We have all been there and know it can frustrating dealing with a horse who repeatedly spooks at things, but it is important to understand the horses natural responses and that as a rider there are things you can do to help your horse overcome this behaviour. Remember that the horse is a prey animal, so flight is a natural response to stress meaning some spooks will be beyond your control as a rider. Normally a spook is a sideways movement, however it can escalate to a horse bolting or being extremely dangerous to both the rider and your horse. It is dependant on the individual horse and the situation, so as a rider consider what is normal for that horse, what is dramatic, and what could be cleverly disguised napping.
With horses that get anxious, spooky, and tense easily in new situations, it is important to build confidence and trust with them. Remember the more time you spend with your horse the better your connection and partnership will be. When you know your horse well you will be able to tell when they are genuinely frightened.
The most important thing you must do in these situations is ensure that you are calm and relaxed when handling or riding your horse. Your horse gets confidence from you so when you are calm and relaxed this will help your horse feel less nervous. Anticipating something your horse will spook at will make you as the rider tense putting your horse on high alert.
When nervous and tense your instinct is to hold tight and draw your legs back causing us to raise our centre of gravity and tip our weight forward. In doing this we lose our anchor points and have more chance of falling off. It is important you stay level keeping your weight channelled through your seat and into your stirrups. Build on your confidence together with your horse by working in a controlled environment such as an arena, especially with a novice horse.
As with any behavioural concern, always rule out pain as a possible factor if you find that your horse is very spooky. Horses are unable to tell us when they are in pain, so it is up to us to decipher their behaviour. If your horse starts suddenly acting out of character, chances are your horse is trying to tell you something is wrong. Anecdotally, ulcers, chiropractic issues, kissing spine, saddle fit, teeth, sinus problems, poor eyesight and so forth, have all been associated with spooking, so any change in behaviour should always be taken seriously. Always consult with your vet if you are concerned.
I touched on this earlier know your own horse. Remember each horse is different, so whilst one horse could respond well to certain training techniques, those techniques may not work on another. When you know your own horse, you will have a better understanding as to which training techniques will work for you both.
Most of the time horses just need the chance to look at something properly and figure it out, so firstly let them approach at their own pace, speak softly to them, and give them a reassuring pat or a scratch on their withers. Another option to build on their confidence is having a lead from another horse.
Some horses may need to be kept engaged having their minds on the job. You could use leg yielding and movements that circle them away naturally working in small areas until the horse becomes calm and relaxed.
Remember a well schooled, supple horse will always be easier to manage and it will help you to keep them engaged and focused.
Spooking is part of the horses natural ‘fight or flight’ stress response and if you are dealing with a horse that is genuinely afraid, patience is the best calming tool you have.
Remain calm and be patient encouraging your horse to face their fear comfortably and at their own pace. When you are training in an arena, circle them away and keep them working until they settle. Forcing them to confront the problem while they are stressed will only escalate into a full blown stress response which can be extremely dangerous.
Sometimes no matter what you do your horse will not settle, and the best thing to do is to take them away entirely, pick your battles very carefully. If possible, use a lead horse to set an example boosting your horse’s confidence.
Fighting a continuous battle with your horse does nothing but put you in danger and reinforces the negative behaviour for your horse. Whilst some horses are naturally more anxious, spooky, and tense, others exhibit such behaviours because of factors that cannot necessarily be controlled. The administration of calmers can be helpful in this situation, so how do they work?
Some horse calmers are fast acting mainly found in paste form administered straight into the horse’s mouth using a syringe. Other calmers take time to build up in the horse’s system usually in a powder, pellet, or liquid form. They work by reducing stress, anxiety, providing focus and relaxation.
They may be a viable option for you if your horse is green and easily upset or you may be introducing them to a new environment. If your horse is continuously sharp and difficult, or they have become difficult with increased stabling during Winter. You are competing your horse where performance is poor because of spooking or sharpness.
Synovium offers several calming solutions for your horse from certified everyday calmers such as Mgnium to our instant Calmingard syringes.
Mgnium contains multiple forms of Magnesium, which is the most acclaimed calming ingredient we have already touched on Magnesium in our last blog:
Our innovative formula contains essential B vitamins for the all-round calmer horse. The nerves and muscles are controlled by receptors, which are managed by magnesium. When magnesium levels are low these receptors become more active. Mgnium helps improve concentration, loosen muscles and supports a calmer horse.
Calmingard is our natural horse calmer containing all-natural ingredients in a unique gel form. Our unique formula contains ingredients with proven calming effects. Calmingard does not sedate, is safe for competition and has been developed by our team of vets to reduce stress and anxiety when most needed providing focus, concentration and an all-round calmer horse.
Also, Calmingard does not contain any substances on the anti-doping list therefore is safe for clean sport. It comes in a practical syringe for easy oral application. Horse calmers ideal for shows, travelling, farrier etc.
It is important you research the different calmers available and their active ingredients to find out which one will work best for your horse. If you are competing your horse it is also important you make sure any supplements you do use do not contain any prohibited substances.