Sunday, September 28, 2008

Q's and A's

CDNcowgirl-I'm not blowing you off, just thinking....:)

i know nothing said...
My mare randomly decides to 'spook' at places she's been many, many times. I know she's not afraid, she just needs any excuse to screech to a halt and start crowhopping. I've tried working her extra hard in those places, and I've tried ignoring it and just keeping going. I don't know what to do to deter her from suddenly taking off on me. She's six and has been ridden for 3 years. I haven't come off yet (guess she doesn't buck THAT hard), but I'm annoyed that she continues to to it. I ride her at least 4 times a week, in the arena and on the trail.

I have been approaching my horse's spooking from a fairly new (for me) angle. I have also done the ignore it, or work harder, or kick her through, or.....In the old days I used to just ride through it. I thought spooking was kind of fun and part of riding. As Spookerrific was exposed to more and had to negotiate different situations, things just faded away.

This time around, (being older, slower, and fatter) I have been taking on spooking with a "Trailer loading" mentality. I am really, really, good at loading horses in the trailer. I have helped lots of people load their horses, and have had to go pick up some rank S.O.B.s and load them myself. They always get in. I'm not always nice, but if anybody ends up bloody and sore, it's usually me, the horse is always fine. And in the trailer.

I ride the same way through the mountains as I do on a busy showgrounds or in a strange arena. Anyway, as I ride along I try to stay relaxed and focused, with a loose rein. I want my horse to know by my actions there is nothing to fear.

Inevitably, Spookerrific will do his thing. AAAAAGH!! Horse Eating Beast Ahead!!!!

My priority becomes to keep the horse looking where he's supposed to, nothing more. If I am walking on a trail and Spookerrific stops dead, that's OK, as long as he stays facing the direction we are heading. So if he's afraid of a log off to the right, he can look at it, but he has to keep his feet pointing the right way on the trail.

If Spookerrific tries to spin away, or buck, or whatever, I'll handle that behavior, get him looking the direction we'll be going and relax my rein. I'll do this over and over until he understands that the release comes from facing the right direction, that's all I'm asking.

If you keep it that simple, he'll eventually stop and stand there. Let him look. The biggest mistake we make is not letting them see what's worrying them. After we've analyzed the situation I'll ask for some forward. Most of the time they'll sigh and go on. I don't make them approach the scary thing unless we have to go through it to stay on task.

I have found that grabbing hold of their face gives me the biggest leaps through space. If I can gut up and let them spook on a loose rein, it's usually a pretty small event. It's when I go fetal and drag Spookerrific's nose into my bellybutton that we have trouble.

If the horse is spooking at the same place over and over again I find it comes from anticipation of my reaction.
Believe me, he doesn't think "When we go by here I get scared and then we fight."
He's thinking, "When I go by here my dumbass rider always goes freakazoid on me, I just knew this was a scary place!"

If I'm loping circles in an arena we've shown in two hundred times, and we're still spooking at the same flappy tarp, I get a little cranky. I will lope small enough circles far enough away from the bad place that Spookerrific feels safe, but we will lope until he is so eager to stop that he'd rest inside Yogi Bears picnic basket if I'd only say whoa.

I also monkey with my reins, jiggle my legs around, i.e. be really annoying, except when we go by the scary place, then I ride quiet and loosen my rein. I gradually enlarge my circle so we're passing pretty close to the bad spot.

I don't force him to stop, but once he's really hunting a rest, I'll offer a whoa at the scary place. If he's worried enough to try to spook away from that spot, we'll keep on loping. Eventually he'll be airing up with his spooky little butt backed into that tarp.

Have fun, and stay loose.

Smurfette said,
I am still battling the issue of the lead changes with current horse, though. I worked on your detailed instructions and certainly wore MY legs out, moving his hips around, but I think I don't get to work him consistantly enough (so far this year its been hurricanes, a bite on the back and now an abscess) to progress, or do some horses just never pick up this skill? This is the first horse I have ever worked with who won't at least learn to make a rough change on cue.

