Monday, February 9, 2009

WARNING! I'm A Little Cranky!

I have read through the last comments on this post and I've got to step in here. I'm not going to be specific with names, but I might be going against the grain here.

Anybody who has read my blog through probably gets that I'm fairly simple in my approach to them. I believe a horse is a horse. I am a person. I like them, I even love some of them. I strongly feel that although my horses may like me, they don't love me. They love being horses, I am an inevitable interruption to what they would really like to do, which is hang out in a field with other horses. Our relationship is built on my expectations of them and their ability to perform those expectations.

I don't beat them or tear them up, but I do teach them to do what I ask. In return they receive kind, considerate care and have me in their corner. I train them to be service animals for most people so they have a chance in life and I do everything I can to ensure the quality and safety of their life with me.

That being said I also have to point out I want to ride them. I don't want to worry about their heads. I want them to do what I need to do, which is be ridden.

If I have a horse who spooks, leaps, misbehaves etc. I'm going to make sure I can ride well enough to stay on when the behavior happens.
I have had horses come out from under me. It can always happen. But I can count on one hand how many times that has happened in the last ten years. Keep in mind I was a trainer on misbehaving horses for most of those years.
It frightens a horse to have it's rider fall off.
Being horses they won't equate their behavior with losing the rider (at first), they will begin to misbehave because they are waiting for the rider to fall off and they are scared.
Eventually they will realize that when they spook they can unload the problem and then everybody is in trouble.

Put on your western saddle and practice some roll backs off the fence. Do some random, idle loping. Get moving around your arena and have a buddy yell out commands. As in lope, turn left, turn right, go straight to the fence anything sudden and quick.

Ride like Ben Cartwright.

Until you can stay seated when problems come up you can't judge the personality, horsenality, doganality, nothing. Because your coming off will exacerbate the problem no matter where it's coming from.

I had a cute little mare in training for two years. Her mother was an appendix mare with weak stifles and the sire was a decent, mid-level cowhorse. The mare should never have been bred and the stud should have been gelded as a two-year-old.

Of course these are the kind of horses I got in to train for the most part, (being a middle of the road trainer) so I'm only complaining a little.

This filly became a very solid minded little horse with absolutely no talent at all. She was awkward at best and almost dangerous in her cow work. If she got bumped by a cow she would go ass over tea kettle. Two of my five spills in the last 10 years came from cattle bumping into that filly. I still managed to ride through three of her falls (at about 30 mph).
I had been demanding this horse be taken home for about a year and finally refused to ride her on cattle at all when the owner gave up and took her home.

The upside to this horse was she was dead gentle. She had a heart as big as Wyoming and would give her all. She would pack anybody around, anywhere and was sweet all of the time. And she had a pretty fancy handle on her.

Her owner took her home to use as a trail horse. Within a year this mare is bucking, spooking, rearing, kicking at people and horses. I could keep going. It makes me absolutely sick.
How did it happen?
The horse spooked.
Keep in mind, this isn't a particularly spooky horse. Something just got to her.
The owner, who looooves to have me train her horses but refuses to take a lesson, couldn't stay on.
So it began.
Instead of slowing down, backing up and learning to ride her, she went to more bit and harder trail rides. I mentioned this horse had no talent right? It's showing up on the technical trails too. The owner doesn't blame me, or the horse's training.
She says, "She's too high powered a cowhorse for this and she's too light and sensitive."
This horse is NOT high-powered.
She is being ridden poorly.
She is being ruined.
In self defense you have to learn to sit a spook. Spooking can be fun. It should be. Because it's part of riding.

Now I'll get into what I see in the horses themselves. My yellow mare is a spooking idiot. It is a tendency I see in a lot of the cowhorse bloodlines. She sees and responds to every movement. It makes her kick butt in the show pen and makes her an irritating fool everywhere else. I work on her constantly. She is an eternal work in progress. We jump one way or the other at least once on a good day and often 7 or 8 times on a bad day. It's just her.
My foundation bred horses are quiet and calm. They can work a cow in a solid sensible manner. They sure don't look like my yellow horse.

I have three of my horses at a friends pasture. She has three foundation bred horses, my two and my yellow horse.
My friend has big giant tarps staked out and blowing around by the feeders. She figures they can all tarp train themselves.
The whole herd tromps across those tarps like they're nothing. Except my mare. She jumps them, spooks at them, leaps with every flap in the breeze. She'll hook onto them and cut them occasionally. She's obsessed with them.

Imagine riding that. I can and do. I also absolutely love her.

Sonita was a cowhorse. You guys have been reading about what it took to get her going. If I hadn't learned to ride her she would have been sent down the road as an impossible case, or I'd still be doing groundwork on her and talking about someday.

I have a little colt who's coming two . He is out of two successful show horses who are also foundation bred. He is kind and quiet. He doesn't have a chance in hell of showing like my yellow mare. But he's going to suit me as an old lady. He's going to be the perfect horse to tool around on as my aging bones force me to admit I'm not up to the hot little cowhorses anymore. He'll still spook and jump as I take him on the road to being the horse I envision. I'll be able to ride it because I've learned to sit a spook, a jump, a buck.

My final thought is, match your horse to your ability. If you can't stay on you're not having fun and things will just get worse. If you're having problems, SLOW DOWN. Learn to ride the spook. Decide if this is what you want in a horse. They are what they are.
Once you can sit through the spook with ease things will get better. Once you can ride your horse with confidence then you can decipher the difference between the nature of the horse and bad behavior.


  1. Good post.

    lol. I posted on my blog that I'm getting used to my mare's spooks, so now I kind of laugh because it's funny. Not that I specifically try to get her to spook or anything. I keep wondering if I'd rather have a dead broke horse who does everything slow and steady like our one mare, or if I'd rather have my crazy girl who's a little more unpredictable, but not really dangerous or anything. My mare keeps things interesting for sure. Aside from the one flip over backwards, to which we stood up and went right back to work, her spooks have gotten the ticker to speed up, but nothing scary or anything to toss me off. (knock on wood). I get lazy on our other mare, I space out.

    I don't think my horses particularly have love for me either. They would much rather be any place else, but they put up with me.

