Arena Panic/Phobia?

Ella19

Well-Known Member
Joined
25 May 2010
Messages
2,320
Location
Surrey
My mare hates being restricted or restrained. Something went on in her past ( she has scarring on her poll for starters) and she can be very quirky. Holding onto her headcollar to touch her ears is a big no, but don't hold on and she's fine. I can just about clip her loose in the box but not tied or even with a headcollar on. She is literally terrified and will head plant into the floor. Saddle has to be fitted a little wider as she hates being restricted and made it very clear! She's taken a long time to get use to my leg being gently on and worries if you close your knee or hand.

Schooling has been a huge work in progress, she was a child's showjump pony before and when I got her only did walk and canter, there was no trot, no left canter and lunging was at speed until shattered then stop. This has all been re taught and she now lunges nicely and can trot calmly in a rhythm.

My issue now is the sand school. before I put her rushing and head up and tongue waggling due to needing more schooling, building muscle/topline and finding her balance. However, having recently had access to a field to school in she is a different horse. The field is huge, she's warmed up the same but is free, rhythmic, soft and no issues with left canter and very balanced in all three paces. I use the same size area as the school to school in but there is no fencing. Then when we go back to the school she's tense, rushing, won't take the contact down and blindly panics.

Any suggestions for helping her over come this panic so she can work as nicely as she does in the field? The field is fine for summer but come winter I can't use it as its clay and no lights, we would also like to get out to dressage and jumping on sand at some point. She's turned out in the arena sometimes and shows no distress. Lunging is getting better but again she still panics and if she loses balance, she will then shoot off and panic more when restricted by the lunge line. I just want her to feel as ease with the school as she does in the field.
 

wkiwi

Well-Known Member
Joined
30 March 2015
Messages
838
Location
Wales
Sounds like you are doing a tremendous job on a horse that has either been abused or had a really bad accident. Can you feed her in the sand school so that she has positive associations? You say that she is not distressed when loose at all, so maybe feeding with all her tack on, then when absolutely doesn't care sit on her while she is eating. Followed by walk a circle by the gate (on her best rein) - do not move off the circle or away from the gate until she is chilled out (may take some weeks if she is so bad). Oops, i don't mean stay on her for weeks! - just do 20-30 minutes at a time (can do several times per day if you have time). Ideally, have another very chilled out pony walk with her or tied to the fence eating hay. Combine it with turning out in the school with the same pony (if possible).
May help if she likes music then this will help (doesn't work for all horses), or reciting the same poem over and over again helps some horses (I use 'the man from Snowy River' because it is long).
Once can walk a circle calmly in one spot then move the circle further away from the gate. If you can, avoid lunging or doing anything else in the arena until she is calm, as everytime she has a panic attack it reinforces that the school is a dangerous place. The most you want while retraining her is mild anxiety, which should reduce in amount (hopefully to calm acceptance) before ending a session. Praise any sign of relaxation (ideally scratch wither too when possible) but don't praise any tenseness (while tense, just have a 'business as usual approach' i.e. think something like 'ok, so you're tense, but never mind because we're just going to walk circles and that won't hurt you, so let's get on with it').
Note that this can only be very general advice based on what you have put, as actual retraining depends a lot on what body language the horse is giving at each moment and the trainer actions may need to change from minute to minute.
I am really glad this horse has ended up with you, as few people have the patience to work on a problem horse like you have.
 

Ella19

Well-Known Member
Joined
25 May 2010
Messages
2,320
Location
Surrey
Thank you. Think I may have made her sound worse than she is! She will walk relaxed in there but it's the faster work she worries about. Trot and canter. We are getting there but it's like a switch that goes, she's ok one minute then panics and rushes off, only halting will reset the switch if you like.

I had the saddler few weeks ago and my mare was awful. I have never had her that bad. She took to the saddler extremely well following her round the school, it was a windy day which didn't help. In walk both in new saddles and the one she'd been going well in, she worked lovely and relaxed in walk, taking the rein down and bumbling about. Ask for trot and the head came right up, her tongue flew out her mouth waggling and she just ran until I turned into the fence. She's never been that bad before and not done it since, it was very odd. New saddle has helped me remain balanced as she tends to throw me off balance as an evasion. She's a clever and quick mare but I do think is genuinely worried.

I took her to workers this weekend gone. She jumps fast as that is what she knows. Funnily enough went well in the warm up arena which is large, open sides but high boarded, and held it together in the go round and for her show in the indoor. The school at home is post and rail and just about 20 x 60. Before I had her at another yard with very large post and rail outdoor and she was just as bad.

