Spooky horse - how best to deal with it

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Have had my young Welshie 15mths now and he is a very nervous, flighty character. It's taken me this long to get him to go over a pole on the ground without having a hissy fit and throwing himself to the floor. He literally seemed terrified of them. When I went to see him it took them 10mins to beat him over one. I have gradually progressed his work with poles and can now get him over 2ft show-jumps, although he's v v suspicious of them, really backs off and is definitely not a happy jumper. Out and about he's totally different - been schooling round Intro/PN and hunts over anything up to 3ft6 without any worries, although on his own he can still be quite spooky and takes some riding.

My main issue at the moment is his persistent spooking at home. There are jump wings in the corner of the school and I dont know if he's still truely terrified of them or if he's now starting to use it as an excuse, but every single time we go past them he tenses, backs off, comes above the bit, just about dealable with in trot, but in canter he'll go 4 time, rush, back off, charge off etc etc. It's just getting ridiculous. The other day he decided a new plant growing up the side of the school was also going to eat him and we had the same thing.

I've tried him on various calmers to no effect. I dont know how to deal with it. I tried long reining him past the scary things the other day before riding, but still he was spooky once I got on board. Should I let him have a good look at the scary things or should I persist in just getting him bent round inside leg, looking away from them and push him forwards past them. I feel like strapping his head down to stop him throwing it in the air and charging off but I'm not sure that's the sensible solution.

Help!
 

Cliqmo

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Because he is fine away from home it could be that you expecting him to spook is creating a vicious circle of behaviour, as taking the pair of you out of the situation makes it better. Do you anticipate his spooking at home? Perhaps he senses this and in turn reacts to your apprehension? I would suggest moving the jump wings out of that particular corner and then riding past the new 'scary' corner as if nothing has changed (do not offer encouragement, do not micro manage his direction or speed, do not look at the obstacle and do not pat him afterwards) - this should help
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SunSmile

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I'm interested in any answers you get on this as well, as my welsh mare is exactly the same!
It must be a welsh thing
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Wigglypigs

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I empathise but dont have much advice as i have a similar problem. I have had my DWB for a year and a half and during that time he has gotten more and more spooky. Im sure he just soes it as an evasion as he soon settles somewhere new but at home he will constantly spook at the same quad parked next to the arena fence. The quad never moves and has been there for over a year yet he will 'fix' on it and spook every time we ride past it
For the moment i have given up as i was so frustrated with him. My friend from the yard has been riding him for me as she doesnt mind the spooking so much. Im stuck as i really dont want to sell him but ill have to if i dont start enjoying riding him again. grr bloomin horses
 

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[ QUOTE ]
Because he is fine away from home it could be that you expecting him to spook is creating a vicious circle of behaviour, as taking the pair of you out of the situation makes it better. Do you anticipate his spooking at home? Perhaps he senses this and in turn reacts to your apprehension? I would suggest moving the jump wings out of that particular corner and then riding past the new 'scary' corner as if nothing has changed (do not offer encouragement, do not micro manage his direction or speed, do not look at the obstacle and do not pat him afterwards) - this should help
smile.gif


[/ QUOTE ]

no, i dont mean away from home he is fine. i mean out and about he is fine - as in away from the arena. so out hacking and XC he's really good. he's still a spooky idiot in any arena whether it's the home one or another one away from home and he wont do show-jumps wherever he is.
 

