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Spooky Horses, part 1 - 4 Reasons horses Spook

The non horsie husband of one of my clients once commented ‘I’ve never known an animal that has less logic to it’s actions than a horse!!’

When you have a spooky horse it can certainly seem that way a lot of the time. In my work I meet a lot of spooky horses and like any problem although the individual solutions are all slightly different I start by trying to understand why the horse is doing what it’s doing.

With spooky horses there are usually 4 possibilities:-

  1. He’s frightened of ‘things’

  2. He’s tense and on adrenaline and/or so is the rider

  3. He’s distracted

  4. He’s in pain

Over the next few weeks I’m going to look at each one of these in more detail and possible solutions to help them but for this blog I’m going to give you an overview of each one...

1. Frightened of ‘things’ 😱😱

These horses are genuinely frightened of 'stuff' noise, plastic, people in the bushes, sabre toothed squirrels, pokemons you name it....

They are consistently spooking at the same thing time after time, you always know if there’s something new it’s going to be a problem. For these horses desensitisation, de-spooking, counter conditioning and ridden techniques that incorporate these are going to be most effective.

2. Tense and on adrenaline 🐎🐎💨💨

Some are spooky because they simply have too much nervous energy and don't know how to direct it. These are the ones that you can’t tell which they’re going to be on a given day, one day they’ll be fine, the next a snorting mess!

For these horses techniques either on the ground or in the saddle that teach them to direct their energy in a positive and controlled way in order to find relaxation are going to be key.

3. Distracted 😝😜🤪

These guys are the ones people often get frustrated with because they’re just not paying attention and are too busy looking at what’s going on around them rather than focussing on you. These are the horses that are generally labelled as ‘naughty’ or ‘looking for something to spook at’.

These one’s need a job but again they need to have something that’s going to focus and relax them and not make them more tense as it’s easy to tip these horses into tension which will make the whole situation worse.

4. Pain 🤕🤕

Lastly and this one is often the last thing we think of in regards to spookiness is pain. I have seen horses be out of control spooky and look like they’re being really, really naughty only to find out they are in pain. So in particular if it’s something that has come on quite suddenly, seemingly without reason and wasn’t a problem before then pain must be ruled out before applying any sort of training technique.

Have Patience 😇😇

I will explore in more detail possible solutions for each of these over the next few weeks so keep an eye on my blog/page for more but before we look at how to help the horse I think it’s also important to check on ourselves.

The bottom line is if you are frustrated or scared yourself it’s going to be very hard for you to help your horse. In my experience frustration happens because you don’t have a solution to the problem or you’re under pressure (e.g. in the competition environment). You need to feel calm and safe before trying to train your horse.

If nerves are a problem I would recommend learning some ground skills so that you can help your horse from the ground first and your horse is calmer before you ride.

If you know you are someone who gets frustrated easily it’s worth addressing that first, giving yourself some strategies to redirect the frustration and/or learning how to take a break before you get to that point. Making sure the prep is done as well as possible before you get to the show will make the whole thing so much more of an enjoyable experience and let's face it, this is supposed to be fun too!! 😊🦄💕


Before trying any training technique it is important to rule out pain or discomfort. Saddle fit, teeth, back, hoof balance and lameness issues should all be checked by a qualified professional before applying any training.

If you have questions or need idea's to help with a specific problem feel free to get in touch with me on


Lyla has been helping riders and their horses in the UK, USA and Europe for over 15 years. She has prepared horses for crowds of over 6,000 people with no calmers or ear plugs for venues including Birmingham NEC, Aintree, Bury Farm EC and Hartpury.

Lyla specialises in horse psychology and behaviour problems with a specific interest in dressage and has worked with horses from grass roots to Grand Prix across the UK and Europe including international competitors and Olympians from Spain, the US, Canada and the UK.

See or email for more details.


All training techniques are discussed from experience only, it is impossible for to accurately advise on horse/rider combinations without seeing them live. Lyla Cansfield & Equine Mind & Body Training strongly advise anyone considering using any of the techniques discussed to get live help and can take no responsibility for the outcome of applying any of the techniques discussed without supervision. Riding is a high risk sport.

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