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Corro Stories

Stop the Spook: How to Help a Spooky Horse

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By Jessica Konopinski

Dealing with a spooky horse can be scary, challenging, and just exhausting, but that doesn’t mean that there isn't any hope. Many horses who tend to be spooky learned the behavior from past experiences. Training spooky horses is not always about introducing them to new things but undoing the unpleasant emotions associated with particular objects, situations, or environments.

Like with anything, horses are not always one of the same. All horses come from different backgrounds, including training, discipline, management, and lifestyle. So we put together some helpful tips on how to approach working with spooky horses.

Remember: what may work for one horse may not work for the other, so always be sure to take your time, observe your horse's reaction, ask for help and always put your safety as the top priority.

 

Get to Know Your Horse

Instead of trying to “fix your horse right off the bat, try listening to your horse. Not sure what this means? Think of a time that you’ve been scared to do something. Maybe it was going on a hike on the edge of a cliff or riding a rollercoaster. Whatever it may be, that fear inside often builds up over time.

Overcoming fears takes patience, and identifying the patterns of spooking behavior can help you help your horse. For a week or two, spend some time recording your horse's spooks. By recording their behavior, you might be able to notice some obvious, or not so obvious, patterns. This exercise will give you a solid basis for your training with your spooky horse.

Start on the Ground

Especially if you have a, shall we say, “athletic” horse when it comes to spooking, starting on the ground is a great option not only for your safety but also for strengthening the bond between you and your horse. Groundwork, while often underrated, can be such a valuable tool in introducing your horse to new things, getting them to listen to your aids, and establishing respect and boundaries through body language.

There are many ways you can incorporate groundwork into your routine, including putting your horse on the lunge line, in a round pen, long line, or simply with a halter and lead rope out in the pasture or the stall. The exercises are endless, and choosing one that best suits you and your horse’s needs is vital.

For example, if your horse is constantly spooking at the flower boxes in the ring, try putting them on a lunge line and start by establishing your circle beside the boxes. As your horse becomes more comfortable and relaxed, you can begin to move your circle closer to the flower boxes and eventually over them if you wish. Be safe, intelligent, and creative, and remember always to wear a helmet and use proper equipment even during groundwork sessions.

Consider Your Own Mental State

Unlike any other sport, equestrians are faced with having to control the mind of themselves and one of a 1000 lb animal. As such intuitive and sensitive animals, horses can channel our emotions, thoughts, and feelings and reflect them onto themselves.

While this can be a positive thing, it can also have an adverse effect if we are not considering how our mental state may negatively impact our horse's behavior.

To evaluate your own mental state, start by recording areas throughout your ride where you may have felt feelings of nervousness, uncertainty, or fear. You can do this by keeping a journal with you and setting aside some time to record your thoughts post-ride. From there, you will begin to notice patterns that will then help you develop a plan of action.

There are tons of resources out there, including mental strategy and sports psychology courses for equestrians. Do your research, and don’t be afraid to try new things that you feel apply to you.

You can even develop your own methods that you have noticed worked for you in the past. For example, one way could be setting yourself a reminder on your phone to do deep breathing exercises before your ride to help center your mind to promote a steady mental state for both you and your horse.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

Training a spooky horse can be demanding, especially if you are doing it all yourself and without any help. Often, riders will become frustrated and discouraged, causing them to take shortcuts that will only lead their horse into more distress, which can cause a lot more damage.

When dealing with a spooky horse, patience and consistency are key. Don’t be afraid to ask for some help and advice from either a trusted trainer, friend, or equestrian professional.

Switching it up and keeping things fresh yet inviting is so important when trying to acclimate a spooky horse to more exciting and new things. You can even have some fun with this approach and incorporate riding with a friend who has a more confident horse.

This will make you, as the rider, more comfortable and willing to put forth more effort knowing you have someone there to help and guide you. It will also provide a steady example for your horse and give them security when being introduced to new and exciting things.

There is no doubt that training a spooky horse can be intimidating, but it can also be so rewarding and, in turn, make you and your horse even stronger than before. Stay consistent, be patient and remember to keep a positive attitude, for your hard work will always pay off.