Why horses spook and what to do about it

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

Hoses are by nature flight animals. They run off first and ask later, something that can be both frustrating and scary. However, by doing some simple exercises we can help our horse become braver and less spooky.

In my opinion, the best way to help horses become braver, is to expose them to unfamiliar objects - while helping them find relaxation. Also called desensitizing. There are a couple things to be aware of before desensitizing a horse.

Teach your horse to respond to signals first

I only work on desensitizing after I have taught the horse to respond to body language from a distance, particularly being able to move the hind end and front end away from me. Desensitizing horses, without having this in place can be very dangerous.

1. If the horse spooks we have no tools to get the horse out of our space or to help the horse calm down.

2. If all we do is desensitizing a horse, it is going to be very hard to get said horse to respond to signals.

How to desensitize in a safe way

When desensitizing a horse, it’s very important we place ourselves correctly. Not holding them tightly, but rather give plenty of slack in the lead rope and space for the horse to move away or spook. It`s quite dangerous to be close to the horse, because if the horse spooks, he or she might jump on us.

If we hold the horse on a tight lead while desensitizing, tie the horse up or in other ways make the horse stand still, chances are, we’ll flood the horse. The horse will then stand still but without finding relaxation and go into what I call “statue mode.”

Statue mode is not a good place to be in for a horse. While standing still the horse is either blocking things out or too terrified to move. Statue mode can be recognized by the horse not moving the ears; they also tend to have a stiff and high- held neck. Some horses enter statue mode by lowering the head and looking away.

The problem with statue mode is that the horses are not as relaxed as they appear, their reaction goes inwards not outwards. Making this happen will produce a shut-down horse, which is the saddest thing horse training can produce and difficult to reverse.

Desensitizing has many benefits

I think one of the good things about desensitizing horses is that we, as humans, learn a lot. What happens in terms of horses seeking the least amount of pressure applies to many, if not all, aspects of horse-handling. Whether we are deworming, saddling, riding, or trailer loading. Also, by studying our horse`s body language, which is a big part of being able to desensitize without creating mayhem or a shut-down horse, we learn a lot about how horses communicate through posture and expressions.

Watch video of desensitizing here:

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