But for me there is a big difference between spooking and napping. In this article I shall be explaining the difference and the reasons why some horses feel the need to do either! I’m then going to give you some tips that you can use to try and overcome these common problems.
Spooking – For me spooking is when your horse is genuinely scared by something: a noise, an object or a sudden movement. They may react by jumping, refusing to go forward, planting their feet, spinning round or running.
Napping on the other hand is when your horse refuses or is reluctant to move in the direction that you want to go. The first sign of napping is that you will have to keep nudging your horse in order to maintain forward momentum. They may also start to look at things more often, sometimes planting their feet, running backwards or spinning away.
So is your horse spooking or napping? Look at their ears and you will know!
You can tell the difference between a genuine spook and evasive napping by their ears; if they are spooking, their ears will be pointing forwards at the scary object and you need to be sympathetic with them. Conversely, a napping horse will generally have their ears pointing backwards and you may need to be more assertive in your riding.
Spooking – how can we help them overcome their fears.
Spooky horses are generally oversensitive and can lack trust in you and their environment. They also tend not to be ‘forward thinking’, so that if they come across something they are unsure of, their first instinct is for flight rather than to listen to your aids to move forwards. If you find yourself in this situation, you need to do as little as possible, but enough to stop him from spinning or running. If he does go to turn, you can use a direct rein to stop him but when he is facing the object, leave him alone. At this point you just want him to face the object. It must be his decision to stop moving around and face the object, not because you are holding them there. If you tense up and grab hold of the reins or start kicking him in the ribs, you will only add to his highly adrenalized state and make him more panicked.
Once your horse has settled a little and is facing the object, only then can you ask for a step forward. This may make him nervous, but it is important that once you have asked for forward momentum make sure you get it, otherwise your horse will learn to ignore your leg and will plant or spin whenever he gets worried or unsure. Remember, baby steps in the right direction are progress, so be patient and reward each step…it will take as long as it takes at this stage, so forget that you were going to do a certain route or that you need to be back in 10 minutes! Act like you have all day and if all you do on this ride is address the spooking problem then you have done a good job and you will no doubt have a better hack out next time.
When you are facing the object and asking for the forward step, you need to do as little as possible or as much as necessary to achieve the desired result. I find that using rapid tapping with my leg or a crop to be the most effective after the initial squeeze with my leg, as opposed to a thumping kick. Once he does step forward, stop asking immediately, so that he understands that he has done the right thing and reward him with a stoke and reassurance. Allowing him to relax after each step forward, this will help him to put his trust in you and in time you will be able to get him to walk past the object.
Horses need time to reflect on what just happened and the rest after each step gives them this time. They learn more in this rest period than in the stepping forwards, so give them time. When he does get near the object and if he goes to rush past, don’t grab hold of both reins – he has done what you have asked and is passing the object, yes it’s a little scary as they surge past but try not to catch them in the month and go with them by sitting deep and plugging in. If the situation allows, you can repeat the exercise several times until your horse is walking calmly past the object. Again remember that if this is all you do today you have done a good job!
Alternatively, your horse may try to put his head down and sniff the object. It is important to allow him to do this as it shows that he is starting to become curious and wants to investigate where he is going. Again it can be a little scary to just drop your reins and let them have their head, so inch the reins out and sit deeply but be as relaxed as you can be. Sometimes by you simply giving a sigh can help to relax your horse and help him to breathe too.
Successfully getting your horse past one spooking object doesn’t mean that he will walk sensibly past everything, but it will help him to learn that he needs to trust you and be willing to negotiate things that you ask him too.
For spooking horses in your ridden work, it is important to work on the aids to go forward. In an enclosed area you can follow the same procedure as outlined above and introduce different objects. Stay calm, consistent and decisive (CCD) and your horse will put more and more trust in you because he has learnt to overcome his fears through listening to your aids, and in time you should be able to enjoy your hacks again. See my videos on spooking on the Your Horsemanship site for help with this.
Watch my video on Spooking and let me know what you think in my forum on www.yourhorsemanship.com, I’m in there most days!
Watch Jason’s video HERE
Napping… next month I’ll talk to you about napping and I have a video you can watch on this also.
Bye for now,