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Horses Who Spook For
No Apparent Reason

She writes...

Hi Mr. Walker,

I've read the section on your website about dealing with a horse being spooky with specific objects, but how about when a horse spooks for no apparent reason? I have an 11-yr. old Saddlebred mare who spooks at very little or sometimes nothing at all that I can see! She does more than just flinch or mildly shy, too. Mostly, she either takes a big leap sideways of spins around, but she also has been known to bolt, though rarely has that happened. It often seems that she picks certain spots where she tenses up, and really looks for things to get scared about, but not always. Sometimes it just sort of happens. We'll be going along just fine, and then WHAM! Off she goes!

Aside from not feeling particularly safe when she's like that, it's very distracting for both of us, especially since once she's picked a spot to be silly about, she tends to want to do it again next time we pass that spot. I've done a lot of stuff like exposing her to all sorts of spooky things that rattle and flap and spin, etc., and I've done some things like Pat Parelli's seven games to get her to focus on me, and we have made some progress. But it's just one of those aggravating things that I can't seem to get her completely past, and it's not helping my training, as every time she even gets semi spooked, she raises her head and inverts, so she uses her muscles all wrong.

I think trust is part of the issue, but I'm not sure it's all of it. She is better when I'm ground working her, either longing or ground- driving, than when I'm riding. Oddly enough, she's worse at home than she is on the rare occasions that I've taken her to shows,etc. Then, she looks, but rarely does she actually really go off. It's as if she looks for things to be even slightly out of place, and when they are, she spooks. She seems to me to just react, and often react out of proportion. I've ridden horses before that maybe mildly spooked at something, but once they took another look, they got over it and went on just fine.

I know from your website that you've often found pain to be part if not all of the problem. We don't have an equine dentist in this area that I'm aware of , but for what it's worth, my vet does check her teeth at least once a year. She has had tooth problems that caused bitting problems in the past. She has been checked and adjusted by an equine chiropractor a couple of times; the most recent was last Aug. She didn't find anything significantly wrong either time, just what she said was probably normal wear and tear.

Am I part of her problem? Probably. Once she's decided that there's bound to be a monster here or there, I know I'm probably tensing up, not matter how much I tell myself that it's the wrong thing to do. Or else, and worse, I scold her. Either way, I guess I just confirm her suspicions that there is something to be afraid of!

She is very herd-bound, and there is a respect issue here, too. She'll often follow me into the barn with no halter or lead, and frequently she'll even come when called. But a lot of the time she won't stand still in the cross-tie, as she's constantly trying to see where her buddies are. And she sometimes wants to barge ahead of me instead of letting me lead her. It's as if she's trying to push me away with her shoulder. I'm hoping maybe the "bonder" will help with that problem!

I'm sorry to be so long-winded, and I know you're wondering why I don't just sell her and buy a horse I can really enjoy. I just can't do it. I can't bear to think of anything bad happening to her, and she in some ways is a really neat little horse, with a lot of potential. She won't ever be a grand prix dressage horse, but she can develop past this! I apologize again for this long e-mail, but you just never know which piece of info will make somebody say "Aha! so that's what the problem is!" I certainly understand if you don't have time to reply, and thanks for "listening" regardless!

Hmmm, what you describe sounds almost like a severe cervical subluxation. I'd be willing to bet it's at the Atlas/axis area. However since you mentioned dressage, I'd also look at C3 & C4, but I really feel it's at the poll. (Dressage head carriage shapes the neck differently than just plain neck reining or noodling around.)

I'd have the horse examined by an equine chiropractor. I know you said you already have had her looked at by one and nothing definitive was found. Chiropractors are like any other practitioners and some of them are mediocre at best. I'm so convinced what you describe has a physical cause it isn't funny. I'd get a second, even third opinion. Click here for an equine chiro near you.

For horses who are all around spooky or for those who haven't been de-spooked at all I recommend my despooking video where I show how to teach a horse to blame everything that happens on you and thus is nothing to worry about. This horse is consistently inconsistent which steers me into the physical. Click here to check out my de-spooking video.

The respect and herd (buddy) sour problems can be dealt with. Check out Gaining The Respect Of Disrespectful Horses and Focusing The Unfocused Horse aka Dealing With The Buddy Sour Horse

My job is not to tell you you should sell your horse and get another. My job is to help the two of you to get along the best you possibly can.

If you still come up blank, get back to me.

Click here to check out my very reasonably priced DVD inventory covering many of the subjects featured on my site's pages in greater depth.

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