    I loved your ride like Ben Cartwright post. One of my favorites.

  2. You could have written this specifically for me. I'm pretty sure I have never over-horsed myself......but my wants/needs have changed over the past 10-12 years. Age has something to do with it, older, creakier, bad knees.

    When I visit a dear friend and play with her morgans, or her barn partner's 17hh denying it, I have a BLAST.

    I love playing with them, but I don't want to live with them.

    I come home to my 26 year old arab mare that is my *bareback baby*....and my TWH mare.
    I no longer feel the need to prance down the road sideways on a 7 year old arab stallion (yup, had one of those, too). Looks pretty cool, but I've gotten lazy in my old age.

    And I don't bounce like I used to.

    At 62, I want a horse that I can throw out to pasture, let them sit for a few weeks or months....pull them out and slap a saddle on their back. And that's exactly what I have now.

    That doesn't mean I don't like to play with a little *snort and blow* now and then....I just don't want to live with it. I can ride a spook/buck out...just don't want to HAVE to.

    *A man's got to know his limitations.*
    Or a woman.

  3. I don't think you sounded cranky. Just honest about your opinion.

    Is it okay if I duct tape my ass to that western saddle until I figure out how to ride her? :D

  4. Fyyahchild-if only duct tape would work! Chaps help immensely and don't let anyone tell you not to hang onto the horn. If you need it, use it!

  5. This is just the post I needed today. Thank you. I have 12 horses of my own. They all must have a job. Well, the Kiger Mustang does not really have a job, unless you count me learning how to think more like a wild mustang. Anyway, I enjoy all my horses, like you some I love, a few I don't, but I recognize their abilities and what they don't have in temperment, they make up in usability. A horse must be usable.
    I have had boarders at my barn over the years who never rode their horses. I could go on with the slew of reasons, but they are all usually the same. The biggest commonality though with all of them was that these owners spoiled the crap out of their horses. Made countless excuses for them, huge amount of treats, never expected these horses to even stand quietly in the cross ties, etc... My statement has always been, I feed them, I shelter them, I vet them when needed. They live a life of comfort, I am not asking much for them to give me a few hours of their time to work for me each week. I am not offering a welfare program.
    My reining trainer had a client bring him a horse for training and she handed him a 5lb bag of treats before she left and instructed him to give her horse 5 treats after each ride. My trainer looked at her, handed the bag back and said "Your horses treat will be when I get off the saddle." I loved those words. now that is not to say I do not give treats to my horses. After each of my lessons with my collegiate team, each horse gets 2 treats. These horses are saints to put up with some of the riders on my team and these horses earn their keep.

    I see so many people worry more about the psycology (sp?) of the horse rather than just get out and ride. There is nothing wrong with needing lessons to improve ones riding. I have one mare who will spook at a fly, I was scared as heck on her, but I learned through my lessons to relax, sink my seat down and move with her. She and I are slowly working well together. I'm working on my scardycatitis and well she is working on her spooking. She is my crazy little mare that has taught me so much. She is making me a much better rider.

    BTW: Mugs, did you and Laura come up with something for my heading horse dilemma? I would love to learn more about the why's and why nots of the tiedown.

  6. My mare spooks...pretty much in line with you, Mugs...

    She'll spook at "something"...just this weekend, while we were in the pasture learning to rate canter speeds (I can't believe we are actually there - untraining the WP canter!), the cat jumped off the car in the driveway (way-over-there), and every time we went past that corner, she either stopped and stared, or at least gave me a major "I am going to spook" tremble while keeping her eye on the car...I ended up asking her to go faster past that spot, and she finally quit with the spook and started paying attention to me.

    I have learned with her that when she picks an area to repeat-spook it's usually because (a) she spooked at something (b) I came off (c) I came off not in the normal proceedure(d) I laid on the ground moaning like a dying cow (d) I got shook up and put out that energy even though I tried to hide it(e) and even though I got back on, because I hurt, I rode funny (f)she had been beaten before for bucking/spooking/dumping her trainer, and was expecting it again. All of that scared her even more, making a lasting impression on "that spot."

    I have made a huge effort to (a) ride the spook and (b) if I do get dumped not to make a big deal about it (c) to have a calm seat while gripping with my thighs so she doesn't get the "danger, danger, danger" message from me.


  7. Good post - I wouldn't consider this cranky, just honest. After reading your blog for sometime, it's actually the expected answer. Ride it. Point taken.

    Honestly, we've been doing much better lately anyhow, spooks or not. Have taken steps back when necessary but have pushed through some goofy episodes with no major trouble on the trail.

    No horn on my saddle, but he doesn't mind if you grab some mane.

  8. UPDATE! Hi Mugs, just wanted to update you. I rode my "spooky cowhorse" saturday and sunday. With her being out of shape, I decided not to try your shoulder excersizes,(i didnt want to ride her all collected up) but I did use something from one of your other posts.
    I rode her with a completely loose rein, let her have her head completely. Guess what! NO SHOULDER BULGING. Well, she tried once, I bumped her with my outside leg, but didnt touch the reins. I think maybe I have been "riding her head" too much, and letting her have her head and concentrating on my legs only SEEMED to have fixed it, but we shall see. I think I will ride her loose reined for the next five rides or so (or as she gets in shape). I didnt feel it was fair to ask her to motor along collected when she is so out of shape. Anyway, just wanted to update you on the bulging shoulder, and once we start collected work again, we shall see what happens!

  9. And that is why I ride the horses I do! As much as I would love to someday ride a cutting horse I feel much safer on a WP horse whos idea of a "spook" is a stop and stare event.

    But there is a point (I think!) that it does some good to go inside a horses head. I have a friends horse that kept getting heaver and heaver in the front end... we decided she was bored and worked on exercises to keep her focused. This mare gets bored to tears just going around the ring. Its been decided that she is a much better patern horse (equation, trail, hunter) and will eventuly be resold as such. Does she have the movemnet to do HUS/WP? yes... however she was unhappy.

