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Have you ever worked with a nervous horse that flinched, spooked, and startled at every movement? They feel consistently tense and uptight, and even just moving normally around them can seem to set them off.

Think of the last time you were around one of these nervous horses. Did it put you on edge too? Did you move slowly and carefully so as not to set them off?

In today’s video, I want to tell you the story of a horse named Marlene. I have spent the last few months working with Marlene, and she taught me a valuable lesson… that being careful and quiet is not always the most helpful for a nervous horse.

Watch the video below and then leave a comment and tell me about a nervous horse you worked with.

See you in the comments!

Callie

p.s. Keep in mind there are many reasons a horse may be acting nervous or anxious – it’s not just personality. Here are a few additional resources:

How Your Horse’s Movement Affects His Behavior

Should You “move his feet?”

What Causes Anxiety in Horses

Helping the Spooky Horse – Four Factors to Consider



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Comments

69 Responses

  1. Hi, I’m in Uruguay, gaucho land, and you will never see them pander to a nervous horse like we do. Positive body language but consistent is what I have observed by the horse people here. The animals seem to respond well.

  2. Absolutely agree! I’m 76 have ridden since I was 15 have learnt more about horse behaviour & correct handling in last 20 years I wish I had known way earlier!
    I acquired an unbroken 13.2 riding pony from a friend in November last year. She’s cute clever & very reactive. So I was a bit nervous too & tip toed around her talking nicely. She was started under saddle by a friend who is a Parelli trainer. She remained reactive came home & I started riding her. (I’m a small lady!)
    We are making progress but as I gained confidence I reduced my tip toeing & we both benefited. After listening to your blog I realise tip toeing was a mistake but it was both what I thought was correct & my own worry. One is not as brave as one was at 15!
    She is though still nervous, brave. Riding out with a friend first time she was so amazing taking the lead going thru muddy slushy water crossings & once oh horror meeting kids on motor bikes! It helps she lives on a farm with tractors & a work bike.
    So she’s a mix of nervousness & energy & real courage. My granddaughter has jumped her & she has a nice jump too! I’m very proud of us. She can be challenging rather than just nervous & I have to be firm. Separation anxiety is a factor as she runs with my Arab gelding & is very dependent on him.
    Anyway this is rather long so I will finish. Thank you Jane & Babycham

  3. My horse senses incongruence when I work with him. If I feel/think differently inside from the way I work with him on the outside he senses that. The example with the mustang–he may have sensed you were holding back and questioned you or been distrustful; when you acted normally your behavior was more congruent. This has increased my horse’s confidence in my leadership I think.

    1. Hi Jackie, interesting points you brought up here! I wanted to share a couple of resources to give you a different way to think through things 🙂 First, check out this video on whether or not horses are mirrors of our emotions then head over to watch this video on leadership in horse training.

  4. Hi Callie,
    what great advice, I definitely tip toe around my horse who startles. I will now be assertive and see what happens! I was thinking he was reading my nervousness and reacting to it.
    Hope you’re well.
    Sally Wilson (Costa Rica 2020)

  5. Hi Callie, I have a horse come to me a few years ago. He was very untrusting of anyone & very hard to catch. I have worked with him along the basis of your video & I can now walk up to him anywhere in the paddock & pat or catch him with no problems. He still sees fairies in the bushes but now stands & looks.
    I have been following your site for a couple of years now.
    Great video very helpful & interesting.
    Thanks heaps
    Paula

  6. I havent had the opportunity to train a nervous horse, mine is very easy going but have worked with a lot of other animals in mostly care situations ( rescues,) I agree with your approach. I think it’s largely due to the weird energy you mentioned. I think animals sense when we aren’t being our real selves. The goal is to build trust. How do you trust someone you don’t know? And how can a horse learn ” normal” if they can’t see it? I think quiet observation, listening, is a good way to begin. But being genuine will feel right to both the animal and trainor and help get better and more consistent results.

    I have learned so much from your videos! Thank you!

