dancing horses

dancing horses

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Spookology: noun, humourous: related to the study of a sub-set of behaviors of the horse (equs ferus caballus), triggered by the presence of, or perception of, a real or imagined threat. 

The other day Cynthia and I were riding. Carmen was quite tense and required a lot of work to settle. Once, when Cynthia and I passed I could hear her muttering that Irish was sleepwalking.
Wanto to trade? I called out facetiously.
Well I would but I dont' know your cues with her!

That got me thinking- I have learned a number of responses to her spookiness that I am now doing wihtout really thinking about it. I thought it would be a good idea to record them in case I needed to refer to them at a different time. It's was also kind of fun to write them out- sort of like a trouble shooting manual.
Issue: Horse is generally tense and looking around. Attention is not on a rider and she seems annoyed that I keep interrupting with silly demands like whoa, go, turn, etc.

Solution: A)  Get horse moving forward. I cannot access her brain until I access her hind end. It seems counter-intuitive but I have found that the slower the gait the greater and more dramatic the spook. I've been teleported 10 feet at a walk but at the canter we've only ever scooted a couple feet. Lots of directed movement- circles, changes of reins and transitions will get her back on me.

B) Also, do not clamp on inside rein- give room for horse to move forward and not give her something to 'fight'. Outside rein can control the pace and inside rein is forward so horse doesn't feel trapped. You can raise it up a bit and place it on the inside of the neck as a barrier.

In fact it's more critical then ever to ride to the best of your abilty. It's easy to get tense and harsh in reaction but breathe, lighten your seat and project a calm aura (that the horse will see through but will still appreciate the effort).
Issue: Backing off the pace when approaching a specific area of the ring.

Soultion: A) bring horse (or let horse come)  in off the rail and leg yield towards the trouble spot. Sending the horse directly at the area can lead to an unwanted confrontation. The leg yield (or side pass) helps the horse to appraoch more indirectly. Praise and/or pat when horse is at the spot so that they know they did the right thing.

B) use these areas for resting so horse feels positive about them.


Issue: Horse slams to a halt and refuses to go forward.

Potential Solutions: I say potential becasue it's going to depend very much on the context. First, check out what's freaking them out to see if it's valid. From there determine what is best but here are some options:
A) gradually work the horse closer to the area in a series of 10 m spirals
B) give them a boot and tell them to get on with it (really only if you know they know this thing and you're not worried that the horse will rear).
c) turn and back them towards what is spooky.

Issue: Horse leaps away (either forward or sideways) and bolts.

Solution: A) halt them as quickly as you can (installing a whoa is priceless) and back them up. Halt, count to 5 and then carry on.

B) Fix the shoulder- even better if you anticipate that this may happen stop it before hand- Carmen's 'tell' is that she drops her inside shoulder when she's thinking that a quick escape might be necessary. I ride with a crop to tap that shoulder when it drops- that makes it harder to do the sudden drop-spin-bolt that she's so good at.

C) ride shoulder in with head/body tilted away from the spooky thing. Works the mind and keep the body in a position that makes the bolting much harder. Note that it may not be a pretty shoulder-in but at that point you can't be fussy.

Issue: horse scoots away from something.

Solution: if it's a small scoot ignore and carry on. You may want to circle back. If they horse goes into a faster gait- go with it and make them work at that gait. That takes a lot of fun out of it and helps you to connect their brain to their body (see above).  If it's a big scoot, halt and back them up. Repeat a couple times and carry on.

Issue: Horse flinches but otherwise carries on.

Solution: Praise horse and carry on. After all this is what you've been working for all along.

General Tips and Tricks that I've learned:
  • Focus on the work, not the issue. There doesn't need to be two beings looking for danger at every stride. 
  • Don't feed the drama llama. Carmen can a little full of herself and needs to be settled. Or, as I like to think of it, there only needs to be one hysterical mare in the ring. 

  • Breathe. And ride. Just ride. Sit up, be clear with your cues and if you need to be a bit harsh to cut through the noise, then do it but always go back to light. 
  • I know how the ride will be from her behaviour in the barn and up to the ring. I am firm expecting  manners and will spend the time on the ground. 
  • know how incredibly awesome she can be work and help her bring that out of herself. In spite of herself. 
  • Celebrate the progress we've made . 
some days it just feels so good


  1. Thatast bullet though -- celebrate the progress we've made.... I think we all need that reminder from time to time! Cheers to you and Carmen for all you progress!

    1. *That last

      My phone hates me today *sigh*

    2. I get it! and agree- I need to remind myself to celebrate.

  2. Thanks for sharing the details of your approach to each problem.

  3. lolz don't feed the drama llama or it will keep coming back for more! fun fact: as i was cooling out my latest lesson partner after our long (hot) ride, he was ambling around at a snail's pace and suddenly had a tiny spook here. then - a little spook there. and then another. finally my coach barked at me to not let him walk at 2mph even just to cool out, and the spooks disappeared. funny how that works!

    1. I know right? I used to ride a TB that knew the minute that my attention wandered and he would pull a deke!

  4. This post was very well done. Thank you. The bolting away is an issue I'm dealing with now, but it's more like a wanting to spin around, but instead side passing quickly. If she had her way, it would be a spin and bolt. I've thought about a crop to the inside of her shoulder when I feel it coming. Yesterday, my riding partner rode her horse on our left (escape) side to keep her in. If Leah feels totally pinned in, she will threaten to go up. So, flinching, but standing her ground is a ways off--but I would love to get there. And, I probably do need to stop and celebrate the successes, though the last two weeks, that has been very hard.

    1. The crop works very well- now I just have to time it correctly

  5. This is awesome! I can already tell from my first couple of rides that I will be revisiting it during Oak's training ;)

    1. you are doing such a good job with him I bet he settles right in!

  6. It's cool to see all your strategies written out. I often fall victim to the whole drama llama thing. I'm a more reactive rider than Nilla needs. I'm like, oh you wanna fight, let's fight.

    1. That's my first reaction too- I tend to be a fighter more than a lover. She's making me grow as a human being. :D

  7. This post ade me want to go back to riding horses in my old age. So much great information here.

    1. Wow, thank you! (and you're not old, just well seasoned). :)


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