How do you react when your horses spook (at things they have seen before)?

Neddie123

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One of my horses (12 yo TB) spooks at pheasants. Not unusual especially for a TB, in fact very normal behaviour. What I would like to know is how others would react to this?

Horse generally goes into canter, spins or jumps sideways and goes into canter. My reaction to any of this is to slow back to desired pace previous to incident and turn back to the original intended direction. I don't shout, panic or reprimand, I just turn him and say woah.

My partner who also rides this horse says he gives him a smack down the shoulder if he spins. My partner is an ex jockey so plenty of experience and Im now wondering if I should take a similar approach?

Given said horse is not young and has seen plenty of pheasants before I am wondering if I should be firmer when the spook happens. Very interested to hear what others do.
 

poiuytrewq

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I just ignore it, I’d do a you by the sounds of it!
My horse spooks and we just carry on, I purposely don’t make a deal of it. I think they are very genuine “oh shit” reactions and a bit unfair to smack for.
My old horse was used to being walloped for every little look and he was a nervous wreck to ride at first.
Things, including birds flying up suddenly make me jump myself!
 

rextherobber

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I just ignore it, I’d do a you by the sounds of it!
My horse spooks and we just carry on, I purposely don’t make a deal of it. I think they are very genuine “oh shit” reactions and a bit unfair to smack for.
My old horse was used to being walloped for every little look and he was a nervous wreck to ride at first.
Things, including birds flying up suddenly make me jump myself!
Absolutely this
 

tallyho!

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I just ignore it, I’d do a you by the sounds of it!
My horse spooks and we just carry on, I purposely don’t make a deal of it. I think they are very genuine “oh shit” reactions and a bit unfair to smack for.
My old horse was used to being walloped for every little look and he was a nervous wreck to ride at first.
Things, including birds flying up suddenly make me jump myself!
Another vote for this.
If the horse is a bit of a thinker then smacking does nothing for the confidence. I actually think doing the reverse as in patting for being brave and returning to a calmness is much better. If you see the pheasant, do a leg yield or a neck flexion or a scratch...
 

Surbie

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Mine's a spooker and reacts like yours. Did it this morning on a new route with a bird flying out of the bushes behind him.

I don't tell him off, I do sometimes laugh at him. If it's something that doesn't move (he's averse to trees lying down) we go back, walk past and look at it a few times till he is sure it's not a monster.

When I got him, I was quite nervous. My nerves made him more reactive. It's taken me a while to work out how to relax.
 

Gingerwitch

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Laugh
I used to get upset and think they hated me.
I now think he or she is trying to save me from a lion.
It's amazing what this thought process change can do for you.
I have had super reactive, spinners and broke my pinky finger in one of the more rein back to spins so I know it's easy to say but hard to do.
 

Arzada

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The thing with pheasants is that your horse won't have spooked at this exact pheasant in the exact same location so it is different from your horse's POV. Also different is the reaction between riders. He can't know what will happen. I'm like you I'd just get it sorted quietly and carry on. And if it was only you riding then I would expect your horse to become calmer. At the moment there isn't consistency. If your horse is expecting a slap I'm not surprised that he canters off. Does he canter off with your partner?
 

holeymoley

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I just laugh and normally call him some sort of name 😂. If it’s something majorly spooky that he won’t like ie the head comes up and he feels like he’ll spin and drop the shoulder, then the reins get shortened and he gets lots of leg and an assuring voice. Thankfully the latter are a thing of the past!
 

welshpony216

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I feel a little more at ease and start giggling uncontrollably (if their is a bear in the woods i don't notice, she will save my bum if i manage to stay on lol) but then i talk to her and let her look at it for 10 seconds, then continue on.


yes, my nickname at school was giggles
 
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I have one that can spook and react quite similarly (shoots, broncs, leaps forwards or sideways, spins and tries to run). He will explode and take ages to simmer down if you smack him or getting angry in reaction, I have to just sit quiet and send him forward, being firm to give him confidence but kind enough not to make him more stressed and worse. It depends what your horses temperament is like but maybe try similar?
 

Michen

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I would likely smack if the horse was spinning. But I don’t consider that behaviour acceptable and I do think if not corrected horses can get in a habit of doing it at every spook. My Connemara used to be terrible for this as a youngster and it had to be very black and white that it was not an acceptable way to react. He very rarely if ever spins now but he’s still pretty effective at a sideways teleport!

A sideways spook etc, ok fine, but spinning- nope. Smack on the shoulder to correct and straighten.
 

Nudibranch

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Sit still, leg on, face the direction of the scary thing. Much as you do OP. I only give her a smack if she's taking the p and spooking at something really stupid in a teenage tantrum (rising 5yo native mare!).
Pheasants give me a shock when they launch themselves at you out of a hedge so I can't blame a horse for doing the same.
 

scruffyponies

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React as little as possible. If it's nothing, I like to chastise them gently afterwards - 'that was a daffodil, you berk!', but that's more to diffuse my own surprise than anything.
Getting all tense (whether as a punishment or your own panic) is the worst thing you can do, and tells neddy he was right all along, and you are also frightened. If there actually is something there, let him take his time and get a good look, or even better a sniff.