  10. I had a lesson on Saturday and I don't know how many times my trainer said... "You have to ride the horse you are on". I have one lazy one and one not - they are opposites in every aspect. Sometimes I forget which one I am on. :(

    On the spooking... I too believe you just have to deal with it. Learn to ride through it. And if YOU think that she is going to spook, she will. 90% of the time, if the rider anticipates it, it will happen. I have caught myself in the same trap. One end of the arena had a horse eater monster in it. Every time I would lope a circle down there I would anticiapte the spook, so my horse would accomdate me. As soon as I just rode like there was noting going on- no man eating monster - so did he. It wasn't that I couldn't ride him through the spook, but I was needlessly making it happen. Talk about feeling dumb.

  11. As always, I love your honesty. Thank you for saying it, just so. I am only learning, and with so much conflicting info out there I am trusting my instincts more. I love that thrill and accomplishment of riding through a spook or convincing a horse to go where she'd rather not go. Its a power trip, of sorts, but I only win if we're both happy at the end.

    The wild auction horse my husband brought home last May earned herself a few months of pro training... Rather than risk ruining her sweet and trusting nature with our relatively inexperience. The investment paid off, and she is transitioning now from rides under the trainer to rides under her owner under the trainer's supervision.

  12. Hi Mugwump-

    I just want to say that I have never read training methods that I agree with so completely. Your approach to horse's has really helped me with training my horse's and I have picked up some very valuable information from your posts. I just wanted to say thank you and also to ask for some advice. The topic of your most recent post seems to correlate a bit with what I'm going through with a horse right now.

    I have a coming four year old QH filly that is fairly hot bred. I own her dam and have been handling this girl her entire life. While this filly has always been smarter than your average bear she has never been violent and has always done as I asked/demanded. She's a very light horse and had a lot of potential. Well, I had her well started under saddle and she was going very well. W/T/L, worked entirely off seat and leg, backed like butter. I was starting to work on getting her really working under herself when I sold her. I did the big no-no and sold her to a friend and now I'm just bashing my head off for doing this. My friend has been riding since she was in diapers but has always had very compliant, made horses. She (we'll call her Sally), apparently, was not prepared to take on a greener horse that happened to be an independent thinker. From the start Sally has been very tight with this horse but had been starting to loosen up and get more comfortable. Well this filly had picked up on Sally's timidness and started to plant herself and do little bucks. I hopped on the filly to see what was going on and was easily able to work her through it and she never tried it again... with me. Sally, however, still experienced the problem. Due to fact that Sally and I are very good friends, and former to this were fairly evenly matched riders, it has been difficult to get Sally to listen to me. Well, lo and behold the filly is now launching herself into the air and full out bucking anytime she is asked to move forward. We always joked this horse might make it to NFR for barrels but now I'm thinking it might be a different event that gets her to the NFR. My friend just doesn't have what it takes to move her through it and the horse seems so far gone now that when I get on her I get the same response. The behavior is, quite frankly, dangerous to whoever is riding her. While no one has fallen off yet I think it is only a matter of time. I've had this horse's head to my knee kicking out her hind end and she is still flying up into the air. I trained her to move forward off voice cue, then leg and then an over-under and this has always worked. I've tried that escalation of cues and the only response I get is an attempt to give me a flying lesson. I am not a wuss and I am definitely not hesitant to get after a horse so believe me when I say that little s*** of a horse got it good and still did nothing but buck. We have gotten her to move a couple of steps without bucking if there is someone leading her and when she does proceed calmly we call it quits and put her up for the day. I think this'll be the way we have to go about it but it just kills me that we have to essentially start this horse from scratch. I was hoping you might be able to shed some light on her behavior. I really think she figured out that Sally won't come down on her like I will and decided that she can do whatever she wants. We've ruled out pain issues, and even if she was in pain I'm not sure I would really care given the violence of her reaction, which in my book is not okay. I have tried to get Sally to take lessons with someone as Sally just hasn't had to ride green horse's but unfortunately Sally seems to think she is above them.

  13. My husband and I were just talking about this earlier today. We were discussing my friend's 2 year old filly, and how my friend knows when to stick to a lesson involving walking and when the filly's ready to work on loping. We girls are not 15 anymore: we don't want to hit the dirt, and we don't want our horses to learn that it's alright to buck a rider off.

    I had learned to ride my red gelding's spooks. I knew when he was gonna do it and I just rode it. He would spring sideways. I had tried to make him stop but I got lazy. It was just too much darn work but if I could ride it out, we just got on with it. I felt like I was doing something wrong. But I took that freakin horse everywhere. and yeah, I loved him irrationally.

    Now with my spotted gelding, I've hit the dirt three times in two years. I can blame myself... it's taking me a long time to adjust that this is a different horse. He's got excellent ground manners but he's got this very quiet little stubborn streak. Sneaky. I'm learning how to read him and predict a buck. My goal is to learn how to stay on long enough to stop it. I don't want him to think it's acceptable to act like that!

    I don't think I'm a great rider. I admit that I'm often scared. But I really like this horse. In every other way, he's awesome. I'm the only person he's ever been unruly with and I think it's because I ask him for more.

    Am I on the right track here???

    I do believe he just needs to be ridden more.

    As for horses "loving" us, I do think they can trust us and relax around us, and maybe that's their version of love... but I've never had a horse leave the others to come to me. They'll all come to me or all stay away. I'm never first choice if they have the choice, and I gotta be okay with that!

  14. Great post, mugwump. I had a very spooky horse that I rode successfully for ten years, and I can second all that you say. Gunner never dropped me (this was partly luck and partly the fact that, like you, I had spent many years horseback and it took a bit to dump me) and he never meant to. He was a cowhorse bred horse and the spook came naturally. Its what made him a good cutting horse, in part. In many ways, he was very like your yellow mare (just not as pretty).