henryhorn

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I think perhaps he's got into a"learned mode" of behaviour at home, and is now scaring himself!
I would in this instance stick a set of draw reins on and start by riding him at the opposite end of the school, making your 20 m circle egg shaped towards the middle. Try and sing if you can, and ignore any spooking just use your legs and stick and keep him trotting briskly forward. The draw reins should enable you to keep him between hand and leg.
Eventually after a couple of days of doing this try the track, again, ignoring any bad behaviour other than making him go forwards.
I have actually fixed a horse like him but it took drastic action and may not be to everyone's taste.
The mare of mine I had broken without too many problems took fright at a waving blanket when I was dismounting and after that went potty if anyone had anything remotely like one in their arms, she even leapt when we attempted to put her rugs on. One morning after she had gone ape every time I attempted to dismount making me stay on board for a whole five hours (boy did I need the loo) I rode her round to a jockey who also broke horses. He sort of dragged me off carefully then climbed on and clapped his feet round her ears almost, then her backside and pronounced she needed de-sensitising.
I went home, put the lunge line on in the arena and then proceeded to tie to her everything I could think of. I tied coats to the saddle, rolls of cardboard to the stirrups, fastened garlands round her breasatplate etc and let her go. She took perhaps 20 mins of bucking and lunging at a canter before she started to ignore the lot and wanted to slow down.
I repeated the same thing every day for a few days, changing the things I tied on.
She never bothered again and went on to have a successful career.
I should also say her problems had been because someone previously had started her badly and she had been sold half broken when obviously she wasn't.
It may not work on every horse however, and in these days of Monty Roberts perhaps his techniques would be more advisable!
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HH, i have ridden him in draw reins a couple of times a long time ago and they have helped get the message across that he must concentrate, but i wasn't convinced i wasn't covering up issues so was a bit worried about using them more often. i'm not sure if he's genuinely still terrified or is starting to just be taking the piss. he's just so jumpy - he cant cope with anything moving or any noises be it on the ground or ridden. hates his feet and his ears being touched. when i went to see him they put a mounting block next to him and his knees knocked together he tensed and shook so much. i've tried getting physios to look at him and they cant tell anything because he's so tense about anyone strange near him. he's a complete freak!
 

spookypony

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I'm also very interested in all answers here! Mine is ok now over poles on the ground, provided he can walk over them first, but stripy jumps?! Hell, no! I suspect a large part of the reason is that I'm expecting him to refuse now. But I can't very well walk over a jump first! We've put his jumping on hold for the moment until his confidence in general improves, but I'd love to hear more suggestions!
 

Hornby

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[ QUOTE ]
He literally seemed terrified of them. When I went to see him it took them 10mins to beat him over one.

[/ QUOTE ]

Is this literally true? If so, I would say that he has learnt to distrust people and for good reason
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(I have also found welshies to be naturally spooky in their nature in the past, which won't help). Is he better if he has worked hard? My ISH mare is naturally alert and needs plenty of work to be pleasant to ride (I know your chap gets plenty of work too but does this improve the spookiness?). What is he like to hack? I found that Trec exercises helped with my mare as she learnt to do what I asked and remembered that it was not a horrible, dangerous thing we were doing.....sorry no real answers.
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punk

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Have spent the past half hour trying to upload a photo of a horse my daughter had who looks JUST like yours (the chestnut)- although was Welsh D x TB. No good at computers - sorry!

We never did get to the bottom of his spookiness!!! At the PC areas dressage, he never went anywhere NEAR the A end of the arena - just because there were flowers that were going to eat him up!!!!!!!!! A couple of months later, he went to the JRN Champs at Weston and came 4th after the dressage (plenty of scary flowers!), but although he did a beautiful double clear, had massive time faults x-c as there were some truly Alien treestumps
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- not on the course, but in his line of vision - and it took a lot of Pony Club kicks, not to mention sw--r words from my daughter to get him past them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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I think it is probably inherent in the breed?!
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Learn to live with it, because they are so talented in so many other ways!!!!!!!!!
 

TarrSteps

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Interesting . . . I taught a girl with a chestnut Sec D and it had pretty much the same issue.
smile.gif
We did finally get it sorted and she turned into a useful little event horse at about PN level, but it took some time and a great deal of emphasis on relaxation, stretching the topline etc. I found just "making" her do things, or punishing her for spooking (not the same thing as riding through the behaviour) when she wasn't really ridable in the first place, tended to make her more tense, but once she started to relax in her schooling it got easier to expose her to potentially tense situations.

