Ever have your horse jump straight up in the air, shy or jump sideways for no apparent reason? Yep, as horse owners we’ve all had that lovely experience. You think to yourself, what the heck (or WTF)? What do they see that I don’t? They should not be afraid of anything as they are bigger than most things they encounter. I had my horse shy when I bird flew into the area! Seriously!? What was he thinking? Another time by little girl horse Tink-R-Belle spooked at a squirrel running up a tree because their little tiny nails made a sound as it ascended the tree! I actually told her to get a grip already – 1000 lbs vs 1 lb?
I’ve also noticed that my horse spooks when other horses do. It’s the old monkey see, monkey do philosophy. When we ride with a lead horse who is very stable and not reactive we have a perfectly calm, enjoyable ride. But you can’t always have a strong, stable horse with you—so what can you do?
If you had a better idea of the conditions your riding in and his specific behavior you could try to figure out why he behaves the way he does.
I would recommend behavior modification very similar in principle to helping a horse overcome anything scary–do everything you know to keep him calm, while also remaining calm yourself. You might start by walking around the areas where he’s spooky at home in-hand, and bring along a steady, calm ridden companion or two. Try to stay below the meltdown point. Stop and take breaks as necessary, and give him a treat or a scratch to reward good behavior. Desensitizing is the way to go in most cases and doing it in the “home” environment is most beneficial to you and your horse. You are more likely to have a relaxed horse in his own, comfortable environment.
I also recommend essential oils like Frankincense or lavender to elicit calmness in yourself and your horse. Just a drop or two on your palm, rub your hands together and offer the smell to your horse and of course to yourself before you mount up or show him an obstacle that you want him to become comfortable with. Your horse can even lick it off your hands. You can wipe in on his muzzle but go gently with this…you don’t want to overload him with the scent that he can’t escape from it.
Lastly, it may be time for a health check? Even if he’s ok away from home it might be a good idea to make sure his eyes and ears still see and hear properly. If those check out maybe it’s a boredom factor? Is the training routine the same whenever he’s ridden at home? Is he a relatively smart horse just looking to liven up his everyday exercise? I know I’ve had more than one horse get bored when I spend too much time drilling certain things, some horses thrive on changes and new challenges, others become nervous nellies.
I do know horse love patterns and some repetition because they like the familiar. So get them familiar with whatever spooks them and your life with your horse will become easier.