    My advice to others would be similar to yours. Definitely ride in a western saddle. Keep your hand on the horn if you have the slightest suspicion your horse might be thinking of spooking. Never mind that it isn't cool. Don't grab your horse in the face when he spooks. Hang onto that horn and stay on him. Then pick your horse up with the reins. Be gentle if the horse just got spooked. I tend to pretty much ignore the spook and move on. This works the best with a truly spooky horse. Be a whole lot less gentle if the horse is trying to run off or buck or rear or do any other behavior that is not just spook and stare at what's bothering him. Such a horse is not spooky--he's using the spook as a method to give his rider grief. I would double that horse and give his butt a good beating. (I'll tolerate a little nervous dancing around, but any other recalcitrant behavior gets punished. Spooking itself does not get punished. A horse that bolted out of genuine fear I wouldn't punish. I would double him and make it clear he could not run off. It doesn't help to punish a horse that is truly scared. However, if a horse bolted with me more than once he'd be down the road. Its a very dangerous habit.)

    Personally, I would not ride a horse that had managed to dump me more than once and that I suspected of purposefully trying to dump me. I'm too old to want to hit the ground. And there are so many nice horses in the world. Give one of them a home instead. Both my two riding horses will spook. Neither one has ever dumped me. If I thought they could, I wouldn't ride them any more.

    Fyahchild, nobody but you knows what is important to you. If you don't mind this mare dumping you, and taking the huge chance that you might be seriously hurt, that's your call. But get that western saddle and hang on. Let the mare know she'll get a beating if she tries to unload you. Make that behavior seem more trouble than its worth to her. That'd be my advice (if you're determined to persevere). Good luck.

  15. SkyBarFarm-I'm one of those mean and nasty people who doesn't do treats. Except for a good scratch.
    The rope horse post is coming, Laura's been writing her book!
    BluesnJazz-The exercises I was talking about were meant to be on a loose rein with no collection involved.
    Kel-I just got back from the dentist. I realized the tension in my lower back was identical to the tension that makes me rise out of my seat and grip too much with my legs when I'm anticipating trouble on my horse.

  16. Heidi the Hick- I think you want to try to get the horse ridden. If you don't think he's going to kill you or sprain your other ankle I would try to get him rode.
    I'll put up with a bunch if I'm making progress, but I don't like getting thrown. If it happens too many times (like twice) then they're outta here.
    If I think I cn get ahead of them I'll stay with them.
    I'm also more than willing to get a younger, bouncier trainer to step in and ride the buck out of a horse. I have NO pride anymore, justa strong sense of self preservation.

  17. yeah, I'm over the pride.

    He definitely needs to be ridden. He hasn't had nearly enough in his life. He's a good horse, but he only had one owner before me and they sold him because they didn't have much time for him. He was much loved and cared for and has nice manners.

    The first time he bucked, I forgave him because I could tell he was genuinely freaked out.

    I'm working on a plan to get him (and his ladyfriend) closer to my house for a bit of time this spring/ summer so I can get some time on them.

    We'll see.

  18. Hey, mugwump, I'm back. Not only have I been writing my book, but my son's horse colicked ten days ago and eventually had to go to colic surgery. So, I've been pretty overwhelmed. But Henry (my son's horse) is home and doing well, and I'm coping with his rehab and typing a chapter a day (on a good day), so I thought I could manage a comment on your terrific post. You really called it on the spooking issue, as far as I'm concerned.

  19. I don't feed treats either. I hate a mouthy horse looking for treats, don't know why, it just bugs me. I had one horse that people always tried to feed sugar cubes too. They were dumbfounded when she would spit them out (actually, she would spit out all sorts of horse cookies) because she wasn't used to them.

    Laura - Welcome back! Hope your writing is going well. I just finished Hoofprints and loved it. I'm hooked! I read your books so fast because I can't put them down. I think I'll be done with them all and will be ready for your new one by the time it hits the shelves :) Glad your horse is OK too!

  20. Great post, Mugs. I agree with everything you advise. As to those deciding whether to give up on a horse, you will know when it is time, if you listen to your head and your heart. Let go of ego and thinking you can fix every horse. I got a lot out of that story of your horse that tried to jump through the window of the indoor. Despite all your work, he had a screw loose. End of story. With Dude, he ran off while I was trying to saddle him at a trail ride and I thought he broke my finger (I held on to the lead for too long). He also had started trying to kick me while I was saddling him. I had been working with him for 1 year on these issues and he got worse instead of better. We had a most excellent ride that day, loping through the trails, no bucking and he steered like a dream. I called that the cap of our times together and retired him after that. Now he gives lovings, eats cat food off the front porch and throws every teen that tries to ride him. He never threw me and I'm not going to give him a chance to. At age 47 life is too short!

  21. Love the new pic of your yellow bridle horse.

  22. Good post. I agree. I get on my young TB gelding that can be a bit "reactive" to say the least when he's on the longe. He is like a fish dancing on a line sometimes when something spooks him and I watch and think... dang. Am I gonna be able to SIT that???

    My trainer tells me they often don't do what they do on a longe with someone on them. When I'm on him I'll have him with my legs, seat, hands. She says I have a good seat...

    I am still skeptical! The more I ride tho', the more confidence I have and I think that is the same for him? You've said that in a post or two before I think. I'd like more of your thoughts on that sometime if you are taking requests. grin.

    I get on and I focus on him and he hasn't spooked so hard he's lost me. He also hasn't spooked so much that he looks like a marlin being reeled in when I'm on him...

    I should trust my trainer more huh? lol.

    He started looking funny at something this weekend while cooling out and I thought - oh, no. uh. uh. You are NOT gonna get all wound up over nothing... (it was my husband but he was bent over in the driveway doing something and baby horse was not liking the human kneeling down I guess)

    I picked my reins back up and I leg yielded, changed directions here and there, did all sorts of stuff to get him paying attention to ME until he forgot what it was he was concerned about anyway... so that was good I thought!

    Chalk one more up for my confidence ... I still have a way to go before I'm comfy on him... but he hasn't given me a reason to be afraid yet. The "fear" is all in my head with the what if's... hate those!

    BUT I also felt that way about my mare when I started her and now I am very comfy on her and know what to expect from her. I hope the same happens for my gelding!

  23. Thanks, mocharocks. I'm glad you've liked the books so far. I just walked my rehab horse, who is doing great, knock on wood. I'm taking it one day at a time. Now I'd better get back to typing chapters.

