Monday, December 14, 2015

Spooking Theory and the Hot Horse

I try not to write ride wrap ups or do ride journals on here, because horse training is just so incremental. It's painfully slow and meticulous, and while not boring, it's very hard to make it riveting.

But there are some thoughts knocking around my head about fresh horses and cramped indoors and training theory, and while I apologize if that bores you, it's really important to me.

A week or so back, I talked about my light bulb moment of throttling my horse back so much at the trot that I was literally creating my own monster. That's important--A horse can buck you off standing still but he can't (should be able to) buck you off at a gallop. Forward MATTERS.
throttling down
But of course, Courage isn't that simple of a horse. He's not a pleaser. He has OPINIONS and he wants them to MATTER.

I had the lesson from hell the other night. Courage was distracted and leaping and spooking at LITERALLY EVERYTHING. Instead of working on steady contact and correct balance, we mostly worked on staying on and not dying.

Which is something we have to do from time to time.
cherry picked shot that is less-terrible from lesson
When a horse like Courage wants to be idiotic about something determinedly Not Scary, there's more going on. I know Courage. He's afraid of almost nothing. He's not spooking because something legitimately scary happened. He's not even really spooking to get out of work. He doesn't mind working.

But that's my other important theory tidbit--don't let the horse change the conversation.

This is something that Izzy (the Hellbeast) used to do All.The.Time, until my old trainer called her on it. Don't let the conversation be about the scary thing or the weird noise. If you're talking about the right rein and the left leg, keep on having that conversation, even if it means having it somewhere else for a while. YOU decide what to talk about, not the horse.
superhero colors
Obviously, this concept doesn't apply to a greener horse learning about his environment for the first time or something legitimately scary.

But with Courage, that's not the problem. He's seen it all. He's not afraid. If I keep reacting to him, then all I'm doing is riding defensively and guaranteeing I'll always be a step behind him. I'm letting him choose the conversation. I'm setting us both up to fail.  I need to stay proactive. I need to ride through his spook and keep on riding like it never happened.

I'm not punishing him for being afraid. I'm not rewarding him for losing focus. I just keep repeating "right rein, left leg" (out loud, because dorky) and keep riding.

It's not the most fun thing ever, but it's working.


  1. It is tough to keep riding when they are being silly. I would imagine that it is a million times worse for you considering your history. I think it is amazing that you can say yes I have this fear and I am going to continue onward. I don't know if I would have the ability to do that.

  2. YES. YES X1000. I had this same conversation with the pony yesterday. It WAS about a balanced canter transition, and he tried to change the subject to "ZOMG POND MONSTER!!1!!!!11!" There is no pond monster. Let's refocus.

  3. Haha, yup, I had a trainer tell me one time that whatever my horse was paying attention to was HIS problem, not mine. I just needed to keep on keeping on. It's so hard to do that sometimes, but yup, you gotta ignore them. I imagine it like a little kid in the checkout line at the store... "But MOOOOOM, I want CANDY!!!!" If you ignore it, it will go away. If you don't, it will get worse and worse.

  4. Very true! I've learned that with my gelding. He likes to decide things are terrifying and the more I react, the worse it gets. If I ignore him and keep doing what I want to do, he eventually gives up. I think I take the fun out of it for him if I don't react. My mare on the other hand, isn't a spook. If she's spooked at something, it usually means it's truly scary to her. In her case, I take the time to show her the scary thing and she gets over it.

  5. Spooks can be the spiral of death if you let them. So, best to just move on. Not get caught on it. I always feel bad for a horse that spooks then reacts bc they expect punishment. Sad. I knew one horse that really had trust issues like that. Genuine bucks or spooks in communication to talk to rider but then feared punishment for just trying to communicate.

  6. Perfect timing as I go to climb on my baby tonight who has been cooped up for over a week! Even with the young ones who are spooking, if you join them in the conversation about the spooky thing, you're validating them. I'm SO bad about that. He spooks at something and I back off my aids and start looking for the thing he's spooking at. As if me knowing what he's spooking at will help me in some way? It's been so hard to just keep riding through whatever he throws at me. And he's not even doing it to be a jerk, he's just a spooky baby. Great post!

  7. In a "hot" horse, a spook can be more about boredom than anything else. I try to mix things up so that my horses don't get bored and try to invent new, more fun things to do. Not always the easiest thing to do in an indoor in the winter, but it does work.

  8. Mikey did this to me every winter. We'd have a "scary corner" and he'd talk me into letting him look and it was all downhill from there. I agree with Shannon- a lot came from him being bored or not challenged enough by the work. It took a long time for me to work out that 'forward' was my friend!

    1. It was also the very first button I installed on Penn. If he's afraid, FORWARD! He hasn't been under saddle for a year yet and he's quite brave and willing because of that forward button! He's also the leader on every trail ride when he's only been ridden seriously and outside for 4 months.

    2. We're still running a very fine line between forward and AHHHHH TOO MUCH PRESSURE FLAIL. :-) always a process.

  9. Stampede does this to me, but outside instead of inside. The indoor is just that boring that he has better focus. Since we've had unseasonably warm weather lately (60's in Michigan!)I rode him outside yesterday and felt like it was such a fight. My issue is that instead of lifting UP and pushing him off my inside leg I pull back and use inside leg and that just never makes things go well. My ride ended nicely yesterday after a friend kept repeating to me to lift my hands and not grab at him when he was acting a fool.

  10. So true!!
    I think it still applies to the green horses, too... I think those conversations just aren't as sophisticated. Instead of "inside leg, outside rein", those conversations might be "4 beat walk..." or "stand instead of spin".
    When the Fancy Pony was super green, she steering and the gas pedal weren't always coordinated enough to work together, so conversations would be about a specific gait and wouldn't even acknowledge the steering aspect until the gait had been thoroughly discussed and accomplished.
    I think it's a very important training concept!! :D

  11. I like how you equate it with trying to change the conversation. My mare tries that from time to time. And when I insist she sticks to the subject, sometimes she complies and other times not so much. I swear some days she has the attention span of a gnat!

  12. Im going to have to disagree with you on the "cant buck while galloping" statement. I can very much attest to you that indeed, it can be done hahah

  13. I'm working on this too! Murray has been trying to change the conversation (less about spooking and more about telling me to fuck off) when I ask him to actually move forward, track up, and bend left. My particular challenge is that the conversation I want to have is at the trot, but Murray's evasion/distraction is at the canter. I find it really challenging to continue the discussion about forward at the trot when I'm fighting shitty canter.

    Hard. Wah.

    Need my trainer by ran out of money already this year.

  14. i *love* the concept of not letting the horse change the conversation - my mare is so sneaky about it too haha, i really need to get better at just riding her the way i want her to go, and letting her just go there

  15. Ries spooked at jump standards yesterday. like seriously??

  16. sounds like you're going through what wiz and I went through for a while (except that, unfortunately, Wiz can indeed buck and gallop simultaneously... sigh) which is basically, baby horse knows enough and is strong enough to be dangerous with his opinions lol. And if you get backed off and ride defensively, it creates a monster. (guilty). If you say "oh you're silly" ignore it and kick them forward = crisis averted. But I very much like this series you've got going on because it's good to remind myself :D


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