How to Deal With a Spooky Horse
Horses seem to enjoy testing us out from time to time, they can be a saint one day then channel their inner devil the next. As always with unpredictable behaviour, we recommend getting your horse checked out by a veterinary professional, an equine physio and maybe even an equine dentist if you suspect the problem could be physical. If the professionals give you the all-clear to carry on, just how can you deal with a spooky horse?
And who better to ask how to deal with a spooky horse than 5* eventer and British team member Tom McEwen who deals with fresh and fizzy horses day in and day out.
Tom's top tips for dealing with a spooky horse?
“I've come to learn that every arena has a “spooky corner”, and I've also come to learn that you just have to ignore it! Come around again, deal with the spook as best as you can, and keep them moving. If their feet keep moving and their mind is occupied they're less likely to think about spooking. I don’t tend to pat my horses or acknowledge the spook as I’ve found in the past that it encourages more spooking!"
And once it has been confirmed that there aren't any physical reasons for your horse to spook, Tom says you just have to acknowledge that some horses are naturally spookier than others just like some people are more energetic than others. "One of my older horses won’t go near one long side of the arena, I've spent years trying but the horse is so experienced now that I know it's battle I'm losing, so the arena becomes a third narrower when I ride her as I tried to get her over the issue but there’s no arguing with her, so instead of battling I work around it by producing good work in the areas she’s happy with and I don't go near the side she doesn't like!
Is a spookier horse a better horse?
Tom likes horses that have something about them, but comments it’s totally up to the rider. Sometimes horses with a level head will go further than the spooky ones as they’re generally more trainable.
Top tips to help you deal with a spooky horse:
1) Ride transitions
Practice hundreds of transitions every time you ride, whether in the school or out on a hack. This encourages the horse to sit on their hind legs to keep their brain and body engaged. Tom comments that "transitions are also great for balance, strength, and for a spooky horse, transitions help them ignore the spook and keep moving forward. It's also worth practicing transitions with each gait. Lots of on-and-back within the gait encourages the horse to be through and moving them on within a pace ensures the horse is listening to the aids and improves coordination, meaning they're less likely to spook!"
2) Try Protechmasta
The infrared therapy range from Protechmasta could help you deal with a spooky horse. In a study, 85% of Protechmasta customers noticed an improvement in their horse's ridden work when using the range. Improved attention, suppleness and willingness to work were all mentioned as improvements. The Protechmasta range is designed to help and facilitate effective preparation of the working muscles, prior to exercise and reduce pre-exercise stress thanks to improved circulation. "I'll rarely ride without my Protechmasta quarter rug on a winter's day, and if I have forgotten to put it on, I soon remember it! The difference it makes to all my horses is really noticeable, they're focused and ready to work from the off".
"Protechmasta helps to keep naturally tense horses looser - which makes my job a lot easier!"
Emma Woolley, Dressage rider and trainer based in Germany.
3) Look at their diet
It's good to get to grips with what's in your horse's diet, would they benefit from more fibre and longer turnout? We can't recommend enough speaking to a qualified nutritionist to see how you could adjust your horse's behaviour by changing their diet. They'll assess the food your horse eats currently and ask you about behaviour traits to try and establish whether a change in diet could help you deal with your spooky horse.
If you're confident your horse is on the best diet for their behaviour and workload, why not try calming cookies before you ride. They're produced by hand in the UK using a powerful combination of herbs and amino acids, they don't sedate or effect your horse's gait, and work by taking the edge off but not the sparkle. They're also competition safe and contain no prohibited substances.
You could also try adding NAF's natural calmer, Magic, to your horse's feed to support concentration and learning, also available in liquid form.
"Our horse is spooky and nervous, I saw Calming Cookies and decided to try them. Wow, what amazing results. Yesterday, my daughter even had a jumping lesson on Boy which I know would not have been possible without Calming Cookies!"
Clair Louise Bateman Calming Cookies fan
4) Adjust how and when you ride.
It might be worth trying to ride your horse at different times of the day to see if they're spookier in the morning or afternoon. It might be that your horse will benefit from being turned out in the morning and ridden in the afternoon to get rid of some excess energy in the field before you get in the saddle. And instead of walking at the start of your schooling session, follow Tom's advice and up the gears sooner rather than later. "With the younger ones especially, I'll go into canter quite early in the session to help them warm up and get rid of some excess energy before I ask them for more focused work"
5) Try a soundproof fly veil
A soundproof fly veil can help prevent noise distractions when you're working your horse in the arena or out hacking and the Protechmasta Fly Veil has foam built into the ear covers to help soften sounds and prevent distraction encouraging a calmer more focused horse.
"The Protechmasta ears definitely help my mare to relax and focus on her work, I can even enjoy hacking her out now as she is so chilled in them!"
Jennifer T, Protechmasta fan