  24. Mugs...isn't funny how horses just seem to know when your tense or nervous? A year or so ago I was riding and loping some circle on my paint horse. He is big strided and likes to move. Not out of control but he really has some go and the more I would circle the more nervous he would get. I was completely out of breath riding him. It was ridiculous. I felt nervous and tense beacause I couldn't catch my breath. Then I realized that I WASN'T breathing. Just up there holding my breath. I spent a couple days a week, just riding and focusing on my breathing at a trot and lope. Now I can ride at a trot/lope for 15 min + or work large fast circles and not be winded. I couldn't have imagined how nervous and anxious I was making my horse. So now when he gets nervous, the first thing I do is remember to breath and relax, then so does he. Just amazing something so simple works so well.

  25. Kel-I'll never forget how amazed I was when I first saw the Big K loping large fasts on a young horse, talking on a cell phone, as cool as could be.
    Then one day I was working a young horse (a year into working for K)and it had just had a pretty good spooking, bucking, bolting spazoid moment. We had just gotten through it and were loping our circles again. My phone buzzed, I dug it out of my pocket, it was K. He's sitting on the bench in front of the tack room, laughing, "Look at you on the phone," he says.
    He was right, I had barely got my stirrups back, was loping a large fast and talking on the phone.
    I have to admit, I felt pretty cool.

  26. For the English look, the suede on Wintec dressage saddles is as good as chaps for helping you stick thru a spook :) Don't forget your grab strap!

  27. Sorry, don't have my login memorized at work and actually I never post. THANK YOU! I needed this post today.

  28. I completely agree with you Mugs, though I do feed treats. My boys aren't pushy about it and I got in the habit with my first horse (now 38). He just really likes food and I just really like giving it to him... But treats aren't really an everyday thing, more of a once a month if I remember thing. Anyway, 'unfortunately' none of my horses spook really... once in a blue moon I'll get a good jump from the 2, now 3 y/o, but nothin from the others. He actually even got me off with one a long time ago when a fawn hopped up under his nose and I was off in la-la land (I do that sometimes... rarely with consequences, but he REALLY will be a good jumper some day) and riding english very awkwardly for the first time in a year... But it's kind of disapointing all in all; I agree with the whole thrill of it all but the only time I experience it is in the first few rides. I like just tooling around on them, but it sounds like my rides would be more interesting if they'd freak out once or twice.

  29. Awesome post! And I especially love your comment about the loping circles on the cell phone. That was great. (someday I will be able to do that. maybe by the time I'm 60.)

    My little cutting bred horse has always been a titch jumpy. He spooks when something appears on trail that wasn't there last time (bags, trash, logs, leaves). He spooks the next time if the item is gone. he's got a great memory!

    And I absolutely agree with you mugwump. He doesn't spook because he's being "naughty" or has some plan. He's spooky, so he spooks.

    He used to try the "spin and bolt" and that little booger can pass his own ass leaving. It only took coming off once from that trick and I decided I would stay on thank you. (a child did a cannonball into the back yard pool we were passing on trail and it was my first time on with him bareback on trail. I could've used a horn and stirrups that day.)

    I expect him to spook at stuff. And I point his nose at the scary thing, let him shake and snort and then touch it and we're over it.

    Finding my seat made an enormous difference. I don't fear spooks on any horse now. I can sit it; it might not be pretty and I sure as heck will grab horn and/or mane and whatever else I need if the situation warrants it.

    I also find that the more I ride my horse and the more he works, the less energy he has to spook. He just wants to do the deal, get his sweat on and then go home for dinner.

    Laura, good to see you again. I'm sorry to hear about your boys horse, but glad he made it. I read the 1st three of yours and now I need to find the next one. I loved them.

  30. Ok, so I have a question for you along these lines. I have no problem riding spooky, jumpy horses. That's what I learned to ride on, and I have continued to ride those sort of horses for other people who can't deal with them. But what do you do with a horse that spooks and then starts bucking because he is scared? I have no problem with normal bucking. Usually you can just pull their heads around and that gets them to quit pretty quick. But this one will just set his head against the bit and pull you right off. He's a big horse with a very thick, muscular neck (he's got some Morgan in him), and I'm a not-so-big female. We've "backed up" as you say, and I'm taking things slow and trying to stay safe, which includes lunging to make sure he is sane, and handwalking to scary places to get him used to things. What would your advice be in this situation?

  31. Oh man, I've been going through this recently too (or at least I was when I was still riding my horse).

    I can sit through spooks most of the time. Sometimes I get rattled by it and sometimes I don't. My horse doesn't spook at very much. Normally he's pretty dead headed, but when he does spook... look out. It's so FAST! The last times he's spooked he's gotten me off both times. He will literally be trotting along nicely and then WHAM-BAM, I'm on the ground and how the hell did THAT happen(?). Oh the neighbors tractor backfired, well that's understandable. I think he likes to spook sideways. You know how normally there's lots of hang time as you're falling to contemplate just how much it's all going to suck? Not with my horse. He doesn't do it to be malicious. His spooks have always been for a legitimate reason.

    However, sometimes that legitimate reasons is ME. Like I said, sometimes his spooks rattle me and sometimes they don't. When they do, it consumes my riding. I become so nervous that it feeds into him. Then we start having problems. The best medicine for me has always been to go ride an old school horse, and work my horse on the ground. Just to get a refresher that yes, I can ride. Yes I can handle my horse. It's all mental, at least for me. So far, this has worked pretty well.

    And, just for an update I guess...
    We were talking to the vet about my horse and his (slight) missing muscle/skip at the trot problem. He deduced that he couldn't tell anything without x-rays. Not two hours later, we had to call him back. My horse had gotten cornered, tried to defend himself, and his hind legs got tangled around a wire fence and a t-post. He's cut up pretty bad, and is on two weeks of stall rest. He's doing really well, and as of now he should be fine.
    I'm looking on the bright side of it as a chance to work on my confidence, and the chance to start things back slowly with him. :)

  32. Thank you for this post.

    There are sometimes that I think that I'm over-horsed, but you made me remember that my crazy yellow mare has yet to get me off with one of her temper tantrums.

