Spooky and highly reactive horses

End of the week thoughts... Someone was asking about a highly reactive Thoroughbred and how fix his spooking issues, even after he had been at a trainer for two months.

Here is my answer: I agree to rule out potential physical issues first. Then let's change your focus. What if the spook wasn't the issue, but the symptom? What if we started assessing the horse from the moment you arrive, and watch his initial mental and emotional state?

So many horses are starting a session with a defensive, reactive mental state, and often because they are so stressed on the inside, their brain is far away from their body. Rather than acknowledging or putting value to this, often folks try to make the horse physically move more and faster, thinking this will get the horse's focus.

 Instead, they're "filling" their horse's cup of what he can handle, until when it is too full, and then "all of a sudden" the horse spooks, explodes, etc. It wasn't all of a sudden.

If you slow down and watch, so often even in the most "boring" scenarios the horses are living in a state of constant mental stress, even if they aren't acting big and dramatic. The little bit of hurry in their walk, the busy-ness with their head when standing still, the constant movement or swinging of their hind end when groomed and tacked, the tension in their jaw, neck and back as the saddle is put on, the inability to stand for mounting, the pulling or heaviness on the lead rope or rein, etc.

None of those seemingly insignificant unwanted behavioral issues are physical resistance.

They each are signals as to the horse's fear, worry, anticipation, etc. When he is bothered on the inside, he'll get physically more dramatic on the outside. And yet, folks are taught to ignore the busy-ness, "oh, they just do that", or reprimand it- lunge, desensitize, etc.

What does this teach the horse? When he is having a problem, or is concerned, he either is ignored, or reprimanded and may even have more pressure forced upon him at the moment of his discomfort. So what happens in the future?

Each time that horse's cup starts filling, does he look to the human for guidance? No. He "handles it" by getting bigger, faster and increasingly frantic, as he reaches a point of being overwhelmed. I see it ALL the time. Doesn't matter the breed, training, background or discipline. People are "taught" to ignore the horse until they can't.

 What if you slowed down and addressed the horse's brain first. Help him learn to literally look where he is going (folks are amazed how many horses never literally see what is in front of them due to anticipation), before he moves.

Reassess his understanding, his concept of pressure and how you'll communicate with him from the ground. Can you influence his brain, then movement? Does he mentally check in with you or his brain a half mile away from his body? If he isn't mentally able to hear you, and he's defensive towards how you communicate, his stress will continually increase, and the more overwhelming the world becomes, hence the spooking, bolting, fleeing a lot of horses show.

This isn't about repeating something mindlessly over and over, in fact that does two things, either causes them to mental shut down and check out-seemingly fine- until you change something you ask of them and they "suddenly blow up", or you continue putting them in overwhelming scenarios that blow their mind.

So perhaps, rather than focusing on the obvious- his movement, start to zero in on the subtle nuances your horse is offering in regards to his mental and emotional state, find a trainer who can help address that, teach you how to have a conversation with the horse, believe the horse when he shows initial concern and learn how to support him thinking through all his worry and bother, and physically the horse will offer to soften, relax and decrease his defensive reactivity- without you "making" him doing anything.

This isn't a quick fix. It requires a commitment and mental presence from you, it causes folks to reassess everything they thought they knew about horses. But in the long run you end up with that confident and fun horse and you both enjoy the partnership.

Top 5 Questions and Answers with Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey

Happy 2019! I hope your year is off to a great start.  Whether you're familiar with my teaching and training theories and methods are would like to find out more, here's a great opportunity!  Even is a bit chilly outside in most of the world right now, grab a cup of something warm, wrap up in a blanket and enjoy this 10 minute TOP 5 Q & A with... ME! Enjoy and feel free to share with your horse friends.

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If you're a horse enthusiast here's an opportunity to help you: Understand how your horse's thoughts influence his...

Posted by Alternative Horsemanship Remote Horse Coach on Monday, October 26, 2020