on “Dealing with a Spooky Horse”

  1. Galahad spooks at the most random things and like you I have found that anticipation can be a bad thing. I find that now I often jump more than he does at things like a pheasant flying up in front of us – just because I’m expecting him to spin around! These are some great tips, thank you.

    1. It can be really hard to force yourself to relax and not anticipate the spooks. Once you get confident knowing that you can sit them when they come, you’ll gradually start to relax!

      1. That’s it, you just have to trust your seat! Another helpful tip I was given was that whatever way you anticipate the spook to go, put all of your weight into that stirrup. For example, if you’re on the left rein and you think your horse is going to spook at something on the outside of the arena, put all of your weight into your left stirrup. That way if he does decide to spook into the middle of the arena, your body weight is already there so it won’t put you off balance. It sounds a bit backwards but I promise it works.

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