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Tips for Calming a Spooky Horse
I just found your website and truly appreciate the advise that you have posted. I'm hoping you might be able to offer some tips to calm my new horse. To give you a little background, he is a 4 y/o OTT Thoroughbred, and I have had him for about three months. Unfortunately, he is the first horse that I have owned in many years, and we are both very green. Although he is probably much more horse than I should have taken on, he has a sweet, willing disposition, and we have really connected.
I had not planned to ride him until spring, but he progressed so quickly with his ground work that I started riding in a round pen after a few weeks. He is very bright, and will do almost anything asked of him, as long as he understands the task. He will stand quietly when mounted, backs on the ground and under saddle, neck reigns, and we've just started trotting. With my limited knowledge and abilities, it has been a comedy of errors at times, but we are learning together.
My problem is that he spooks very easily, which I attribute to both his age, and limited exposure from being stalled 24/7 at the track. Fortunately, he doesn't bolt (or hasn't yet) but will jump, almost like a cat, and side step, which usually takes a year or two off of my life. I have recently started working with tarps, plastic bags, etc. and he will eventually let me coax him over to or across them. However, the next foreign object he encounters will scare him half to death. I know I can't expose him to everything, so I was wondering if you had any suggestions for overall calming techniques?
Thank you in advance for your response.
Sounds like you are already doing great with him. Generally a 'green horse' with a 'green human' is not good for anybody. Who would you rather see attempting to bring up a child, another child or an experienced and caring parent? So, your lack of experience can work against you learning from the horse and he from you. But, you are already in there, so it is great you are seeking assistance. Thank you.
You seem to be handling the spooking fairly well. He is so inexperienced about the world outside his stall, that it will take a fair amount of time to get him over this. It could take a year or two. Whereas, if he had been acclimated to the 'outside' when younger it would now be no problem. He may have had an inexpereinced human with him when something spooked him before and the human got scared and that increased the horse's fear response as no leader was around to help the horse's confidence. Your lack of experience can work against the training because if you get afraid and do not know how to handle a situation, or the horse senses you are in 'survival mode', he will go there as well.
I suggest slowing everything down as much as possible. Introduce the horse to new places and things by leading him there on the ground first. This way you are not having to worry about falling or him taking off with you. As your relationship is formed on the ground first, be on the ground more with him. Take riding lessons on a horse that does not spook, so you will have better riding skills to bring to this horse. Get your seat and balance as good as you can and bring that talent to the horse with confidence. He will really appreciate it and show you by becomming more confident around scary new things quicker. Over time you can expose him to most things that might be scary when first encountered. The way to do this more quickly is to gather together a lot of 'scary things', kind of like what you are doing now. Then have a routene over a few weeks where he gets to be introduced to all, slowly and gradually.
Please keep me posted and thanks a lot for your question. There is nothing that will replace time, patience, consistency, great leadership, skill, precision and kindness.
Sincerely yours, Franklin