    However, I am having a problem with her bucking and I cannot figure out what the hell I'm doing wrong.
    When I first got her, she was in a wide tree dressage saddle. She started beefing up with muscle and it started pinching. She would buck on her left lead canter take-off. I'd work the snot out of her doing collections and extensions so she would know that bucking was not ok.
    It didn't get better, so my trainer decided that a change of gear was needed.
    We switched to a treeless dressage saddle, which we loved. No more bucking. At least until recently. Now she bucks on the right lead canter depart. The saddle can't be pinching, there's no tree! And I can't figure out why it switched leads.
    I'm almost positive that I'm at fault, somehow. But I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong.
    I'm not nearly as aggressive a rider as I used to be, could that be the problem? Is she just trying to piss me off? I work her butt off when she does it, so it's not like she's getting away with anything. But it's gotten to the point that it has affected my confidence. I no longer like to canter her, just because of the departure. And it's killing me because she has this lovely rocking-horse gait.
    I'm going to start lessons again with a couple different trainers. One that works on my position, the other works more on the horse.
    I'm just wondering if you've had any experience with anything like this.

  33. APPLAUSE, Mugs!! This is your best post!! My Arab mare can wiggle and skitter back and forth faster than any other horse I have been on. Once I stopped worrying and focussed on sitting really deep and heavy in the center of my horse, two things happened. I wasn't unseated by her sudden movement, and her spooks became less dramatic. I could feel her body change before she teleported, but if I focussed on letting the weight in my seat keep sending her where I wanted to go, she was a different horse. This is really hard for me to explain, but it worked amazingly well for both of us. It was almost like she started to move sideways but the momentum of my seat just put her back on the path from which she started to stray. I also focussed on the rhythm of her gaits and let my mind insist that this rhythm must not be altered. This seemed to influence my body and we would maintain a steady track even if she felt like she was going to shy. This is just what worked for me. Being blind since birth, I certainly couldn't see the potential for a shy or spook so it was up to me to be prepared but at the same time not to create within my horse that desire or inclination. Sorry if this is long and not making sense.

  34. Andalusians-Perfect. I love your concept of letting your weight guide her direction and rhythm. It's absolutely spot on and your description was great.
    I'm off to bed, but Wed. I plan on a good long Q and A session. Tues. is when we put the paper to bed, so no playing on the blog for me. Sigh. See you guys Wed.

  35. Good post.

    My Mocha mare is cowhorse/reiner bred, and in the wrong hands she could be a spooker. She's always alert, always watching, always *on*. My trainer (who bred and started her) commented to me once that he never took her for granted, because she has a bit of sting about her. She has not been a spooker, but there's been times--I just put my leg on her and make her two-track past The Horse Eating Thing and she heaves a huge sigh and starts working.

    That said, I do have a good spooker story. School horse, named Zorro, little bitty black QH gelding out of Texas (I've seen Fred Whitfield? Wakefield? ride a dead ringer for him). Small, short-backed, downhill, too damned smart for his own good and a spooking fool. One session G had gone off to do something while a dog in heat was locked up in his office, howling and scratching at the door.

    Zorro thought his days were numbered. Spook and spin, spook and spin, every damned time that damned dog howled. I know my butt went sideways at least two inches off the saddle at least twice.

    At last, I'd had it. I bellowed "QUIT, DAMNIT!" as loud as I could.

    Zorro stopped, and while he suspiciously twitched his ears every time we went by the office, he didn't spook after that. Not once.

  36. (beams with pride at AndalusiansofGrandeur)

    What a rider!

  37. Mugs:

    No offense really meant, the actor who played Ben Cartwright HATED riding, he couldn't wait until his contract was over on Bonanza so he didn't have to sit a horse ever again, he hated being in the saddle and didn't particularly like horses. Just wanted to point it out in case it matters to you about your advice and all.

    I have a question. I sit spooks, no problem. I have a really good riding mare, take her to demos, shows and so on, and she trails on long rides in the mountains, gets along with other horses and so on. Every once in a blue moon she gets all of a sudden and unexpectedly wired. You don't always see it coming, you'll see a bit in the eye (slightly wild eye) but she is such a routine horse that you don't think about it. It happened twice in five years. Warm her up and get on board, everything seems normal. She seems a little energetic, but that is also not unusual, and then it happens, working in the walk first then the trot, turns and so on, just the routine thing, and then the canter/gallop. Normally not a problem, but on these special days, boom. She explodes in a runaway bucking like mad. She threw the student 3 years ago. Two months ago, I was demonstrating all the riding horses (including the stallions) to a customer. I got on her first as a riding horse, demonstrated her in the roundpen (18 meter diameter) and then took her out to show her trail skills around the farm. We went up a hill in view of the ranch, and boom she started a run away gallop bucking like crazy. I sat 4 bucks and even though I have bear claw pommels on a very old cowboy saddle, I lost balance on the uphill and was thrown. I had luck, as I didn't have a helmet, I came off and tucked and rolled bruised my ribs badly with my elbow underneath, hurt my neck but was not seriously injured.

    My customer caught the mare who ran back to the herd. I took her put her straight back in the roundpen and worked her again first from the ground, then from the saddle, working on the trot and a short canter, then stopped, praised her and put her away.

    I continued to show the other horses, took me a lot to get on the stallions as I was in shock. It shouldn't have happened, I was distracted with the customer, and she is usually a very trustworthy mount. I wondered if it was the saddle that was bothering her and so on. She has worn that saddle for years. I don't think that is it though, as you can see there is slightly more edge to her prior.

    Would like to hear your view.

  38. Andalusians...

    I was going to post the same thing...thanks! As I learn to relax my hips and sink in, I stay with her more...and we stay on the same track, even if her head is turned to the side looking at the Spooky Thing!


  39. Blair. A buck in the canter depart can be caused by the horse not being truly on the aids and thinking forward. Did you ride her butt off before or after you asked for canter?

  40. I haven't commented for a while, but I have been reading your blog religiously, and loving it. Thank you!!

    This post brought back memories for me: I rode anything I could back when I was a kid, mostly bareback. The first horse I owned had been badly abused and though we worked things out, had a mean spook. He was named "The Spook" (and no, he wasn't black, it was NOT being racist) - tell you anything?