Some horses are not good lead changers. It's a fact. They don't all switch naturally even running with their pals in the field, and some are just one leaded. Sometimes conformation issues, back or leg pain can cause it. Sometimes they are resistant to the rider pushing on them.
That said, you can try a couple of other things.
First lope a circle to the left. Make sure your weight is in your right stirrup and hip pocket. Stop your horse in the middle of the arena, where you would normally change for a figure eight. Walk the horse forward in a straight line about 4 or 5 steps. Dramatically shift your weight to the left stirrup and hip pocket. Ask for a right lead from the walk.
Lope a circle to the right. Make sure your weight is to the outside. Stop in the middle of the arena. Walk forward in a straight line about four or five steps. Dramatically shift your weight to the right stirrup and hip pocket. Ask for the left lead from the walk.
It's important that the horse lope off from a straight line, not into the shape of the circle. Begin your circle once the horse has his lead.
Repeat this exercise for several days. It doesn't have to be continuous, but you have to keep it slow, clear and calm. Give your horse time to think. Do it at least ten times for each lead, every time you ride.
Also try backing him in a circle. One to the left, one to the right. A big, perfectly round, with the horse in a "C" shape circle. Start with a step or two, move his hips with your leg, take another step or two. This will help develop softness in both of you, and make it really clear where your horse's stiffness lies. When you can guide him through a backing figure eight with clear cues and no resistance, your lead changes will become a lot easier.
Now back to the lope stop change exercise. Your horse will begin to anticipate the change of direction. Keep him straight, but make the amount of walking steps fewer and fewer. Encourage his anticipation. If he tries to change, reward any small effort. Be patient.
When he changes (even if it's ugly) let him come gently down to a walk, and walk him on a loose rein. Be happy with one change each way for a very long time.
Hope that helps.


rockymouse said...

I appreciate the primer on spooking. My mare is my first project horse and we muddle through things pretty well in our pasture. She'll happily walk out on the road...but only until we get to The Scary Place - a trailer house that has a herd of horse eating goats, two year-old horse eating colts, flapping tarps and plastic, and a big green roll off dumpster - the most menacing horse eating thing of all.
And did I mention that this place is on a very gravelly, scrabbly section of road that makes for less-than-ideal footing for an anxious horse?
I did get her past once, by getting off of her, sending her in circles, moving her hindquarters, approach and retreat. I eventually was able to walk her past it (from the ground) and allowed her to eat grass on the other side. Then I walked her past it to go home and got back on a little ways farther up, where the footing wasn't so loose.
(I wish I had more local trail options!)
Will try to get her past from the saddle using your ideas. Thanks!

KD said...

I found 4 of Laura Crum's novels at my local library and am on my second one. I had to start in the middle, but it's all good and I'm really enjoying them. I've read "Slickrock" and am on "Hayburner".

cdncowgirl said...

Re Laura Crum - I ordered her first book from, should be here this week!! (at least I think its the 1st book.)

Re Spooking - thanks for writing that piece. I think the advice was awesome, not too sure I'd be able to just chill and stay off their face but its definitely something I'll work on!
I'll admit I've already used the "if you're so damn scared of that spot you'll work your butt off until that is where you'll WANT to rest!"

Heather said...

I really enjoy your training techniques. I have a question that I hope you can help me answer. I have just started my 5 year old Arab gelding. I have had him for three months and have put about 6 rides on him. He is great so far. I have even ridden him by the highway for about amile and he didn't spook at trash, drain pipes, cars, etc. He is very smart and responsive. I cue him with the ask, tell, demand and he responds well to that. He likes to be able to make the right decision on his own. My question is this- he can't seem to connect his mouth to his legs. How do I get more responsive turns? I ask for the turn by opening my inside hand (moving it away from his neck and down a few inches), moving my outside hand so the rein touches his neck, lengthen my inside leg, and move my outside leg back and roll my calf into him. He usually moves his head and then tries to keep going straight and usually wobbles before he will turn. It can take 10 or more strides to get him to change directions. Should I just give him time to balance out and continue working him in serpentines? We don't have an arena so it makes it easy for him to bulge out on turns and circles. We do have a round pen.
Thank you!

