Unpredictable– Struggling to Trust My Horse!

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  • liz_mulroney Original Poster
    Topics Started: 1Replies Posted: 1

    Hey everyone. I have a beautiful 6 year old OTTB– My real problem is that I don’t trust him under saddle. He is a very handsome horse and does some great work at the walk and trot, albeit with a TON of leg to get any kind of tempo. Everyone says “Wow, he’s so GOOD for an OTTB” and I always reply, “Yes, until he’s NOT!” Every once in a while– not every ride, but every once in a while– he bolts, spooks spectacularly (ducks and bolts), or takes off “bucking” (it’s not a real buck– see below). I’m not scared of WHAT he’s doing, but about the unpredictability of it– we could be going along great, he’s ignoring things other horses are spooking at, and then all of a sudden he’s off!

    We’ve been jumping little baby jumps, mostly trotting in, a few small two stride combinations. He’s a talented jumper, and loves it. BUT, every once in a while– like, every other ride– we’ll have been trotting over fences for a while, and then all of a sudden BOOM! he takes off “bucking” (in air quotes because I don’t think he can actually buck– he drops his head and kicks his back legs to the side). He’s usually great when I hack him out on the cross country course; I can have him in a long low stretchy trot in an open field and he’s great! But them, on the way in to the barn at the walk, he’ll spook and take off.

    So, the advice I’m looking for: How do I get over the nerves that he could take off at any time? 95% of the time, he’s lovely and wonderful. It’s the 5% that scares me and has me tense. Is this just teenage horse having some high-jinks? Any exercises I can be doing with him?

    Sidenote: He’s being treated for ulcers, is on several supplements to support gastric health, teeth look great, saddle fit has been a saga but we’re working on it. . . so, health seems to be taken care of πŸ™‚ I ride him in a very simple copper roller D-ring.

    Joe-Joe Joe-Joe
    Topics Started: 17Replies Posted: 1205

    You both need to relax, and it may be harder for you than for him (I struggle with this issue myself). He is still very young, and may just want to leap for fun at times, but this is a very bad thing if you are sitting on him. Horses know if you are nervous, and since you are the herd leader, they assume that there is danger somewhere, which makes them worse. That then makes you more nervous, and so it goes on and on. Is there someone you trust who could work with you both?

    It is never the horse's fault

    Topics Started: 0Replies Posted: 1

    I had an OTTB, 7 years old, he was extremely unpredictable! A lot of the things you are describing, random bucking (the whole length of a dressage arena!) and at times rearing. He never came up lame but after taking him to the vet it was discovered that he had arthritis which was probably making him uncomfortable leading to the unacceptable behavior.

    I now have a Dutch Warmblood mare, when I first got her she was extremely spooky and I had a horrible time trusting her. At one point I was too nervous to even ride her. Eventually I started riding with a new trainer who told me to just ride my horse! I stopped worrying about what was going to happen next and started focusing on keeping her mind busy. Over time we have both learned to trust each other and 8 years later we are a solid pair with much less spooking. My suggestion is find a good trainer who can help give you both confidence and like the person said above, relax πŸ™‚ This is a tough situation but with a lot of hard work you can get through it.

    Lynn A
    Topics Started: 0Replies Posted: 2

    Liz, congratulations on working WITH your horse and not blaming him! It sounds like he is TRYING to be good for you, but overwhelmed by discomfort or too much energy. I have several suggestions. First consider his lifestyle. Grain, stall time, and time without forage are all risk factors for ulcers and behavior problems. Maximize turnout, ideally with calm companion(s). Minimize grain except to maintain weight; get a vitamin supplement instead. Free choice hay if possible.
    Second, choose an instructor/trainer who helps you help your horse by focusing on your balance and communication. Your boy is probably very sensitive, so he will appreciate gentle precision. Being young and an OTTB, he may also be struggling with balance which can cause bucking and spooking. Too much focus on performance too soon can stress you both; focus on balance and communication will automatically improve performance. Finally, the more he trusts you, the better he’ll listen to you when he’s anxious. It sounds like you already have a good relationship with him; keep building on that.

    Topics Started: 0Replies Posted: 2

    I am a firm believer in Clinton Andersons one rein stop method. You do this over and over until it becomes second nature. And then you of course use it when needed. My horse is also spooky, spin and bolt is what she does. It’s gotten to where when I go to do the one rein stop, she stops and brings her head around as soon as I lift a rein. It’s saved my butt on several occasions, and she rarely spooks anymore. It’s just too much trouble for her to stop and flex side to side. It REALLY has worked for me.

    Topics Started: 0Replies Posted: 1

    I had a big TB mare that did similar things at that age – spooking, bolting and bucking so huge I would get launched through the air. It was terrifying! I found that when I immediately turned her in a small circle using one rein during a bolt or buck instead of pulling on both reins she gave up quickly. After only a few times of turning her in a tight circle she gave up on the spooking, bolting and bucking cycle. I currently have a WB mare who was very spooky as a 5-6 year old. It is still a work in progress, but I am finding that if I am not the leader of our pack, she will be and she will decide to spook. To be a good leader I have to ride in black and white – no wishy washy signals or responses. I have to be firm and fair. I also have to stay relaxed and not grip with my legs, tighten my seat, or have tension in my arms and shoulders. She feels the tension immediately and spooks. Also, I find that if I lean back behind the motion when we are going past a monster, she either doesn’t spook or it is mild. I think leaning back puts my seat in a driving position and also makes me sit very deep. If I tip forward it is just asking her to spook! Lastly, I am finding that as she is getting better trained she is not blowing through my aids to spook as much. She was the worst as a 5-6 year old when she was challenging my authority and trying different ways to change the subject and get out of work. She is 9 now and is really fun, so don’t give up on your horse. They do grow up eventually!