    One time I was with a friend, riding along a railroad bed. There was a lot of scrub brush and shrubbery to the other side of us, so we didn't see the dog coming up. The dog suddenly leaped through the bushes right at us, and my horse spooked clear across the train tracks to the other side. I stuck with him, much to my friend's amazement. The only way I could describe "how" was that they usually *tell* you, a split second before it happens, and your body takes defensive action.

    Small spooks I can usually ride, even still. I can't remember the last time I came off from one, but then again I have a 26 year old and a foundation-bred 10 year old, and the 26 year old, though more prone to spooking still, is too arthritic to make it dangerous. :)

    I'm older now and when the spook turns into a major meltdown (like when my 10 year old idiot horse suddenly saw the llama that for over a year had been on the other side of a stone wall, behind some trees, in a field we rode in many times), I'll hop off rather than be unseated - it's easier on my replaced hips and his pea brain. :)

    My horses don't love me - they do, however love the carrots, apples and Kashi bars (Pumpkin Spice Flax, horsie crack) I provide so I'm always met with a welcome nicker. :)

  41. Now, I've got a slightly different opinion of the spook. I totally agree that part of riding is being able to ride a spook BUT, I expect my horses to listen to the alpha mare (ME) and not spook unless I say it is something to spook at. Now, I have been blessed with having had the opportunity to keep most of my horses for a number of years, and that kind of trust doesn't come quickly, but I really believe in it. My words of wisdom to my show trail class horse was "What are you more scared of, me or that?" Not that she was truely scared of me, but the point was would you rather cross the bitch mare or cross that bridge. The bridge looked better and better. Other horses have had about the same opinion. Contrary to most folks, I will spank a horse for spooking, they are supposed to listen to me, not look for something to spook at.

    Totally agree, a horse is a horse, they are fond of whoever brings the food, and their life revolves around, what did you call it, the big five?

  42. anon- Not very Horsaii of you.
    I don't think I ever said ride like Lorne Greene. I think I said Ben Cartwright. As in Bonanza. The T.V. show about the Ponderosa. The ranch. Not the T.V. set. It's called imaginary places.Ben was an example.
    If you read my post about it you may understand.
    If I said ride like Shane I would not mean Alan Ladd. I would mean Shane. The cowboy. Jeez Louise.
    Now I'm going to work on my paper. The real one. About real life. In cased you're confused. Humph.

  43. Thanks for the post. It helps me see that I don't want to work on my over-reactive, emotional mare any more. I will find a home for her with a person who doesn't mind all of that stuff.
    Nice photo of the yellow mare.

  44. OMG, I'm laughing hysterically in my office right now, people are going to think I've lost it. Too funny...I can just picture you pinning your ears and ringing your tail ;)

  45. Andalusians- you are an inspiration! Talk about having to have a trusting relationship with your horse, and your comment made perfect sense. When I get tense I tend to perch on the saddle, I'll think of your post next time and try to sink in nice and deep :)

  46. Sorry mugs, like I said, I wasn't trying to be a pain about Ben Cartwright, it's just I lived in old California back then and was close to people in the movie industry. I cannot separate the reality from the fantasy, as I met several of these people and can only see Hollywood for what it really is. My appologies.

    Would be interested in your commets on the mare though, respect your views. (Although, as you say, whatever Horsaii is, I guess I'm not that).

  47. Oh! BTW, Mugs, I've been practicing loping in a stright line and stopping (for reining class to come). I've just been working on getting a good, straight clean stop. This morning, I swear Matty really tucked his hind end under and almost slid. I wasn't expecting it and it was a thrill!!

  48. Thank you!!!

    I have been riding over 40 years now and only recently have some health issues that make me a bit weak. I've noticed that horses are not quite as relaxed with me in the saddle as they used to be -- aha!!! if they are worried that I might fall off that makes sense (I don't fall off and they do relax after a while - but it adds up)

    I appreciate your insights -

  49. **Stands up Applauding**

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    I just purchased a 7 year old RPSI (German wb gelding), 17hh. The old owner was 62 and had been dumped by him because he was "spooky, spooky, spooky!". She was afraid. Didnt have a very good seat and couldnt ride him out.

    I bought him for a song. I knew the problem, if I could sit him, we would get over it or at least through it. When I tried him, he tried to come out from under me, but I stayed on.

    Our first month of rides was frustrating to say the least. One massive spook after another. This 17hh boy is athletic!!! Shocking how quick he can move.

    We still have spooks, but they are not as big. I just sit through them, keep my rhythm and ride forward.

    I love my hotter than hell dumbblood, but if I couldnt ride it, I wouldnt have it!

  50. God, I'm so what you described right now. And no, I don't mean Ben Cartwright. In a matter of a few weeks, I've become one of those women at the barn I've always been confused about - you know, the ones with a beautiful mount ... who only did ground work, just walked when mounted, and had their trainer ride their horse.

    Ugh. My horse has put on a ton of weight and muscle since I got him. (Not a rescue, but a serious care upgrade.) He's getting better food and care than he's seen in many a year. As a result, he's turned into a completely different horse - one that spooked in the form of a quick look and snort, to one that levitates off the ground sideways and then bolts forward in full ex-racehorse gallop mode.

    So I've come off (more than once), and now I'm scared. Keep in mind that I got this horse because I had 2 bad falls on other horses I was trying out. I specifically got him because he wasn't a spooker or a bolter.

    I keep getting back on, but I can feel myself tense and grip with my knees/legs/every breath of my being. I don't know how to get past it. I'm working with my trainer, having the young velcro butts at the barn exercise him, and considering starving him again. (Kidding.)

    Maybe I need a Western saddle.

  51. Thank you for this post. A lot of great information. I am only 44, and at this point in my life, I dont feel inclined to get on a super quiet horse that only does what it is told. I would rather ride a more reactive horse.

    Hope that this doesn't sound like boasting. The horses that I own and have owned, really like me. My warmblood gelding would willingly leave a group of cantering horses and canter up to me so that I could catch him. He once also left his feed to chase off a dog that was attacking me. My horses always come when called. Hank (my TB) will lean over his gate and demand to be caught. If he is in a mood to go out and do something, he will start neighing at me, the moment he spots me enter through the front gate of the agistment park (boarding facility). However if it came to a choice between me and his TB friend who lives next to him, then his TB friend would win. Which is how it should be, because he is a horse, and I am a person.

