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Spooky Horses

by Caitlin Lochamire

Published: Friday, March 20, 2020

Cowgirl to the Core

Spring is in the air, and the horses can definitely feel it. Spring is a time when new life buds, and it seems to put more life into some horses as well. I have started helping clients get the spring fling out of their horses, and the first one needs wet saddle blankets and a confidence boost.

This horse is literally scared of his own shadow. He spooks at anything that moves, and some things that don't move. He misses his pasture mates and riding alone makes him even more spooky because he lacks confidence.

These types of horses take extra patience. It's difficult to work out the nervous behavior when I didn't start the horse. It's so important to teach these horses how to react and think their way through scary situations.

Since I'm not always able to start from scratch, I try my best to teach the horse an acceptable way to respond. It's important that I don't let the horse tuck his tail and run when he's scared, but it's much easier said than done.

When he starts to turn and run, I stop him as quickly as possible and try to make him stand still, facing the scary object. If he won't stand still, I'll move his feet around it, but won't force him towards it or let him get too far away from it.

For some people, the first thing they want to do when their horse spooks is to force them toward the scary thing. This is the last thing you should do in this situation. It will end up making the horse even more nervous.

Instead, allow the horse to think it through. If he wants to move his feet, let him. But don't let him turn and run. You may be sitting in one spot for a long while, but the horse will eventually begin to relax. He might even approach the scary thing on his own.

This encourages the horse to think things through instead of instantly reacting and taking flight. Ideally, you should start this process on the ground. Teach the horse that they should look to you for guidance when they are unsure.

Sometimes a horse's instinct is to freeze when they spot something scary. Instead of pushing the horse forward, let them watch whatever made them freeze. When they bring their attention back to you, whether it be the swivel of an ear, or slight head turn in your di-rection, reward them and then ask them to walk on.

The horse will start to understand that you recognize their fear and respect their instinct. It will help you gain the horse's trust and they will start to look to you for re-assurance.

Before you even get in the saddle, your horse should understand how to think things through in-stead of fleeing or bucking whenever something uncomfortable or scary happens. When it comes down to it, you will never be able to trust a horse unless you establish this early in his life.

A horse that takes time to think and approach things with curiosity instead of fear has confidence in himself and his rider. He will make a far better partner than a horse trained with fear.

Building a horse's confidence takes precise timing. If you are desensitizing your horse to a bag, for example, and you see your horse's eyes widen and his body lean away just slightly, take it away from him. This is the moment just before your horse goes into flight mode.

By recognizing your horse's fear, and taking away the scary object, the horse realizes that you won't push them into something if they aren't ready for it. A true horseman will take their time and listen to their horse.

This is one of those times that baby steps often end up taking less time. Let the horse think and figure out on their own that the bag isn't going to eat them. Soon, you should be able to shake the bag all over with your horse standing quiet-ly.

Teaching your horse to confidently approach a plastic bag sounds insignificant in the long run, but it's really not about the plastic bag. It's about teaching your horse to confidently handle spooky things.

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