How to control your own level of tension when your horse spooks

One of our online members asked me what she should do when her horse is spooking and she feels that she is reacting in her body to when her horse spooks.

If you have a horse that’s a little bit nervous or that’s prone to spooking, your anticipation to that spook is creating tension in your body. It’s a natural reaction, but it will definitely create tension and anticipation in your horse’s body as well.

So what can you do to prevent that?

You can try to create a simulation of the situation where you think of your horse spooking and then going through the steps of what you would do in that situation.

You can do that as follows. The next time you’re riding your horse in the arena, pretend there is a scary corner and ride your horse towards it.

When you arrive there, and even though your horse hasn’t spooked, just think: ‘My horse has spooked’ and start going through the steps (see module 3 of the online program) of creating a relaxed posture and therefore a relaxed mindset.

Your body will then go into the action phase where you go through the motions of what you might do in that situation. In that way you’re taking positive action in knowing what it is you have to do.

When you’re doing this simulation, you’re preparing yourself and creating in your mind the knowledge of what action you need to take in that moment.

It’s like a fake fire alarm. Everybody does a drill and when they hear the alarm, they know that they have to go outside the building towards the meeting place.

Now you can feel what it’s like to gain control of the situation. So unconsciously you start to feel confident that you know what you have to do the next time your horse spooks.

Secondly, you have to tell yourself that you’re not going into this action plan unless there really is a fire.

I understand you want to be prepared, but don’t enter the building and practice the drill every time. Just wait until there actually is a moment where it requires you to take action.

Therefore you’re not preempting the expectation that the horse is going to spook. You have an action plan and now you’re just going to focus on your riding and what you’re doing.

That’s relieving that tension in you and giving you purpose and knowledge of knowing what you need to do when there actually is an emergency.

It takes away that anticipation of trying to prevent it. Because when you know what to do, you no longer have to prevent it.

To learn more about the TRT method, click here to receive my free training video in which I briefly explain the three steps of the TRT method.

To learn more about the online program, click here.

‘My horse explodes all of a sudden.’ Are you sure? [video]

I often get the question what to do when a horse all of a sudden ‘explodes’. Before the explosion it seemed as if everything was under control, but then you get a burst of tension that you didn’t expect and it felt like it came out of nothing.

It’s a very unpleasant situation, because how can you prepare yourself and your horse for a situation that you don’t feel coming?

Protection through a state of readiness
Even though it seems as if your horse explodes out of nothing and has gone from a pressure level of 2 to 10 in a split second, there’s often something else going on. Very often, the pressure has been slowly building up in your horse through his posture.

Tension builds up in the body as a means of protecting himself. A tension or posture gives a heightened state of alertness or readiness to flee. When the pressure or threat in the environment becomes higher than the horse coping level, it’s then that the explosion comes.

Some horses can become almost comfortable in this heightened state or readiness in their body through a feeling that they are protecting themselves to a certain level and therefore seem relaxed and normal while under there’s a pressure level barrier.

Often the biggest contributor to this pressure barrier being created is desensitizing where the horse becomes desensitive or numb, ignoring the pressure in his surroundings up to the level he was desensitized to or gotten used to. Everything will be fine until the pressure in the environment passes that level.

It can be difficult to notice that building up of pressure when riding. Because it’s not easy to ask all the right questions in a safe position from the saddle, we go to the groundwork. On the ground you can see more clearly all the signs from the horse.

If he is acknowledging all the questions being asked of him and making good, positive decisions in the reactions in his body. Or if he is mentally going to another place in the back of his mind, ignoring or blocking out the pressures in his surrounding.

Staying present
As soon as I start to present the horse with an object to begin to ask a question I want to see that the horse is present and gives an answer even if it’s the wrong one. At least then I can continue teaching him what is right and what is wrong. What we don’t want to see is the horse standing like a statue, staring into space hoping that if he ignores the pressure that it will go away.

You can see this happening in the video below, filmed at a demonstration I gave recently. The problem with this horse is that he’s afraid of other horses and is used to blocking out the pressures in his environment to being able to cope.

It’s of importance that a horse stays present and that he doesn’t shut down and ignores the situation. I often find that the longer a horse shuts down, the more intensive the response will be once he can’t ignore it any longer.

You want a horse to be looking for the right answer and looking for the right way to handle the situation. It’s alright when it’s not the right answer straight away. It’s alright if a horse first tries to move away from the pressure. You then have the opportunity to tell him that’s not the right answer and teach your horse what a better response would be.

You don’t want it to be like someone who’s in the classroom thinking to himself: ‘don’t pick me, don’t pick me. When this question gets any harder, I’ll run out of the classroom!’ I often say that not giving an answer is not the right answer.

Find that switch
When you have a horse that explodes all of a sudden, try finding a way that you build up the pressure in such a way that he has to give a reaction, but not too much of a reaction that he runs off. So carefully look how much pressure you should give for him not to be able to ignore it any longer, but also not that it becomes too overwhelming and that you get the explosion.