I have used various desensitisation techniques, including a similar protocol to the one henryhorn mentioned, but which one and when depended on the particular horse. I'd be a bit careful with "flooding" as if you can't keep control of the horse you risk a real wreck (you risk in anyway if the horse is extremely reactive) and some horses go the other way under that method, becoming even worse!

Is he as spooky when led/long reined and just in his general non-ridden life? Or is it much worse under saddle? Which techniques will work best depends a lot on what sets the horse off but more so on how he reacts (right down to the expression on his face) when he does spook. Unfortunately it's very hard to say without seeing - the advice that would work in one situation might bring disaster in another.

Have you spoken to any professionals about it? Either people you take lessons with or a behaviourist/"problem horse" specialist/horse whisperer type? If so, what was their take and what suggestions improved/worsened the situation?
 

babemaiden

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After reading your post it sounds like he has developed an anxiety about schooling over jumps, and after reading that his previous owners beat him over them no wonder. He thinks jumps and then thinks what is related to them, 10 minutes of beating, also he could now have such an issue with this he has lost respect for schooling over jumps. you also didn't mention how old he is.

Take him back to basics and be patiant with him. Lunge him in an area with jumps but don't make him go over them. Then spend time leading him over poles, then long rein him over them, offering reward and praise. IF he still won't go over them forward, try walking him over the poles backward then forward. Remember if he has done it once, but you are feeling stressed stop it straight away, before you both get wound up.
Then free school him over some poles and start raising them. If you don't have a round pen to free school just keep him on the lunge, and have as few distractions around him as possible.

You need him to walk the course of poles on the ground then raise the bars as his confidence grows. Just remember not to rush him, but if you do it right he should be schooling over the jumps at home confidently with in a month.

Let me know how you get on and any probs let me know

Steph
 

applestroodle

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Hey

This is very interesting my welsh d is very similar very spokky and sharp, I have never had a welsh before but everyone I speak to seems to say this character. My mare can b hacked out on roads, tractors cars lorrys can go past her but then she will spook at a blade of grass!! She jumps 10 foot in the air and regains composure sometimes I do feel she does it as an invasion. Not much help but glad I am not alone.

keep me posted would love to here, i am very fasinated by welsh cobs now!!
 

kit279

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What's his turnout like? Can you put jump wings in his field and scatter coloured poles about the field - particularly so he has to get to his water and also at the exit so he has to step over them every day? If he has a calm unspooky companion, that might help as well.

Ridden-wise, I'm afraid I don't have many suggestions, other than keep trucking. One of mine can be spooky and I just *make* him go near the things that scare him in little circles that edge closer to the spooky thing. Then I let him stand, occasionally he'll get a Polo. The most important thing is that he doesn't get away with it ever, so patience and time, I guess.
 

ForeverBroke_

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My horse is exactly the same!

Be aware if your upper body looking at what he'll be spooking at. Even if you aren't actually staring at it etc, if your turned towards it i find 9 times out of 10 they'll react. With Darce i have to really use my inside leg and get him on the inside bend. It sounds impossible, but dont use your outside rein at all to 'keep ' him nearer to the track etc. It'll just mean they look at it more and the issue will keep going. Takes a little bit of practise, but it works for me
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Also have the issue of pole phobias, jumping phobia's etc but will be tackling that assault soon!
 

charlie76

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My horse is like this ( as you prob know). Like you, it was driving me nuts and one day he was really naughty and almost had me on the floor and I decided enough was enough so I rode him for about an hour and half every day for a week and sometimes twice a day. I also lunged him lots in the area he was spooky. after a week of some serious work he stopped doing it. If he does spook now I really send him forwards for a few minutes and get him really in front of my leg. I also have taught him to go very round if I need to put his noes right down to stop him chucking his head up and bogging off.
I did ride him in draw reins a few times, not tight, for the first 15 minutes which also seemed to help.
Telling him off made him worse, making him work harder made him much better.
 

ester

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Ok, so lets all match the spooky chestnut welshies. Frank is 16 now and still not 100% spook proof but give him a double decker bus with air brakes any day and I do trust him and he is good as gold with smallies. He would never be sold to a novice though cos I know he would get worse, they would get worried etc etc vicious circle.