Laura Crum said...

mugwump, thanks for the nice review and thank you also KD. cdncowgirl, I hope you enjoy the book. Cutter is the first one, by the way.

My horse Gunner was a huge spook. I never cured him of it and I learned to grab that horn when I felt him start into a spook. Gunner had a big move. He never dropped me, but it was close. He never ran away or refused to go--just had to make the big spook. He's still a big spook even though he's 28, and its not about misbehaving with a rider. This morning, eating his breakfast, something got his attention, and he broke sideways away from his feeder as hard as ever. Its just his nature. If you own one like him, my advice would be, learn to ride like a cutter--sit deep and grab the horn.

Smurfette said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for additional lead change ideas. I am going to try again. Your "lope/stop/change" very good description is my standard, and I may have rushed this horse through it, he has so many other buttons, it is hard to belive he can't change leads. Backing in circle, gonna try it. Also need to work on having my weight on the OUTSIDE of the circle?? Do I have that right?? That one may be the secret. Also, stiff, sore legs and back may be the issue.

Whywudyabreedit said...

Hmmm, I always suspected that if I could just sit out a spook on a loose rein and not try to "control" it that my horse would go right back to being nearly motionless just like he does when loose. I have yet to ride the young lad, so we'll see how it goes. He is a fine energy conserver, so if I can manage not to push too hard, or at the wrong time hopefully he will see fit to avoid any extended quick and spastic movements.

Am I dreaming? Perhaps...

Gnomie said...

I'm a long time lurker with a question.

I have recently started riding again and I've been assigned the really mellow horse named Blue. He's a really sweetheart and we've been getting progressively better, but he doesn't like to stand still. I ride English and haven't started jumping yet, but the other girls in my lesson have. This means that I spend a decent amount of time standing around.

Blue has no problem stopping-I just gently pull back on the reins and then release. I then relax the reins and let him stretch and relax. He'll be perfectly stationary for a few minutes and then he'll start to take a few steps forward. Then I have to gather my reins, give him a tug, and hope that he stays put (he likes to wander to places where we might get run over the girls that are jumping). I've tried keeping the reins short when we are stopped but then it becomes a game of tug-o-war.

So, how do I get him to stay in one place for any length of time?

mugwump said...

heather-try reversing your cues. Guide with your legs first and then finish with your hands.

laura crum-that's why they put that horn there. I bet if you had been a snatch and grab kind of rider Gunner would be waaaaay worse.
smurfette-yes, outside. You want to push his outside hind leg towards his inside front.

gnomie-it depends how much the people who own Blue will let you do. If I have to stand for a long period of time on a restless horse I will try a couple of things. First I wait, just as you are, for him to move off. Then I pick up my reins, bump with my legs, and back him for twice as many steps back as he went forward.Then I release my reins and wait for him to move again. I'll keep that up for as long as it takes.If all else fails I go trot some circles. The big point here is don't fuss at each other. Just fix the problem by making Blue work a lot harder than fidgeting is worth.

Dangerbunny said...

I liked what you said about spooking but I want to add that sometimes spooking can start because a horse is in pain or uncomfortable.

My friend has a mare who recently started spooking at one end of the arena, she picks a spot and freaks out about it, the horse is half draft and usually fairly level headed but this summer she was a nightmare. We tried everything to get her to relax and she just kept getting worse even on trail rides which she had previously enjoyed. The owner had her vet checked and nothing came of that, the mare improved after getting a chiropractic adjustment and being taken off the umpteen million supplements she was on, the horse hadn't shown any other outward signs of discomfort.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great advise. I'm pretty sure we fall into the category of her anticipating me anticipating her. It will be hard for me not to creep up on those reins when I feel 1300 pounds start getting all muscled up, but I am on my way outside to work it through and change my counterproductive ways!

summersmom said...

