My show horse seems afraid of everything when I ride him. If I don't keep him 110-percent concentrated, the first thing he hears or sees causes him to panic, jumping to the side and stopping. I have fallen off of him twice because of this, and almost fallen off MANY times.
I don't think it has anything to do with experience, because he is 13 years old, has been trained and works well if worked properly. I want to be able to ride him without having to worry constantly about something spooking him. Is there anything I can do to make him less fearful?
Ellie, we first need to figure out if he is truly fearful of particular stimuli, or if he has almost fallen into a “habit” of becoming hyper-aroused when you are on his back. Observe his behavior when he is not being ridden. Does he spook in the pasture? In his stall? How does he respond to sudden sounds in those situations? Often, horses become conditioned to be fearful when a rider is on their back.
Assuming that he has learned to associate being ridden as an arousing situation, we need to train his body to no longer react with a fear response when you get on his back:
- First, I would tack and untack him often, helping to desensitize him to the cues leading up to being ridden.
- Next, be sure to avoid doing things that are painful or uncomfortable for him.
- Finally, choose something that he loves, maybe a food reward he enjoys, and play some games with him, while training for your next event as well. If you are working on an extended trot, for example, have him move forward and toward a place where you have left a treat for him. Have him approach and eat the treatthen it is off to the next target.