Spooking: How to get your horse over a spooky object!

This video was taken from a spooking demonstration I did at Your Horse Live 2018 (apologies for the bad audio!). Spooking can take lots of forms, but this snippet talks you through getting your horse over an object on the ground.  The method can be used for all sorts of situations, from going over a puddle on a hack to introducing ditches and water to a horse (or for those that have a problem with these obstacles!).

Firstly, if your horse is genuinely scared of an object, or is young or inexperienced, the worst thing you can do is kick and bully your horse over it. Instead, you need to encourage him to investigate.  Horses are great “sniffers”, so allow him to stretch his head and neck long and long so he can have a good sniff.

The next thing they may try is to evade the scary object by moving to the left or right. You need to keep your horse straight at the object (just like when you are loading a horse, where you need to keep them straight on at the ramp!).  If they move to the left, take the right rein to redirect your horse back to the object, then the left rein to make them straight again. This is the all-important “S” shape, which I bang on about a lot!

So, you’ve now got him straight and he’s had a good investigation.  You now need your patient head on!  Ask for forward, and reward any sort of try.  Don’t ask for too much, you want him to trust you enough to make the brave decision himself.  If he runs backwards or spins away, then get him straight again and keep on with the same amount of pressure that created the movement until you get him back to the original spot. The only time you can get tougher with your forward aids, is if he is non-responsive.

When your horse does go over, he may leap or rush (as JJ does!), so you need to be prepared in the “OMG” seat (sit deep, with hands and legs forward, as if you are locked in your saddle). It is so important not to grab at the reins to stop him, as this will panic him and he’ll think he’s done the wrong thing.  Instead, take one rein and put him in a circle to settle and slow him down, whilst still allowing him to go forward.

It is important to remember that to get your horse to investigate, and ultimately go over an object, they have to be thinking forward. This is why it is important to keep our of your horse’s way and reward any attempt at going forward by stopping your cues. If your horse isn’t thinking forward and becomes non-responsive, there are two reasons. One is that you haven’t rewarded the horse’s tries at the right times, the other is that you haven’t put in enough energy to make your horse think more about going forward than worrying about the object. In both cases, you need to go back and improve his responses to your forward cues and practice the timing and strength of your cues.

Please remember, my Your Horsemanship program has so much content to help with these problems, plus I work through exercises like this at my Camps, Clinics and private lessons. For current members, check out this lesson on jumping ditches here.

So don’t struggle on, get in touch and to see how we can help!

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