When he first came to me (4 years ago) he was v tense and stressy, I think he was upset by moving homes twice in 3 months (prev owner didn't keep him long) before I had him he had however show jumped BSJA so I knew he could so can't necessarily offer any direct help on that.

It often depends on his mood! He is at his worse when hacking around home or in arenas he knows when something has changed. This is the only reason I hack him in a dutch gag, having tried a snaffle again recently I remembered why I don't, it just stops him fixing his head in the air, fixing his neck and me then being able to do sod all about it. I don't use it for anything else. Having done a lot of long reining with him post injury recently it has been interesting to note that he is a little better without me on top. He is a bossy confident horse in the field and I think that side came out.

He will still spook at the jumps in the corner of the arena where we have been having lessons for 2 years. And keep in mind if I put them up as a 3ft jump he would probably go straight over them.

He is however much better than he used to be, I am quite strict with him and give him very clear boundaries. Am not sure whether that will work with yours if he is very insecure. He is allowed perhaps give some distance to something which is very out of the ordinary, we had some bouncy castle fun last year. I do pre empt things with a lot of leg and ride in spurs (he always had been ridden in them before I got him). However most things if he does a full spook he gets a proportionaly tap on the arse and then we turn around and walk straight back past it and will continue to go past it until he does so sensibly. However I cannot keep having a go at him, if we have an issue it is then let go off straight away otherwise he will just get increasingly tense. The same in lessons if we are teaching new stuff and he starts to get stressy it is pointless trying to work him through it, a couple of mins on a long rein then starting again works sooo much better. I think I have always insisted he takes a certain amount of responsibility for himself and learns to cope with things rather than me constantly holding his hand, I don't hack him on the bit so to speak but will take a contact in traffic/bouncy castle situations where I do dean to give him some help! I don't talk him past stuff/use reassuring words just plenty of leg and a slight bend away from the object, IMO I have concerns about talking nicely rewarding the behaviour, could be completely wrong though and prob depends on the individual. Having walked past it a couple of times I may make him stand next to it but I still keep him looking straight. Once he walks past or stands next to it nicely he will get a pat and on we go.

As for jumping, he will still look, some days he will jump anything, somedays he will pick something and think he doesn't like the look of it. He is often better higher as then there are more poles and the filler becomes less of the jump.

With yours, how is he with others in the arena would spending some time following a confident horse round over poles/small jumps help, do you lunge/long rein over poles. I do think that after a point letting them continuously look at things doesn't help, just makes more of an issue of it but I know its difficult as you get anticipatory. Do you have someone else who might ride him in the school a bit for you. I am sure Frank spooks because of me sometimes and I use to ride a friends mare who always spooked with her at a given dog but never did with me cos I didn't know about it and wasn't expecting it.

Also interesting is that we have had plastic bag issues in the past but I can fully wrap him in tarp etc at home no issue so 'flooding' didn't really work there! As I say I am not sure what I have done is the right way to go with your boy cos he is so much younger and I knew frank had behave well for a previous owner before the one I bought him off but will still do have issues with plants that dare to grow.

sorry for the ramble hope you might be able to get something out of it though I think yours being a babe does make his situ different.
 

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I know this may sound silly, but when my girl spooks at silly things i was told to look up in the air at the top of a tree or something. Because by looking at a different object in an obscure place sometimes it distracts the horse to wonder what your looking at.
 

wizbit

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Definately not just a welsh thing!
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my warmblood is exactly the same, daft bugger, maybe its a "W" thing?! lol. He's mega sharp and, like you, no calmers seem to have any affect whatsoever!
i can do anything with him on the ground but he loses confidence when im not by his head which is why hes silly when im on him. He is also better when somewhere new, but as soon as he thinks he knows the place he gets cocky. Like he will allow me on board until he knows his own way home/back to trailer, then when he gets familiar with the place he will dump me and make his own way back. and if he doesnt manage to dump me (big knee rolls are wonderful things
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) then he will bolt (and i mean it) with me on top.
Delightful character! :/ lol. hes 90% of the time a sweetie though.
 

siennamum

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I think often spooking becomes a really useful evasion. The more you react the more successfully they have avoided having to do boring work.
My tactic would be to completely ignore it as far as possible. I do think that smacking is fine with an older horse which is having you on, but can make the situation worse. When I'm on a youngster and it shies I tend to take it right up to the object of terror and make it sniff it, however long it takes for horse to stand quietly by object of terror calmly.
 