  52. PS - The other thing I'm struggling with is that I don't WANT a dead broke, super quiet, (boring) horse. I want my grumpy, interesting, and challenging TB. I want a challenge - just not one that leaves me with broken bones. How do I learn to sit the spooks and stop the bolting? The bolting scares me the most because I've been injured twice before in that situation (on different horses). This time, I felt like I did everything reasonably right, and I still couldn't stop him.

  53. I'm along the same lines as Smurfette when it comes to spooking.

    I try to be prepared for anything, as it is inevitable that "anything" will happen, eventually. However, I have trained my horse to spook in place. It envokes laughter from others riding with us on the occation that he does spook, as he is not allowed to go right, left, back or forward if he spooks. He simply sprawls and gets about 10 inches shorter in about .25 seconds. It may look funny, but it's sure alot nicer to deal with than a teleport.

    Like Smurfette said, he'd damn well be more afraid of pissing me off than whatever it is that he's thinking about being silly over, scared or not.

    As long as he spooks in place, he gets a pat, a word of encouragement, and "Ok, now that you've seen it, let's be on our way." If he tries ducking, spining, jumping, skittering, crow-hopping, popping up in the front, etc., then we have a MAJOR "boss mare" infraction on our hands, and it gets dealt with immediatelly.

    People laugh at me when you can tell he's thinking something naughty and I growl, "I'll kill you!" and he stops immediatelly. I simply explain that the reason it works is because he doesn't know that I'm bluffing.

    I guess I'm just an uber-bitch about that kind of stuff. :)

  54. mugs, I haven't read all of the comments on the other thread, but I'm not sure what you disagree with. is it the boredom factor some think links to the spooking, the fact that she is still riding the horse or was there some lovey-dovey horse rider connection comments that I missed?

    I agree if you repeatedly can't ride the horse's spooks you shouldn't be riding that horse. But the distracted horse (bored horse) syndrome seems to lead to an increase in spooking.

  55. anon. I don't think I said I disagreed with anything. I think I said what I said.
    If this is the same person with the spontaneously combusting mare, I'll cover this too. I don't know why your mare explodes with you. You seem to feel there are no holes in her training and it's not a physical issue. Since those are the only two options I would be considering and they've been covered, you have me stumped. I have said before I can't fix many things over the internet. I can't fix a lot of things when I'm standing right there. I don't know you, your ability, your horse, or her ability. All I ever offer is what I would do myself in a similar situation. I haven't been in that one before.I wouldn't sell the mare to any of my friends though.

  56. I love how these topics are so appropriate...

    It's almost 60 here..mud everywhere, but I decided to ride the horses bareback at a walk in the pasture. My mare - she's a prima donna...hates mud, but just thinks puddles are for splashing in...had fun, was relaxed. No spook even with the high winds. I even had to wack her with the reins to get her to move and not splash! Needless to say, I could concentrate on sitting deep even bareback with her.

    So I get on my step-horse, and he's a bit excited...I can feel his interest in every little thing. I really don't think he has been ridden much bareback, and he loves it - wakes him up. Anyway, I am practicing sitting deep with him, and suddenly he does a big four step sideways 17-hand Dutch Warmblood spook...and I ride it out, and end up in the center with very little tilt when he stopped. I didn't even grab his mane, didn't panic, just concentrated on staying over his spine as he went sideways.

    Thanks, all!! You saved me from a big mud bath today!


  57. horsesandturbos-YAY! That's what this blog is about. Pick what works, try what appeals, blow off the rest and maybe we can all learn something!!

  58. btw -Mugs, I got some info last night on the recent 'rescue' posted on Fug;y. I wanted to send it to fugs as I don't want to post it on the blog in case the 'rescue' owner sees it and know who called her.
    What or how is the best way to transmit the info?

  59. Mugs:

    We're two different anons. The previous anon was not me, with the mare. Thanks for the comments.

  60. Well, thanks to you my step-horse has stopped trying to bite and kick me when I groom/saddle him. At first I tried the bribery method, as I figured he was soured and had ulcers, causing pain, but he just got worse, and when he tried to pin me against the wall and kick me (and he has big feet!) I heard your "voice" talking about space and respect, and how it doesn't matter why they do what they do, they are supposed to behave and then we figure out what they are trying to tell us. I picked up the crop and was gonna have a "come to Jesus" discussion about his behavior...and he froze with his ears forward like he was supposed to ;). This is one smart horse! He's a known biter, but because of his talent, he got away with it. Not with me! We have had a few reminders, but I feel he is safe now (I even have had him put his face in my chest for scratches) with me and my family. I am sure he would revert unless someone else knew how to handle him, as he got away with it for years. I have been offered him, and probably will keep him when the economy picks up.

    I actually think we need to make "What Would Mugs Do" tee-shirts and bracelets so we can stop and think LOL!


  61. Riding a spook, buck, rear, whatever is easier in a western saddle. I prefer the feel of an english saddle but will drag out a big ole deep seat western and pretty much am not going anywhere.

    Now that I think of it the only times I've been dumped has been in an english or flatseat saddle. I do feel the horse better though than western.

    One other thing, have you ever noticed when you get mad it is less likly you will get dumped?

  62. athy-email me at and we'll go from there.
    turbos-please don't. My friends will laugh me out of the barn. My job. My life.My daughter would never let me live it down.

  63. Longtrot said "One other thing, have you ever noticed when you get mad it is less likly you will get dumped?"


    I've decided that it's because I stop being timid, refuse to take his crap and get on with it. I think our rides have steadily improved because I get on with a more determined attitude. I don't let him get away with crap on the ground, why would I in the saddle?

  64. Janet, when you get better and do the Q and A, why do I see some working cow horse riders using 2 hands? Is that for a younger horse? Cause I could do lots better with 2 hands....

  65. Thanks, Char.....most ppl think I am the meanest horse mommy in the world for not being all mushy cause that great big garbage can is really a horse eater in disguise.