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Spooks and Threats
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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

- Infections

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!

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  1. Rene Wright
    Rene Wright
    Great info. I would like to add that it depends on the horse as to what works for it. Moving their feet & desensitizing are the 2 things people usually try first because in the wild, they move their feet first for the most part. Some get scared, but will also be curious also. It just takes time to figure out what works for you & your horse. :) Voted! Please check out my new blogs when you get the chance. Thanks!
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  2. jst4horses
    The best way to desensitize your horse is to spend the time necessary and get the training necessary to become the alpha mare. Most horses spook because they are not confident. A horse with a strong alpha mare does not have to be afraid, it knows the alpha mare is in control and leaves off looking constantly for things to be afraid of. A good natural horsemanship level one clinic will cure your horse of you fear of the horse being afraid. I am not quite aged, and injured in car accidents and a weak hip due to radiation for cancer. I therefore no longer enjoy a good hot horse, I like a good old dependable horse that is so sure I will watch out for danger and let him/her know what to do that I can ride safely. Most people are riding horses that are not properly trained. Many of them have been forced into compliance and have an undercurrent of fear and anger. I have been told by hundreds of owners over the year about their sweet little horsey. As soon as I took the rein, and if I got that far, put a foot in stirrup, was well aware that their honey bunny was really a stick of dynamite that usually was held in check by fear of some long ago trainer, or even their owner beating them harshly enough they "behaved". I have even seen the most amazing horse, super dependable, used to tarps, of one of the world's leading international horse trainers spook at a blue tarp that blew loose. He just had a bad day, but he was well enough in tune with his owner/trainer that he settled right back down. Never trust a horse, always be prepared to keep yourself safe and hopefully the horse safe. The majority of riders to not know when to get down, or how to get down. BOTH important training to keep your life and limbs in good shape. BUT, those good old "trainers" keep on telling people NOT to get down, and SHOW the horse who is boss. Sometimes a half hour of circles is a lot better than a trip to the ER in an ambulance. One important lesson is to look at a horse and make sure you do not buy a forward, or worse, a backward-aholic unless you are a super horseperson trainer. Flipping over is not a good way to keep your life or bones intact. Being trampled and/or dragged is not either.
    Log in to reply.
  3. jst4horses
    The best way to desensitize your horse is to spend the time necessary and get the training necessary to become the alpha mare. Most horses spook because they are not confident. A horse with a strong alpha mare does not have to be afraid, it knows the alpha mare is in control and leaves off looking constantly for things to be afraid of. A good natural horsemanship level one clinic will cure your horse of you fear of the horse being afraid. I am not quite aged, and injured in car accidents and a weak hip due to radiation for cancer. I therefore no longer enjoy a good hot horse, I like a good old dependable horse that is so sure I will watch out for danger and let him/her know what to do that I can ride safely. Most people are riding horses that are not properly trained. Many of them have been forced into compliance and have an undercurrent of fear and anger. I have been told by hundreds of owners over the year about their sweet little horsey. As soon as I took the rein, and if I got that far, put a foot in stirrup, was well aware that their honey bunny was really a stick of dynamite that usually was held in check by fear of some long ago trainer, or even their owner beating them harshly enough they "behaved". I have even seen the most amazing horse, super dependable, used to tarps, of one of the world's leading international horse trainers spook at a blue tarp that blew loose. He just had a bad day, but he was well enough in tune with his owner/trainer that he settled right back down. Never trust a horse, always be prepared to keep yourself safe and hopefully the horse safe. The majority of riders to not know when to get down, or how to get down. BOTH important training to keep your life and limbs in good shape. BUT, those good old "trainers" keep on telling people NOT to get down, and SHOW the horse who is boss. Sometimes a half hour of circles is a lot better than a trip to the ER in an ambulance. One important lesson is to look at a horse and make sure you do not buy a forward, or worse, a backward-aholic unless you are a super horseperson trainer. Flipping over is not a good way to keep your life or bones intact. Being trampled and/or dragged is not either.
    Log in to reply.

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