Law

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[ QUOTE ]
This is very interesting my welsh d is very similar very spooky and sharp, I have never had a welsh before but everyone I speak to seems to say this character. My mare can b hacked out on roads, tractors cars lorrys can go past her but then she will spook at a blade of grass!! She jumps 10 foot in the air and regains composure sometimes I do feel she does it as an invasion. Not much help but glad I am not alone.

keep me posted would love to here, i am very fasinated by welsh cobs now!!

[/ QUOTE ]

Another one here with a section D that sounds exactly the same. A leaf, a tiny stone, a twig, anything as simple as that and he's leapt sideways, all feet off the ground and can't get away fast enough- with him it does seem like utter paranoia and genuine terror and not an excuse to prat about. I've been hacking out on the buckle, totally relaxed and letting him get on with it. He's much better with company and in the school he is just as bad at one end of the school. I have to say, not helpful I know, but I simply avoid whatever it is in the arena that is terrifying him. I stay at the 'safe' part of the arena and work in 2/3rds of it and only venture down to the scary part when he is truly settled and concentrating. He will still tense up and try quicken his pace but I can get him back almost immediately so I don't lose any valuable schooling time debating the issue. I get such good work from him, relaxed, through and co-operating by using that tactic. (It's a 30x60 arena so no need to use the whole thing).
I have to admit he does the same thing when you take him to dressage on grass somewhere new so it's a longer battle of getting him to work and think before we get there but eventually he offers some more relaxed work between panic attacks
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tabithakat64

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My section D was exactly the same, exept his issue in the school was shadows.

Luckily he's 99% better now, but he'd managed to work himself intoo a frenzy about shadows and would spook or run backwards an whip round, his fear combined with my lack of confidence and my instructor at the time either smacking him or babying him when she rode.

My new instrustor was confident and firm and within a couple of sessions my horse forgot shadows were scary.
 

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Have you thought of taking him to a Richard Maxwell demo. He works on getting them to accept things and learn to deal with their anxiety. He doesn't have them completely numb to what is going on, they still react, but they learn that a huge reaction does not help and start figuring things out for themselves.

I may be worth you putting a post up on his forum... Max goes on there and answers questions whenever he can.

You coud also have him out for a one to one consultation and I pretty much gurantee that you will have a much more relaxed boy after the visit, especially if you keep up the work yourself too once he has gone. He came out to Han when she was terrified of loading and now she literally canters up the ramp. I have also used his techniques for desensitising Grace to the lunge whip. She would stand and shake or go up as soon as you picked it up, whereas I can now 'use' it correctly.
 

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ok, a bit more info for those asking.

he has just turned 7. i bought him 15mths ago from a show-jumper. she had bought him from Wales from a hunting home about 6mths previously. I presume she had tried to turn him into a show-jumper and failed so was selling him on. I asked to see him over a pole. He just put the brakes on and it took 10mins of her whacking him over the shoulders with the reins to get him to go over one pole.

