Horses are very sensitive animals. As prey animals, they instinctively are very aware of their surroundings. They know when something is different, and they can sense things we may not be able to see. This often leads to spooking. Horses are called “dumb” or “crazy” for spooking at some invisible phantom, or for peeking at a new jump. However, their heightened sensitivity does not make them stupid. Horses did not appear on this earth jumping around courses, and bending to the will of man. They were once wild. Their awareness of their surroundings is how they were able to survive.
Spooking is natural. It is not a behavioral problem. If a horse spooks excessively to the point that it is dangerous to ride, his or her health, tack, and training program should be evaluated. Also, the horse and rider pair should be taken into consideration. A timid rider can make a hot horse even hotter, and more nervous. Or perhaps the discipline the horse is doing is not a good fit. There are many reasons a horse can become dangerously spooky, and I believe that it is important to explore them before simply writing a horse off. I also believe that horses should not be punished or called “stupid” for acting out a natural impulse. Instead, we should focus on calming them and try to discover the source of their fear.
A spooky horse may be frustrating, but we must remember that he or she may see or hear something we don’t. Also, we must remember that they spook or start at something because they are afraid or unsure. It is our job as riders to let them know that it is okay, and that they are okay.
When my horse spooks at something, I often just let him, stand and look at whatever he is unsure about. If he is really wild and spooky about something, I will put him to work in an area further away from whatever monster he sees and get him focused on me then gradually work him closer to the area he was spooky in. I have learned that when I remain calm and patient with him, he settles. For he realizes that there is nothing to worry about. It can be a littler unnerving when a horse suddenly bolts or scoots to the side. But if we stay cool and collected, rather than spooking with them, it lets them know that everything is okay. If we tense up and become nervous it reinforces, in their minds, the fact that there is something to fear. Horses look to their riders for assurance and confidence – especially green horses – so to calm the spook we must calm ourselves.
2 thoughts on “Calming the Spook”
Exactly! Horses are not jerks. They don’t maliciously conjure up things to spook at. That being said, it’s still a huge mental struggle to learn how to control yourself and regain their attention in the midst of an explosive spook.
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I find that shifting my focus to my horse, to calming him down, and away from myself helps a lot. Focusing on him helps me to forget about my own fear.