Had a driven horse spook yesterday. A pile of metal fence panels on an overtaking vehicle bounced with an almighty bang. He shot into canter / gallop. By keeping a loose contact and giving him a few strides before correcting (he came back to trot on a verbal, bless him), he gets the adrenaline out of his system without getting further worked up fighting me, or feeling trapped.
 

conniegirl

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Normally call him a rude name, express my desire for him to get over himself, ride him forwards and then carry on doing what we were doing before he spooked. I don’t tend to tell him off for spooks though.
My ponys spook tends to be to stop dead and then puff himself up and pretend to be a dragon! He likes to pretend to breathe fire at the spooky thing!
 
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If its a mobile item (pheasant etc) then we both give a sigh and then chase it, B was a bugger with these when I 1st got her as she had never met big birds on the ground (nor hedges or trees) have spent a lot of time turning levitational spooking into pursuit training.

Stationary items, I encourage her to walk quietly past, or v occasionally look whilst stopped to a count of 3, then walk past closely to whatever it is.
She trusts me enough to take reassurance that if I say it's ok, then it really is.
 

Sussexbythesea

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My chestnut is a swine for spinning 180 degrees mostly at innocuous twigs rather than anything remotely sensible. I don’t find getting wound up about it helps although it can depend on my mood if he’s been a twit for most of the ride it might be the last straw. Mostly I ignore and it’s become less often and less violent over time. He does not take kindly to being smacked and he’ll have a tantrum if I tap him on the shoulder - behind the leg I’d probably get launched. If he decides something is really scary it’s incredibly difficult to get past because he’s particularly belligerent and dismounting has been the only safe option. Luckily if I have my dog with me he’ll practically follow him anywhere.

My old boy would spin take off 3 strides and stop. We’d do this 3 times and then he’d go past whatever it was. Now he’s pretty bomb proof.
 

Annagain

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Charlie's going through a spooky phase at the moment, I think due to only having road hacking as all the canter spots are frozen and we can't get to the beach due to lockdown - he needs a bit of a blast I think! His normal thing is to just do a little jump at which I laugh or give him a "really, Charlie?". This is usually at different bits of tarmac or a drain in the road. Things like pheasants don't seem to bother him. He has spun twice with me and he had a bit of a telling off then - as in a good bit of leg, a growl and sent on his way (nothing more) because it seems to be an opportunity to nap (he's never done it going towards home) rather than a genuine spook. If it's a genuine spook at something that's bothered him, he'll get leg on and reassurance until we're past it and then a pat and praise and we carry on.
 

Slightlyconfused

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I just ignore it, I’d do a you by the sounds of it!
My horse spooks and we just carry on, I purposely don’t make a deal of it. I think they are very genuine “oh shit” reactions and a bit unfair to smack for.
My old horse was used to being walloped for every little look and he was a nervous wreck to ride at first.
Things, including birds flying up suddenly make me jump myself!

Pretty much this.

It's really a "he should be fine with it now he has plenty of experience" he was startled by the pheasant and reacted accordingly.

Mine I just pull them up give them a pat and ask to carry on.
 

DirectorFury

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As an aside, I love the ones which throw out their legs at right angles such that the saddle drops a foot whilst snorting dramatically. Totally harmless, and ridiculous!
This is pretty much the only way my mare spooks, so I just laugh! Sometimes she strikes out towards the scary thing as well which is equally comical. Honestly I’m more spooky than she is - I’ll frequently jump at birds/trees/squirrels while she just keeps marching onwards :D.

Spinning is a different matter though, and for that I agree with Michen — try to stop and put a lid on it.
 

FourLeafClover

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Mine tends to do the 'drop to ground suddenly' spook these days (affectionately known as the splat spook). I wouldn't tell him off for it. When he was younger he was a buggar for the spin-and-buggar-off spook, but interestingly, with the same approach (ie. ignore and carry on) he hasn't done it for a couple of years.
Our biggest spook in ages was at the weekend, when a dirtbiker on a byway who was very much in our good books for stopping to let us pass, turned his engine back on when we were about 10 steps past him... that was a canter-three-strides-into-the-bum-of-your-pal-and-spin-to-look-at-it-with-a-WTF-expression kind of spook. I was very pleased all things considered!
 

Michen

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I am quite shocked at how many people consider regular spinning to be ok. The odd one, I understand. But to me regularly spinning at something every time the horse spooks is in the same category as bucking and rearing- an unacceptable behaviour.

I’m not saying a smack is the way forward in this situation for every horse btw by any means, there are many ways to discipline or make the behavio7r obviously unwanted, but I certainly wouldn’t be laughing and patting the horse.
 

tallyho!

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Also, I don't know if anyone else agrees but some horses respond well to strict discipline and a good telling off. I've noticed over time that these are the alpha brave bold types (the ones who probably don' t spook anyway) and the nervous neddys are the overthinkers, may be able to hold their own in a herd but only if absolutely necessary... prefer life to be just so and can't handle routine changes. These seem to be the ones that need reassurance.. reprimand just sends them over the top - not just in anticipation of the actual object but the reprimand too.
 
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