Hmm sorry for the essay. Think reading what you've said I'm going along the right lines so will continue. She's such a lovely mare and will be cracking when right!
 

wkiwi

Well-Known Member
Joined
30 March 2015
Messages
838
Location
Wales
Yes; that makes it clearer. It definitely sounds as if she has a bad memory from the past (or more than one). Does she give you any warning at all? Just before she does it, is she maintaining a contact with the outside rein, or does she drop it?
Turning is a great idea - i think that because you can get her mind rebalanced by halting, then you just need to transfer that to circles e.g. if she panics at the trot then turn her as best you can and get her on a circle and keep her circling until she calms again.
You might already be doing this, but when you ask for an upward transition in the arena, make sure that you ask her to soften to the inside just beforehand, then put her straight onto a small circle as soon as she is in trot (or canter). Keep her mind busy in case she is looking for something to shy at.
The tongue out is usually a non-accepting-bit and/or stress reaction; is she really responsive to the bit at other times? (E.g. you say she jumps fast, but will she jump slow when asked/jump from a trot if told etc?). Does the throwing you off balance as an evasion only occur in the sand school, or is it something that she tries elsewhere.
I have had horses do complete meltdowns (mostly TBs off the track), but we have usually been able to find something that triggers them at the time (even if it is just a bird moving) - it sounds as if she might be hyper-aware of everything when in the sand school (due to previous bad memories), and therefore looking for things to react to. Because she managed to cope at the show in the indoor school at the show, and because she doesn't mind being in the arena unridden, then the association is only with being ridden under some circumstances, so if you can work out her triggers and just keep on working on building up her confidence in you and her responsiveness to the aids then it should reduce. As you may have guessed, i am a big fan of small circles to calm horses down and prevent problems, so anytime you are in the arena and she drops the outside rein contact for any reason then I would circle immediately - if doing stretches, I would always insists she maintains a good outside rein contact and never give a completely loose rein (until she has got over worrying about the arena).
Sorry can't be of more help, but maybe someone else on here will have some other tips.
 

Pinkvboots

Well-Known Member
Joined
25 August 2010
Messages
15,259
Location
Hertfordshire
She sounds just like my WB mare was when we first got her, we were told she had done lots of jumping as a young horse then used as a brood mare for a few years, she also had a poll issue not sure if she had hit it or it had been caused by over flexion as a young horse but she had scarring there and would not tolerate any pressure in that area, she also seemed to panic when ridden in a menage woulld walk round fine then as soon as you wanted trot she would do a really bouncy sideways canter and throw her head around, then all she wanted to do was jog and she would get in a state getting reallly sweaty, We had her checked by vets physio and had her teeth and saddle checked all was fine, it was the physio that found the poll injury and she did give us some exercises to do to help this.

Out hacking she was fine very quiet like a different horse no jogging or head tossing realy calm which was really confusing, which led me to think she had been over schooled and pushed too hard as a youngster and associated the menage with that experience, she was also terrified of whips which sort of made sense if someone had schooled her in a harsh manor, it took me months and months of very quiet riding and never asking too much of her to get any improvement, I found hacking out for even twenty minutes before oing in the school helped it just made her relax and accept the schooling, I also noticed if somebody else got on her in the menage she would revert back to how she first was so I think it was an insecurity of people she didnt know that also put her in panic mode.

I did spend months of sometimes just walking in the menage and if I asked for trot and she went into canter we went back to walk, we did alot of small circles as it makes it harder for them to wizz of and get faster, I remember the first time I trotted the whole arena without her loosing it I just stopped and came out and gave her lots of praise, it took me months but once she trusted me she stopped doing it and was a pleasure to ride I just think she had lost faith in people.

Unfortunately she injured her ddft and I could never get her sound again so she is retired now and lives out just down the road from me.
 

SpringArising

Well-Known Member
Joined
3 May 2014
Messages
5,255
I would do lots of grooming/groundwork/slow riding in the arena every day (twice a day if you can) until she gets used to it. If you go in there often enough she will eventually get bored of it. The most important thing is that you don't react to any spooky or tense behaviour!
 

Ella19

Well-Known Member
Joined
25 May 2010
Messages
2,320
Location
Surrey
Spring arising she's been going in there 4 days a week all winter!

Thank you ladies, different horse tonight. Beautifully responsive and calm. Having "talked" it all through on here it occurred to me that despite changing bits she wasn't that different. The one thing I hadn't changed that may "restrict" her was her bridle. I am fortunate to work in a large tack shop so picked up a micklem today. first observation was she was happy to have it put on and done up, secondly it didn't sit on her scar behind her left ear.

I also spent lots of time reinforcing aids through my seat. Pelvis forward means slow down. Worked brilliantly. Lots of circles as mentioned whenever she felt unsettled. She was so beautifully responsive and calm we even managed to walk over poles and halt in front of them! There were two small whizzy moments but very quickly contained. Couldn't be prouder. Thanks for the little hints ladies and gents, they boosted my confidence in myself and worked a treat. We even had aeroplane ears for some of the session. No stress taking bridle off either.

I am well aware we are going to still have blips and sure I will be returning to this thread, but onwards and upwards and the micklem is staying!
 
Top