    PS – I agree with Lynn A regarding turnout, feed, and a good trainer. All will help with the issue.

    Good luck!

    Topics Started: 1Replies Posted: 10

    There are many good ideas here and I myself work with youngsters but a little younger than yours. The first step (I use) to breaking a horse is long reins. It sounds like you have worked with a lounge line (just the single long rope) but long reins can go through the stirrups if you have the saddle on or through rings on girth that goes around the horse (I’m not sure the technical term). Just do exercises both directions and even over SMALL jumps. You can attach them to either a halter or for maximum control (and my personal preference) to your riding bridle without the reins or make sure they will not interfere with your cues. If you are confused by my explanation, you can check out a youtube video or two (may sound bad but with simple long reins it is possible to see how to do it on a video). You may also know about this method and use it but just trying to help. one last thing (you have probably done this too) make sure its not something specific or a certain area only that he does this some OTTB will have had not such a great home and weird things will spook them). Hope something we all have said helps. πŸ™‚

    Topics Started: 0Replies Posted: 5

    I’ve worked with some buck and bolters πŸ™‚ three things that always help are: groundwork,one reign stops, and a good gallop. For ground work my favorite is free lounging not necessarily round penning but giving them time to play and buck before you get on. It also gives you time to establish communication in a way that tension cannot cary from your body to his. I guess what it could be called is basic liberty work. The one reign stops are more for me than the horse. It gives me confidence that I have established that “yes I can stop this horse any time I want to”. You do have to be careful of the footing though. Wet grass, mud, or any slanted surface combined with fast sharp turns can bring a horse down. On good footing its the best fastest way to get get your point across. On less ideal footing turning on a bigger circle spiraling inward will bring you safely to a stop. Really what this does is changes the horses balance. With a very sharp fast turn you actually put the horse off balance and they don’t like that. After a few times of spooking, bucking, bolting, or what have you and immediately being put off balance they decide that that isn’t what they want to do. The bigger circle does a similar thing but slowly so it gradually shifts their balance back and slows them down. This works especially well with an ottb because Whoa is not introduced into their vocabulary in early training and to some of them pressure on the reins can actually mean faster. So having the aid come from one reign is completely new and over time you can add more supporting outside reign and develop a really nice downward transition. Once you have these two down the good gallop is just plain and simple fun for both of you. A thoroughbred is an athlete through and through and they love to go, if you can find a nice long uphill all the better. I try to take my ottb mare out and let her run for the 3-5 miles uphill depending on how far we go that day πŸ™‚ This worked for me with my older horse of six years. The first year I was afraid to trail ride because she would take off. Now I trust her more than any being on the planet. I find that the challenging horses are always the most rewarding. I hope these suggestions help and that you are able to have much success.

    Topics Started: 0Replies Posted: 11

    It sounds like your horse is bored and doesn’t trust you. A spooky horse will be spooky no matter what, but you can affect what he does when he spooks.
    When you work, make sure you keep his focus 100% of the time. Incorporate lots of circles and transitions into your work so he never knows what is coming next. As a result, he will always be listening for your next cue.
    You mentioned that he takes a lot of leg to get going. I had a mare that was very similar and just as spooky. What worked for me was a big pair of Spurs and keeping her busy, especially when I was worried about a spook. You may need to work on getting your horse’s respect for your leg a little more. You can teach him to respond to a light request by asking gently and then reprimanding quickly if he does not respond. However, you need to make sure you are always completely clear and consistent in your aids. Your horse is young enough that he will learn something extremely quickly which means that if you let him do something wrong once he will think that is ok. He may have learned that by spooking he can get out of work. The truck is to never be complacent. Give him the benefit of the doubt but always be ready. Then when he spooks, do your best to ignore it and continue working. Try not to acknowledge spooking so he can’t get out of work by being scared. And you will become a constant reassuring presence so when he is nervous, you can easily and quickly reassure him.

    AlmosFrosted61 AlmosFrosted61
    Topics Started: 1Replies Posted: 13

    My baby girl was a very spooky horse. She is a High thoroughbred content QH. I have fallen off of her so many times that I have lost count, and I still have trouble trusting her since she gave me a concussion a year ago.

    We have incorporated a few things since then. Lunging before I ride helps her get the bucks out, and if I can’t do that, I do in hand work to get her mind in the right place. In my experience, getting her mind in the right place is much more important than getting her tired. I don’t know about your horse, but I would suggest walk and trot lungework, focusing on stretching and getting a rhythm. The way I tell if Frosty is ready to be ridden is if she stops looking around and doesn’t give me the “Oh my, there are dragons!” Look. Then I stop the lunging, reward her, and tack up. But regardless, I Always try to get her mind in the right place.

    Just my experience. It may or may not help with your horse. I hope I could be of some help.

    Dressage is a dance, where horse and rider speak with silence, Where force is not necessary, and where the horse trusts his rider completely, even in the middle of the battlefield.
    -Amber Blyledge, 2016

    Topics Started: 0Replies Posted: 1

    I am a firm believer in Clinton Andersons unleashed style one-stop. You can do this over and over again until it becomes second nature. Then use the course when needed. My horse is also a neurotoxin, spin and bolt is what you do. Must be where when I go to do the leg unleashed one, she stops and brings her head around and quickly raise unleashed. It’s saved my butt on several occasions, and they rarely Ghost anymore. It’s just too much trouble for her to stop and flexible side-by-side. It really worked for me.

    Do Not Try *Revived Youth* SHOCKED SIDE EFFECTS EXPOSED!

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