With the TRT method I first teach a horse how to relax himself in the body giving him good body awareness and how he can find that relaxed place in his physical state. Then I start asking questions to the horse of how he would respond to each individual pressure he will face in our human environment. I’m teaching him the right physical action in his body that gives him the ability to control himself which gives him an empowering feeling of stability and control in his mind.

Even though you might only have the problem while riding, try fixing the problem first on the ground. You might say: ‘well, he doesn’t explode on the ground. I can wave a flag all day and nothing happens.’ Make sure you’re then applying the right type of pressure for that horse and the right amount of pressure to try and encourage active participation in the horse.

It has no use to wave a flag all day and not get a response. Get a different tool or use it in a different way so that you find that pressure level that creates the switch in his body. Invite your horse to go from not wanting to give an answer to giving the wrong answer. You can then show him what the right answer looks like.

Good luck!

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Want to learn the TRT method step by step? Click here to learn more about my online program.

3 mistakes we make when there’s a scary corner

The other day someone came up to me and asked for advice about her horse spooking in one particular corner of the arena. It didn’t happen every day, but most of the times riding past the corner involved increased tension.

You can imagine that when you have this problem for a while, not only your horse, but you also start to feel more nervous and alert when riding in that particular corner.

That’s basically an automatic response in your body for survival. If your body isn’t in a state of alertness, you won’t be able to respond quickly when your horse spooks and you will be left behind in the sand. And of course, that’s not something we want to happen.

What we would like to happen instead, is that we don’t have to worry anymore about that scary corner. That we can just walk past the corner with a loose rein and be totally relaxed. That we can focus on actually training our horse instead of just getting past all the scary things and trying to reduce the stress level and the tension in our horse’s body.

The good news is that this is possible for every horse. In all the years of training horses, I’ve never encountered a horse that didn’t learn to get relaxed and feel more confident. However, some horses do need more training and will need more reinforcement of their new improved behavior than other horses.


“In all the years of training horses, I’ve never encountered a horse that didn’t learn to get relaxed and feel more confident.”


Even though you need to apply an extensive training program to really solve a problem like this, I can explain my approach and give three quick tips on what you want to prevent from doing when there’s a scary corner.

scary-corner

Scary corner becomes the nicest place to be
First of all, I don’t perceive my horse as being stubborn or unwilling when he doesn’t want to go past a certain area or object. For your horse, that scary corner can be life-threatening and we shouldn’t punish him for relying on his natural instinct for survival.

What I try to accomplish is that the scary corner becomes the nicest place to be and actually becomes the place where your horse gets the rest. So when you’re training your horse, away from the scary corner becomes the place where your horse has to work and once you approach the scary corner, you release the pressure and give him the reward. Once past the scary corner, you increase the level of training again.

Very quickly, your horse will understand that being in the scary corner isn’t that bad anymore. It’s the place where he will feel most comfortable. When you’re very consistent in this approach, you’ll soon notice a change in your horse’s behavior. You may even notice that your horse wants to stay in the scary corner as opposed to running away from it.

The mistakes we make
When you take this approach, you will realize that we often do exactly the opposite. We often increase the level of training in that specific area to distract our horse and force our horse to go into the corner. I do have to admit that this can work for some horses. Some horses need just a little bit of encouragement and they will be fine once they have gone past it a few times.

However, this approach often doesn’t work with more sensitive horses. So, if a problem with a certain scary corner or object keeps coming back, you know that forcing your horse will not help and perhaps make it even worse.

You’re basically adding pressure to a situation where he already feels a lot of pressure. Your horse’s association with the corner becomes only worse, because not only is it life-threatening, as a rider you also add pressure with your leg and perhaps also with the rein.

Secondly, we can also give our horse the wrong signal when we badly time our aids. Imagine that you walk up to the scary corner, or something else that your horse is afraid of, and you feel that your horse gets more uncomfortable and tense. He starts to slow down and hesitates to go forward. Just as he wants to take a small step forward, you give the leg aid to convince your horse a bit more. To give him that extra push to go forward.

Big mistake! You just ‘punished’ your horse for giving the right response. He stepped forward and you gave pressure, while you should have released pressure and not do anything at all.

A third approach we often take, is not letting our horse see the scary corner by bending his neck to one side or taking your horse shoulder-in. In my opinion, this is just a temporary fix and doesn’t solve the underlying problem. Often, the next time your horse sees the corner again, he will spook again.


“Understand that some things in our human environment can seem life-threatening to our horse.”


It’s of importance that we teach our horse how to deal with the pressures he will encounter. Understand that some things in our human environment can seem life-threatening to our horse. Try to change your horse’s behavior in a positive way and don’t punish him for relying on his natural instinct of flight. If we haven’t taught our horse there’s another, better way to respond, we don’t leave him with any other choice than to rely on his natural instinct.

 

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