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Franklin Levinson's

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Show horse spooking

Dear Franklin,

My name is Kate and my new horse, Davetsaub Lunas whom we bought in December, has a problem with spooking if one could call it that. I do Equitation and am very serious with my riding but at equitation shows or jumping shows we have to put cotton wool in his ears as he has very sensitive ears and spooks at loud noises, we also need to give him a rescue remedy of sorts to calm him down at shows at our home yard he is fine without both but at shows he isn't.

When we went to our first show it was at our home yard so it should have been fine but at random spots in the arena he stopped and wouldn't go forward for a while and instead he bucked or reared if I put any leg on. This carried on a while and we thought it was just nerves because once I had riden at the showgrounds at least once the second time there he would be fine but then at an equitation show he started it again and would not go near the jump at all, this happened at the next jumping show I went to, we had him checked by an acupunturist and he said Lunas had strained a muscle in his back which had a lot to do with his misbehaving but now he is spooking at a lot of things which he was fine with before and is still playing around at shows which is really frustating as I would like to get it sorted and we have a horse psychologist who is trying to find the problem with him and I have tried changing instructors but nothing seems to be helping. If you have any advice on what to try and/or do that would be much appreciated.

Regards, Kate

Hi Kate,

As you probably know, horses habituate very quickly to specific behaviors. It seems he has been rewarded for his behavior because he has not had to take the jumps and has been taken out of the ring when he acts out. It might be helpful for me to know how old this horse is. The older he is the more he is habitualted to his behavior and the more challenging to change it. I understand you are quite a serious rider. This could be part of the problem. If your horse does not get enough variation in his routene, he could sour on showing as many high level competition horses do. Frequently the remedy is a break, the chance to hack out or do other, fun things and then re-schooling with a different rider for a while. If you believe your horse is very talented and are willing to take some time out from showing, that is what I would suggest. Take the pressure off for a while and quite trying to solve a problem. You just might find the problem will dissapate on its own by a real change in activity for a little while and then re-schooling with a another very good rider. Then you begin to school him again yourself. If you attempt to keep pushing and pushing the horse and trying to fix things, that may work against your goals. I have helped many high level competition horses by simply changing the focus for a while, changing the action for a while and changing riders for a while. This require a lot of patience and willingness on your part. It also involves on putting your agenda aside for a little while. It sounds like you are very 'business' with your showing and riding. Too much of that sometimes doesn't work for some horses. They need more variation and time doing other things with different, high level riders. Baring some physical pain or ailment that is yet undiscovered, I would suggest trying this approach. It may surprise you. Please keep me posted.

Sincerely, Franklin

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