Tuesday, May 18, 2010


This is a little unlike me, but I’m working on some other posts that are going to take more time to write and I really want to focus on them before just throwing them up here because it’s been two days since I’ve posted. Therefore, I want to open up this post to a discussion.


My horse spooks. He’s not an all-out spook-and-bolt type, but he is way too cautious of things going outside the arena when we’re having a lesson. Heaven forbid we’re in a show and he bends his entire body away from the rail because some little kid blew a bubble at him or something. Really...his level of distraction has become something of an annoyance. Whenever he shows signs of shying from something (be it a sound, smell or a mean-looking stump on the ground) I kindly guide him back to the area, breathe deeply, talk to him, rub his withers, etc. But the 19th time he does it going past the same spot I start to get a little annoyed. We’re not going to have an hour to make sure a scary post isn’t so scary when we’re doing a dressage test or, heaven forbid, a jumping course.

Do any of you have this problem? If so, what did you do? What do you do? Is this just something that’s never going to go away? I want to compete in endurance races eventually with him, but if he never gets over this, how can I trust he won’t kill me out there in new terrain? There have to be other spooky Arabs doing endurance. Do I just have the crazy one?

Thoughts? Anyone?

**I just realized my father told me a story once about my mother. He said she had an Arabian named Spook. I just always thought she named him that because he was grey and looked like a ghost. lol That''ll teach me to assume. That connection is just too perfect.** 


  1. ooooo Pebbles is a spooker and really likes to bolt! Ashlyn and Stephanie are working on it. Really, Pebbles genuinely spooks, then wants to be a brat and bolts just because she is a drama queen. So work is being done to teach her that it is a LOT OF HARD WORK when a pony bolts. As in...she has to continue to canter and canter and canter until Stephanie tells Ashlyn to stop. She's gonna get tired of all that work! Ya know those fat ponies really don't want to work any harder than they have to lol!

  2. If you want a horse that is not going to be spooky.....get a quarter horse! No, really!

    Sometimes if Arabee is doing a bunch of snakey-necked looky-looky things and is clearly not afraid just feeling good and fresh, a boot in her side sometimes sets her straight. But if a horse is uptight and tense because they think something's going to eat them that's a nother story and it is often just that animal's temperament.

    The last time I was dumped off of my horse it was over a sparrow rustling in the bushes.

    I'll direct you to Mel's latest post (boots and saddles) about her book review. I haven't read the book but i love the statements she has at the end of thoughts the book triggered. The biggest thing I think when it comes to dealing w/ a horse is just to remember that they are just that, a horse!

    About endurance, while i've never actually ridden a ride I've done a fair amount of trail riding, and my mare is actually pretty reliable. She wasn't quite so much that way before, but she's 13 now, and age has really mellowed her out. But even so, I can never really trust that she's not going to spook at something.

    All this to say (sorry for the long-winded-ness) that I'd guess that Eclipse will always be a reactive horse, he was bred that way (to be sensitive to his environment to keep his rider out of harm's way in the Arabian desert) and that while with time and relationship building he will come to trust your judgement more about whether or not to run away from said scary thing, he will probably always notice and be reactive/spooky to unusual shapes, noises, smells.

  3. It has been my experience that the best way to deal with spooky horses is to ignore the spook, ignore the stimulus and continue working. When you stop and pet and cajole etc., then two things are happening 1) you are validating his fear of the object and 2) he gets to stop working. If you don't mind, it don't matter. Change direction, change pace, continue on. This is a schooling issue and should be worked out at home before you go to a show. That way when he spooks at something he can expect the same response from you every single time (NOTHING).

  4. Miriam,
    Ha, I didn't know Pebbles was so spooky. She sure is cute though!

    I read Mel's post about the book too and it looks like something I would like to read. I must say, I've been very impressed in past rides when Eclipse has warned me of a runner in the woods I hadn't seen yet, or a deer about to cross our path. Honestly, the work outside the ring was getting better and better but now we have no trails to ride until I can convince my trailer-owning friends my pony can get in the trailer in under 30 minutes (no easy feat). Let me know if you read that book before I get ahold of it.

    This is how I felt as well, but have had three people tell me otherwise, so I am trying it. Ignoring bad behavior (instead of rewarding with attention) is the cardinal rule when training most species of animal, but I'm not quite sure why this didn't register to me in the first place.

    Another issue is that the arena is surrounded by thick trees and bushes with a VERY noisy house behind it full of scary things to make him crazy lol. This was the issue with bath time. That's another thing. I have to figure out how to give him a bath with as few tantrums as possible. How do you ignore behavior if it's dangerous?

  5. You ignore bad behavior that is dangerous through good handling skills. Work on these, either with your trainer. A horse that spooks and pulls back should not be tied. Hold him in hand while bathing, if he moves follow and keep spraying/scrubbing/whatever. Use a long straight arm to keep him from stepping on you, don't react to the spook or movement just keep doing what you are doing. Horses are REACTIVE animals, unlike our dogs and cats, it takes a different approach. Don't react to a spook and don't validate scary feelings. If a horse sees something scary in the pasture while surrounded by his herd mates and spooks but no one else does he will immediately calm down, if he spooks and the others do to then they all take off. Horses cannot help but look to you for your reaction.

  6. First off, I second what Stephanie - both about the spooking and the bad behavior on the ground!

    I used to ride a Quarter Horse mare that was extremely spooky. The cutting horse trainer who owned her thought that spurring her (hard!) in the side and "punishing" her was a good solution to spooking, but of course, that just made it worse.

    I eventually bought her, re-trained her as an event horse for a bit and then started studying Parelli with her. Just ceasing the punishment of her spooks made a world of difference. Also, just giving your horse consistent, positive exposure can't be underrated. The first time I took this mare cross-country, everyone in my barn was laughing about how she looked like she was trying to cut the jumps rather than jump them (jumping back and forth in front of them a few times before going over). But by the third time, she went straight to the jumps and jumped them as if she's been doing it all her life. I never EVER punished her for spooking in front of the jumps, even if she stopped, and before long she figured out for herself that it was safe.

    When I started doing Parelli, that also made a huge difference in her confidence about everything - mostly, I think, because I learned to think of her confidence as something I should be helping her build every day - confidence in me, confidence in herself, confidence in the environment, etc. Looking back, seems like that should have been common sense, but no one had ever told me that before.

    In answer to your question about whether the spookiness will ever go away - before I bought her people thought this mare was crazy and unpredictable and everyone in the barn was wary of riding her. With a little patience and empathy, she became a reliable, trusting and willing partner that I wouldn't have traded anything in the world for.

    ~Sarah from Parelli