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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Your Attention Please!

Do you sometimes get the impression that you are the last thing on your horse’s mind? Horses which spook, shy or spin round can be frustrating and quite unnerving.

Spooking is an evasion caused by tension or boredom. It’s no different to stopping at a fence or bucking. Whilst the cause may be different the cure is the same. You have to take control.

Limit your schooling sessions to thirty minutes. Do as much as you can in that time. Don’t stop for a chat with your friend or walk round aimlessly wondering what to do. Get on and ride. How can you expect your horse to concentrate if your mind is wandering?

Allow your horse five minutes to have a look around and get his mind on the job. Once you take up your reins insist on 100% concentration. Your aim is get your horse looking directly ahead. Focus on keeping a strong contact in both reins which doesn’t allow him to look left or right.

Push hard with your lower leg to push him into your hand. Use your knee and thigh to slow the speed. Don’t worry if he gets strong at this stage. If your have no weight in your hand you can’t control the front end. Result? Your horse can spin or spook when it suits him. Sort this problem out first. The rest will be easy!

Most problems can be corrected as long as you stay consistent and patient. Evasions like this have taken months to develop. They’ll take months to put right. You need to be determined and calm – and remind your horse who pays the bills!

For horses which are looking for a way out of working try this.

Ride a 20m circle at E or B. Trot twenty strides and walk five. Trot twenty strides and halt. Trot twenty strides and canter five. You get the idea. Counting strides helps you to concentrate. It stops you looking for trouble.

Be firm about the transitions. Use your knee for the downwards (The Other Way of Stopping) but make sure he’s quick off your leg for the upward. (Be a Lazy Rider) If he’s not concentrating be bossy! The minute you feel his mind start to wander change pace or direction. Don’t give him a second to think about anything other than you.

For horses which spook because they’re nervous try this.

Stay on the 20m circle but each time you get to the centre line ride a 10m circle to A or C. before you change push your knees in hard to bring him back and once you’re on the right line push on. Ride one 10m circle and then return to the 20m.

This works because you repeat and repeat. This has the effect of calming a nervous horse whilst the addition of the 10m circles gives him something out of the ordinary to concentrate.

With both these exercise remember your one aim is to keep your horse looking directly in front of you. This can be changed once you’ve established yourself as the boss again. (More on that another day) Re-schooling like this takes time and patience but never lose sight of your goal. You can stop this annoying habit. You’ve just got to be prepared to make some changes yourself. Good luck.


  1. i have found your stopping the other way helps!! thanks, my problem also is ricky is very clever so doing the same thing too much he will antisipate it and do it for you, also if a horse canters in the field or something startles him he doesnt jump or spook he shoots off at 60mph which makes you constantly worry when next he will do it!!! any suggestions to how to get him back quickly or the best way to deal with it when he first pulls to shoot off??? he is very powerfull which is great as he has lovely movement its just a worry as to how to channel the power!! gemma :)

  2. Hi Gemma, I'm glad something has helped. Leave me with it and I'll come up with some suggestions. For schooling have you tried a standing martingale? (Use a running with noseband threaded through the rings) They're so much better than draw reins because you don't have a handful of reins and your horse will be pulling on himself leaving your hands free.
    Ricky sounds like a bundle of fun!! Tell him I always win in the end. I love a challenge!

  3. Hi Lorraine
    After my ride today i decided to see if you had and tips for spooking- if not facebook you. Well you did but my problems arent in the school.
    My horse is 'a rearer' but to be honest we seem to be conquering this - he now only does in when in a 'blind panic'.

    When out hacking i have the same problem literally every time. He is very spooky and can do a pretty impressive stop and spin (look at my FB pics- hes not a quick pony by any means lol)

    Ive had him from around 4 years old he is about 11 now, this started being a problem when he was stuck in during winter and would get as i would describe, nervous energy. And got worse, he would be wobbly under me, and would spin rear and try to run off- thankfully at 16hh and being a heavy weight cob, he doesnt know his strength and is stopable in a snaffle! I tried lots of approaches as you do, and i have found that if i know he is going to shy, sit, use my leg and back up with the whip if needed and hopefully ride trhough it, depending on the situation using leg yield/shoulder in to 'sneak past' something.

