Training with a Spooky Horse or How to "De-spook" Your Horse
Horse violently spooked on a dressage test... Sounds like a nightmare, right?
Most of us have experienced this situation on the arena or during a normal training day at least once.
Horses are flight animals and they are programmed to “escape” from danger. It really doesn’t matter for them whether it’s just a plastic bag or a “predator”
However, having enough patience, the rider can help his horse to overcome these difficulties, at least to a certain extent.
De-spooking the horse must be taken in small steps starting in a familiar environment at home.
Take your horse to a closed arena with the halter. Close the doors and let him just walk around for a bit. After he gets familiar with arena you can bring a spooky object like an umbrella. See Horse’s reaction. If he spooks you just have to give him some time. See how the horse behaves. You can use treats to reward your horse if he is being brave.
One thing that I don’t recommend is punishing your horse for being spooky. This way he will just get more anxiety and it will not really help you both at the show.
Take your time. Introduce your horse to new objects slowly. Make sure he is confident with one (like an umbrella) before you move to the other one. Consistency and patience are the two main factors in “de-spooking” the horse.
While riding try to move your horse actively after he spooks but never punish him. Avoid the scary object at the first time and then you can start slowly getting closer to it.
To minimize spooking in the show arena, preventing the spook before it happens (if you can) is key. When you feel a spook coming, try regaining your horse’s attention to your inside leg. Try not to take one rein or the other, which can imply backward riding and make a spook worse, as it puts the horse behind the leg.
When your horse becomes more confident at home maneje, you can carefully take him to different places. Try trail riding (in a group). In a herd horses generally feel safer, so try to surround your horse with other horses while going on a ride in the forest.
If your horse is spooky, you should focus on riding in a relaxed manner as much as you can. Try not to pull the reins too much and do a good 10-minute active trot warm-up on a looser rein. To relax your horse.
Generally speaking building trust with the older horse is harder and it will take more time (especially if the horse had traumatic experiences before)
But it’s very possible that if you allow more time and be patient you can be very successful with your older horse.
If your horse spooks at a show the best thing is just to just move on with your test. Remember that spooking is their natural instinct and you are riding an animal not a robot. Try to stay calm yourself and remember that you are always learning and competing only with yourself - not with others! The more tests and exercises you do - the better you become!
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Some of this information was sourced from Dressage and Rider Magazine.