When I got him home I did lots and lots of work in-hand with him over poles - he will take confidence from someone going over one in front of him, but is not happy about doing them. you cant lunge him over them unless you have 2 reins on him or he will just run out. you cant lunge over jumps as if you have one rein he'll stop and spin and if you have 2 he'll just plant. schooling when there are jumps up in the arena is a nightmare as he's so tense. schooling in general in a school is a much more tense affair than out in a field. he is generally quite worked up about working in a school. i've just been gradually trying to increase his confidence with things over the 15mths i've had him. he will now do poles in walk and trot, albeit a bit suspiciously and i can just about get him over 2ft3 x-pole or a 2ft clear round course but with lots of refusals as he likes to have a look at everything first.

the first dressage test i did last yr he ran around with his head in the air spooking at everything. now i can get a test out of him and he has got up to 66% at Novice but if he sees something he doesn't like we might not get up the end of the arena and if it's indoors it's a disaster from the word go, so it's not just jumps that set him off. I've tried taking him to lots of indoor schools to desensitise him and it's helped a bit, but he's still a nightmare. Sat he decided he was scared out of his mind by the sunbeams on the floor of the indoor school and we had rearing, spinning, backing up etc.

He is completely and utterly different to hack - not bothered by traffic of any kind, generally not an especially spooky ride, might look at the odd drain cover, not sure about white lines but really quite an easy ride.

His issues really seem to stem from the school, esp indoor ones (although where I bought him from was outdoors). i wonder what happened to him in his home in Wales or whether it was just the trauma of trying to make him into a show-jumper in his last home.

I've been drag-hunting all winter to increase his confidence and he jumps like a stag, but on his own his confidence is much less although i can still jump him round 2ft9-3ft XC - not a hope of that show-jumping yet.

my dressage trainer has seen his spookiness at the jump wings in the corner of the school i go to there and just gets me to keep working past them, not reacting to him until he settles but it can often take ages so obviously cant do that in a dressage arena.

on the ground he is also a bag of nerves. he trembled when they put the mounting block next to him when i tried him. whenever physios etc come to look at him he's so tense they cant tell much. he leaps in the air if a pole is even moved in the school when he's tied on the yard, farrier cant shoe him and can only just trim him, any noise and he leaps a mile in the air. he's just a complete mess!

all ideas much appreciated.
 

ester

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Ok, so ignore most of what I said, this is definitely worse and he is only a babe.

do you ever work him with other horses in the arena, just that he might get vibes of them that it is ok. though you might need to employ some nice horse as a full time school nanny.

I think it is a combo of his breed and his insecurities so am afraid I am a little out of my depth on this one apart from time. Sorry! would love to be more help.
 

beatrice

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My mare is a spooky tense beast, and working in the arena was awful, although no where near as bad as yours sounds.

I find almost ignoring the spooking helps. Offer some inside leg, almost like an its ok aid rather than a clamped do not spook aid.

I went though a phase of doing nothing in the arena other than walk/trot/cantering(out the saddle) on a long rein asking nothing of her. Like doing laps. I think this has played a massive factor in getting bea to chill out in the arena. She still spooks a little although she will look a few times then settle again whereas before once she had a spook, it was impossible to relax her. The trotting/cantering on a long rein thing is something that i can do at a start of a session if she feels tense etc. It took a while to get her to canter around with out shooting off but she soon got the idea. I think it helps as they stop assciating the arena with scary things and having to work hard, so when they do its far less scary and now bea generally works in a far more relaxed manner now.
 

tabithakat64

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What about putting jump poles, and jump wings (the safer one piece plastic type) in his field to help desensitise him? Or feeding him next to them.

Working in the arena with other horses might also help.

Forcing yourself not to react to the spooking and getting him to concentrate on something else such as lateral work. (This is what worked for mine).

Doing lots of in-hand work and giving him time and not pushing things too much in one session also helped his confidence.

It sounds like you are already doing all the right things (and are probably doing all of the things I've suggested already).

I'm sure given time Llewi's behaviour will improve.
 

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his spooks are pretty dramatic - he's nearly had me off on more than one occasion including in a dressage test we had to retire from he was so bad. i'm not sure i'd feel comfy cantering round the arena on a long rein as i often warm him up long and low and some of the spooks are pretty athletic!

he often works with other horses in the arena at home and they're all really good and he doesn't seem to take any confidence from them. he also works a lot with other horses in various warmup arenas.

i'm not allowed to turn him out in school with jumps or put jumps in his field
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