Monday, 9 February 2015

Spooky Horses - Tip Tips!

I love hacking out, it is great to get out and ride in the countryside and although Basil can be quite 'sharp' he is very good in traffic - mostly.

 This is Chesney 'looking' at something in the distance.

Horses are 'spooky' by nature, this is because in the wild they are prey animals.  They are always on the lookout for any potential predator, because that is what keeps them alive in the wild!  Sudden movements; for example a pigeon or pheasant flying out of a hedge or a plastic bag flapping is likely to make them at least look, if not jump or at worst spin around and gallop home!

Horses are suspicious of things they haven't seen before but with work at home this can be overcome.  Examples of 'spooky' things:

  • Plastic bags 
  • Rolling cans 
  • Puddles 
  • Road markings 
  • Moving leaves 
  • Birds flying out of hedges 
  • Animals eg: sheep on the other side of the hedge 
  • Tractors, combine harvesters and other farm machinery 
  • Lorries 
  • Motorbikes 
  • Trailers that rattle 
  • Bicycles (they appear behind very quietly) 
  • Many more......

So you can try to introduce some of these things at home using a process called de-sensitisation. This basically means you introduce them slowly so your horse gains confidence in you and that you try not to frighten him.  Start by introducing them on the yard at a distance and then when he is calm, move in closer. Take it slowly.  When he is used to them in that environment ask a friend to bring them out when you are riding in the field or arena! 

  • Plastic bags - flap them around, get them blowing across the ground, 
  • Umbrellas - open and close them, 
  • Introduce bicycles, lawn mowers etc, 
  • If you can, get cars started close by, 
  • This plan can be used to introduce most things - if you have access.   Not everyone has a tractor they can bring in!

I find that if Basil is having a sensible day then he will practically walk past anything, if he is having a silly day then everything is scary.  So to some extent he is being naughty but I also feel that some days he just finds everything too much or too exciting!

 Basil looking at an orange skin one day on our hack!

How to react if your horse is spooky.

  • Hack out with another sensible horse who will reassure your horse and hopefully teach him that these things are NOT scary. 
  • Stay calm and try not to tense - this is easier said than done, if anyone understands that I do!  Singing helps. 
  • Be positive, sit up and keep your legs on and your hands down (so many people lift them high). 
  • Do not pat your horse when he is napping - you are telling him what he is doing is good, wait until he stops napping and is going forward or at least stopped reversing!  If you need to talk then tell him to 'Walk on' positively - or use the same words you would use when lunging or leading. 
  • If you see something spooky up ahead on the side of the road then ride forward as though you are asking for leg yield - turn his head away from the object a little and put your right leg on just behind the girth.  If you turn his head towards the object he will swing his hindquarters into the road!  I usually check if there are any cars about and if there are I halt until I have a clear road. Just in case. 
  • Spooky horses are not generally being naughty (although some are) so stay calm, you need to be positive, give him confidence in you and be authoritative as a herd leader would be.  There is no point getting angry and emotional as this will transfer to the horse who will probably get more upset. 
  • If your horse is truly terrified; his heart rate will go up and his breathing will change (Basil shakes) then it is NOT worth forcing your horse to go past.  The situation could become dangerous for you and the horse especially if you are on a road. 
  • Make sure you wear high visibility clothes if you are on the road so you can be seen in plenty of time.

Many horses will get better over time as they come into contact with different things.  Having a horse that was well educated as a youngster will make a huge difference.  Basil obviously was exposed to plenty of traffic when he was young as he is very good with lorries, tractors etcetera.  He is also good with motorbikes although when more than 6 go by in a row he gets a little upset!  Basil's problem is things that are white; white bags, white coats and newly painted white lines. 

Is there anything that particularly makes your horse spook?

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Until next time!

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