I have a mare that has started 'cow kicking' at other horses recently. She never did it before, and at first I thought it was something 'left over' from her over protective mothering instincts being that I weaned a foal off of her in July. I just noticed this behavior within the last week and I suddenly realized she may be doing this out of fear from an attack by another horse in July. When we were attacked, I had retrieved her and her filly from the pasture she shared with another mare and her foal. There had never been a problem beforehand and of course this was the first time I wasn't paying attention to where the other mare was at while I fumbled with the gate to let us out. Suddenly my mare slammed me up against the gate and when I could finally turn to see what was happening I saw the other mare had backed up to us and was double barreling us over and over again. This happened at least 5 or 6 times before she took off. Ever since then my mare has been nervous at the gate and last week she kicked out at my friend and her filly who were standing still in the arena as we trotted by. No warning, no pinned ears and she barely slowed down. I have never dealt with this behavior before so my first reaction was to reach out and whack her neck and move her hip in the opposite direction. We could not get her to repeat the behavior at a safe distance for the other horse so I wasn't able to reprimand her again appropriately.
Saturday we went to a show and I kept my distance of the other horses while waiting for classes. We sat backed into a corner and she never even flinched an ear when horses shoved past in front of her. Later on a girl from one of my classes rode over beside us to hand me my ribbon and before I could say anything my mare was swinging her hip over, pinning her ears and preparing to kick. I pulled her head around to my boot and whipped her around to push her hip away and managed to keep her from kicking. I'm not really sure how to react to this and what the proper way is to break her of this habit. She isn't a mean horse and is usually low man on the totem pole out at pasture. She seems to only do this when other horses get close enough where they might kick her from behind like before. Any advice would be appreciated!

ORSunshine said...

Summersmom- so she's doing the "I'll get you before you get me"? It's a fear reaction more than an aggressive reaction. Long story short, I had a dog that did this with a neighbor who had teased and hurt him through the fence. It took a lot of training to get him to a) ignore the horrible neighbor and b) go lay down by the house when said neighbor was out and about.

I'm not sure how to deal with this in a horse and I'm not going to try to wrap my brain around it right now. But Mugs, I'm definitely interested!

summersmom said...

orsunshine-I definitely think she's doing it out of fear. I also think she is more likely to do it with me than with someone else riding her because of the fact I was with her when she was cornered by the other horse. I'm not sure though if she's protecting me as her herdmate or feels more vulnerable with me.

I looked at your profile...where in the Willamette Valley are you located? I'm in Springfield.

ORSunshine said...

Summersmom- I'm up by Salem. It's called fear aggression plain and simple. It's not about protecting you, it's about protecting herself and getting "them" before they can get her. In dogs, we would redirect and focus on ignoring the problem person or animal/ We do this by say, starting at a comfortable distance away from the "issue" and feeding mass quantities of high value treats. Then, over time, we move closer and closer to said "issue" and the "issue" no longer is a problem because then your dog associates the "issue" with good things. That's a really abbreviated description. I would have to think on it some in order to find a method that would work with horses. Or, hopefully, Mugs will just have the answer and I can have my "ah ha!" moment for the day!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I have a question on weighting your seatbones, which you touched on in your lead-change advice. Why do you weight the outside seatbone? Just for the teaching phase? Am I missing something? Thanks. p.s. thanks for the spooking advice, it really helped!

Mel said...

I know this is old, but I'm busy reading the archives. Thanks for the spooking advice. I had a horse that spooked horribly - just part of her nature. I learned to be alert but relaxed and just ride it out. Sometimes I was on top, sometimes not. With my arab, I realized i was making her spook by anticipating it (much more sensetive than the Standardbred). 2 things helped me - #1 - riding in a hackamore. I am MUCH better at riding on a loose rein in a hackamore and less likely to grab the reins. Low and behold I found out that when she spooked, and the reins were loose, nothgin happened! LOL. We just continued down the trail. #2 - I started jogging with my horse on the trail. Stuff that I reacted to and she would spook at while riding she did NOT spook at when I was jogging next to her, which means I was causing the spook. Observing how she handles stuff on the ground while I was not mounted really helped me to trust her when I was in the saddle.

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