    My problem is, on a daily basis im riding along and he is looking for something to shy at. Weather im buckle end or with a contact, walking with a purpose, dawdling, working trot, canter etc his ears are everywhere, he tries to move his head (ive been using your keep straight post techniques). He will be constantly looking or trying to look. I try to keep him focused by doing different exercises when we are out, or correcting his position using hands/legs/body and riding forward but im struggling and seem to be getting no where.

    As i said- rearing seems to be going thankfully, i long line so hes used to being out alone etc and this does help, but when alone/leading im constantly having him back off my legs/seat, stop dead, spin etc. One positive is it must have done my seat wonders, some of these have amazed friends when ive stayed on, but its not acceptable and im pretty much sick of it now. We dont have great hacking, a few bridle ways and mostly roads- hes perfect with traffic and cars, its anything and everything else which is an issue and its not safe! I cant complain about speeding cars etc when he will stop and spin in the middle of the road!

    However he will turn back and pass whatever is the problem - even if we move over/sideways etc there is no bolting etc

    I have been in two minds about a suggestion- sidereins, i can see the bad points but also can see that they might help me by acting on him quicker than i can. I dont really want to try this though to be honest.

    Sorry its long and i hope it makes sense!

    Louise (mcwilliams)

  4. Hi Louise, you have my deepest sympathy! Clearly you are doing everything in your power to sort this out. The following ideas are things which I’ve done in the past when all else has failed. Let’s hope something works for you.
    Firstly I would change your tack. I’d put a fulmer or a snaffle with cheeks on this delightful cob of yours with the widest flash noseband you have in your shop! Whether he needs it or not for the rest of the time there’s no doubt that when any horse spins round he opens his mouth and grabs the bit. It can only help.
    Sheepskin nosebands, the fluffier the better, can take a horse’s attention off the hedge too. They spend more time looking at the sheepskin. It’s not too expensive but can have an instant effect. (Sheepskin wraps on cheek pieces can work as blinkers too) Well worth a try.
    Side reins aren’t such a stupid idea. I’d be tempted to try a fairly short standing martingale first. I’ve had a cob that used to do something similar. The standing martingale caught him before I did 95% of the time. It might give your horse a shock just at the right time. I’m assuming you’re riding with a long schooling whip? Spurs could also be worth a try. Anything which makes your horse react or at least feel your aids quicker is a plus.
    If this was me I’d avoid riding at the edge of the road. Remember, although you don’t want to upset other road users, you are entitled to the whole width of your side of the road. With problems like this you must put your safety first. Wear a fluorescent tabard and either attach an L plate to the back and front or draw an exclamation mark. This is simple and something car drivers will immediately understand. Ride in the centre of your side of the road away from scary hedges. If you can ride with someone (and most riders do the opposite here) put them on the hedge side NOT the traffic side. Do everything you can to get your horse’s attention away from the hedge.
    Other things which have worked in the past – breaking bits, even on older horses, with ‘keys’ on the mouth piece can have a fantastic effect on horse’s which ‘look’ for forms of entertainment. It may well work with your chap and give him something else to play with other than you!
    I’m not usually a great fan of supplements but we’ve had some amazing results with MagCalm a magnesium supplement. It takes away the hysterics without losing anything else. We’ve used it on cobs similar to yours as well as tbs. Well worth a go. It has an effect within a few days so although it’s quite expensive (£30 a tub) you’d know quite quickly.
    I wouldn’t recommend this on a busy road but I have been known to resort to feeding polos at varying intervals on a ride to get the horse’s attention on me.
    Best of luck and keep watching. If I get any more ideas I’ll post them here! If anything helps please let me know.

  5. We always ride at least 2 horses width on the road anyway, too many close calls with drivers squeezing past!
    I dont get much reaction from spurs, its the whip which works but i will try being more consistent with spurs so he gets the idea! Standing martingale and sheepskin blinkers here we come! I always joked about needing blinkers too lol, thank you we will try what youve suggested.

  6. I have everything crossed for you! Good luck.

  7. This is all so logical and full of common sense. Its kind of what I know already but need to be told in order to put it into practice! You are right about the time factor too, it has taken me a year to get the worst of the spookiness out of Santana!

  8. HI Jooles - I think a lot of my posts are like that! Most of it is in your head anyway - it just takes something to bring it out again. A gentle schoolyourhorse reminder!

    As long as it helps :)