Spooky Horses, part 2 - Horses that are scared of 'things'

For this blog I’m going to look at the horse that is 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. If left unresolved what you can find is that your world gets smaller and smaller and more controlled until it’s not ok for someone to walk past the arena or make any noise, or carry anything unusual past you and your horse.

For these horses desensitisation, de-spooking, counter conditioning and ridden techniques that incorporate these are going to be most effective.

Desensitisation & De-Spooking

Different trainers have their own version of these and how they are applied based on their training and personal experiences. Which approach you pick will depend on a number of things, your horse’s character (some approaches will suit better than others), the amount of time you have or are willing to put in to the problem and your confidence as a handler/rider.

If a rider is confident enough and the horse is calm enough I personally have no problem starting in the saddle but this will take tact and timing to build the horses confidence.

If you lack confidence as a rider I strongly recommend that you start on the ground and stay on the ground until you are confident in your horse and their responses to different stimuli. It’s very hard to help your horse if you are nervous yourself.

Desensitisation techniques in all their various forms involve exposing the horse to the scary thing or movement and rewarding them for positive responses and/or signs of relaxation by either

  • stopping the movement

  • moving the scary thing away, or...

  • moving away from the scary thing

Some trainers will also teach the horse to display a relaxed posture e.g. to put their head down to gain the reward. This can be extremely valuable for horses that tend to stay tense and high headed but it is important to make sure that the horse isn’t just putting their head down as a learned respons