Calming the Spooky Horse with Kind Leadership

By: Matthew M. Brendal

Humans are always wanting that perfect horse. The problem is that the perfect horse in the wild is the one who is keenly aware of his surroundings. Then of he acts quickly to any real or imagined threats. It is a natural survival mechanism, it is nothing against you personally. Horses in the wild have a better chance of survival if they identify potential threats quickly to get a jump start on the predator. Horses have exceptional long range vision and can see small movement very far away. Humans don't really care for a horse that constantly reacts to potential threats. That behavior is commonly called "spooky". In order to change that behavior in a horse you must train the horse to respond to a learned behavior. The big problem for most horses is that the rider or handler doesn't have the horse sense or skills to change that behavior. A spooky horse takes skill to train properly. A spooky horse in the wrong hands can lead to injuries of the horse or human.

The first step in changing the horse's behavior is learning to communicate several concepts properly. I would never want to get on and ride a horse that is very spooky. You are putting yourself at risk and you are just going to reparably make the horse even more spooky. If a horse’s natural instinct is to run from a threat (real or perceived) you adding to weight to the horse will only stress him more. Ground work is required until your horse begins to learn to relax. You must have a plan and a skill level. Your body language must tell the horse you are relaxed in order for the horse to relax. You must also have good leadership skills because a spooky horse will not relax if he doesn't feel safe. If you are unable to convince the horse that you are his leader you will probably never get that horse to truly relax. You must be relaxed to get the horse to relax. Even if you have to act.

Let me stop for a moment and interject an important point. Horses are herd animals, they watch other horses very closely for cues as to be calm or spooky. You may want to bring a dead broke horse in as an example for the horse to follow. It is a strategy that can be working while you are away. Put both horse together and see what happens. Weanlings are commonly put with older geldings because they teach at just the right way. They can be gentle but also firm.

Laying down the ground work: You must have a yacht braid rope halter and a yacht braid lead rope at least 12 feet long. You must also have a 4 foot horseman's stick with a 6 foot horseman's string. Attach the string to the end of the stick. Yes it looks like a whip, but it is not, it is a tool to cause controlled movement to communicate with your horse. You may want to practice with this tool before you use it on your horse. You may also want to observe a video of trainer to see how this technique is accomplished. It takes lots of practice to become good at this so be patient. Patience is something you must have to be a good horseman or horsewoman.

Okay so here is the main thrust of what you want to do. You are going to cause controlled movement around your horse and when he shows signs of relaxing you will stop instantly. You timing is critical to the success of communicating properly. Remember that you have to start somewhere. Don't expect your horse to instantly relax and change his instinct in a few short minutes. Depending on your skill level and the degree of spookiness this technique may take numerous sessions and many hours. Did you learn your ABC's perfectly your first day of school? Don't expect your horse to instantly know what you want. Constantly teach your horse what is expected. Repetition and rewarding calmness is the key.

Do you know what some signs of calm horse? Licking and chewing, cocking a back foot, lowering his head, a heavy sigh, yawning, blinking are a few. Licking and chewing is caused by this reason. When a horse is making the instant decision to take flight or fight he grits his teeth. A horse can only breath through his nose if he runs. Also a horse can use his head a 85 pound weapon and needs his jaw locked so he doesn’t break it. Once a horse decides he is neither going to run or fight he relaxes his jaw. That act of relaxing his jaw muscles causes him to open his mouth and lick.

You must put your horse in situations that will spook him and then teach him to relax. You cannot try and walk on egg shells around, that is just lighting a fuse to a bomb that will go off at the worst possible time. Once you have taught the horse to relax on the ground you must cowboy up and get on him. Again this is where your courage and wisdom as the leader is important. Work the horse through the problem and get him to relax. Look for signs of relaxation and get off. That get off will hopefully cause the horse to want to relax with the expectation that you will get off is he does.

Okay sometimes you have to get off because you feel that a problem is about to arise. At no time should you get in over your head. If you think there is a chance of you or your getting hurt, then stop and regroup. If you think your skill level is lower than you need to get your horse relaxed then you need to consult a pro or up your skill level. Take you time and don’t rush, use persistent patience to over come any problems you have. Horse are about the journey no the destination. Enjoy every moment of the journey.

About the Author:

Matthew M. Brendal is a professional farrier, equine consultant and horse trainer in the state of Oklahoma since 1999. He has never met a horse he didn’t like. Each day is just another opportunity for him to learn from and work with horses. His major equine education milestones include: Equine Science Certificate from the University of Guelph; Master Farrier Diploma-Oklahoma Farrier College; Parelli Natural Horsemanship Level 1 Official Graduate: Certified Equiflex Equine Massage Therapist; Certificate of Achievement-Emergency Management Institute, Animals in Disaster.


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