Spooks and Threats
Horses become spooked quite easily, especially compared to other animals. Anyone with horses can account for this, but people who are still new to the world of horses may not always know why their furry buddies are scared, nor how to calm them. At times, when you know what the issue is, and it’s nothing that needs to become worried about, it may be better to just let things be, but quite often there is something fairly easy that can be done, and it is actually even recommended in other cases to try to calm the horse down – especially if you are in danger.
First, the ‘spook response’ is the horse’s natural fight-or-flight reply that we also have, which often comes up in the form of stress. We learned to control it, but horses often just want to run for their lives when faced with a potential threat since this is their defense mechanism. How can we break this habit and make the horse understand?
A crucial point to remember, even before starting, is that you will never make your horse feel 100% safe at all times: there will always be something that still frightens it once in a while. We can teach them, however, to control their urges.
There are a few reasons your horse may become scared. This can be discussed with your vet or an experienced rider to see if any of these apply to your horse since understanding the reason is half the battle:
- Back problems
- Vision issues
- Teeth and sinus problems
These especially apply to 'chronic spookers'. Some of these are incredibly easy to eliminate, while others can be tolerated and understood (such as eyesight problems).
After verifying all of the above, you can start desensitizing your horse. The best way is to tempt your horse into thinking that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the object that scares it by manipulating it yourself if you can, or getting close to it and giving your horse a treat. Or, just take the horse in that area again and retreat quickly. Repeat until the horse is willing to go near without running away.
If it is thunder that freaks the daylights out of your horse, try talking to it in a soothing voice, or find out if a certain location calms it, such as the barn or with other horses. At times this is all it needs to calm it down.
If you have learnt how to do this, a horse massage may do the trick. There are courses available, or pick up a book about it.
Some people suggest getting the horse’s mind off what is scaring it. Get it to work on something, bring out a small treat, or talk to it.
Do you have other suggestions? Please comment!