    1. Hi Christine, you hit the nail on the head with quiet observation and listening. That is one thing we cover in our Pure Liberty Course in order to build that bond with your horse you have to take the time to be in his world – since we spend most of our time together in ours 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  7. Hi Callie,
    Totally agree with you on this. I have a rescue mare from the high country and found the initial quietness was good but then had to act normally around her as I did with my other two. She is progressing well even to the stage of coping better with noisy vehicles on a nearby road and planes from a local aerodrome. Still nervous of helicopters though when they fly lower, but if she is with me she only spooks to the end of the lead and stops. Just have to talk to her and touch her reassuringly on these occasions. As soon as she turns her head to me, she softens and stop shaking.
    Thanks for your videos,
    Cheers Fiona

  8. When I got my horse, he was like this. Startled at almost everything. I started following a couple different trainers online, and learned this step too. I started to act more normal around him, and make sure he kept his attention on me. So now, even when he spooks or startles, I make sure to get his attention back on me. If we’re lunging, I’ll change his direction a few times so his has to focus on me and what I’m asking. If I’m riding, I’ll do some circles, and serpentines, just to get his attention back on me. He’s too busy focusing on what I’m asking him to be overly worried about the things around him. I make sure I am his focus, and his leader, and it has worked wonders on him. Thanks for your awesome video!

  9. I adopted a 14yr mare that had been at 2 different rescues. She was quite nervous, almost spooky. I have started her on basic ground maneuvers using my normal voice. She is starting to respond quite well, except, she does not behave if I use my lunge stick. If I work with her only with a rope, she does much better. Is this ok?

    1. Hi Lucia, for safety purposes it is safer to carry a whip when lunging. Have you tried incorporating the whip into your ground work?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  10. I have a twenty year old gelding I’ve had all his life. He’s always had different levels of spookiness, but lately it seems to have gotten worse. I have been working on Pure Liberty with him and he really responds to it well, but I just got started and I don’t have the technique down yet. When I walk him through a certain area on our path between the barn and the arena, he jumps and tries to run like something is chasing him even though nothing is there. My problem is, over the last few years, I have developed fear that has kept me from riding. I have ridden horses all my life (40 years) but I can’t seem to shake the fear. I know this plays into his reactions. I don’t know how to calm down after, let alone ignore, these big spooks and startles. I did notice after I got more assertive with him and asked him to follow me without being so timid with my request, he really responded and calmed right down. I had moved away from the area where the incident happened by this time though. I really want to get back to the way it was with him before this fear took over. Any additional thoughts/help would be appreciated. This video was helpful.

    1. Hi Nancy, that is excellent you are using Pure Liberty to build your bond – that is a great step in the right direction! I would also love for you to check out our free resource from our Calm and Confident Rider program to help with fear and anxiety you are feeling in the saddle, you can click here to signup 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  11. When my husband and I first married he was in the business of breeding Thoroughbreds for racing. My experience with horses had been 15 years earlier and with Quarter Horses. I quickly learned that T-breds were considered to be very sensitive and nervous and one needed to be quiet and slow-moving. After several years, and exposure to some different training methods, I starting treating them like I treated my personal riding horses: pretty matter-of-factly. The difference in their behavior and responses were pretty immediate and VERY clear. We no longer had horses coming out of stalls like whirling dervishes, nor horses coming into the barn on their back legs!

    1. Cindy, it is amazing what some different handling can do for horses! Even if they are naturally hotter or more reactive breeds we don’t have to handle them any differently, even if we have a higher sense of awareness to keep ourselves safe.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  12. My friend’s horse was like this on the trails. My horse was a like this when I got her. Somebody told me if I try to distract her as I ride by something that might be scary that I am teaching her to be afraid if it. So I started taking her directly up to new objects and letting her explore them at her own pace. I started with safe and predictable things. I added the phrase, “You’re fine, you got this!” Eventually she learned to trust me that it was ok to check this new thing out. Now she will investigate everything she sees and even if there is something suddenly loud or a quick movement with it, she may hop aside and plant on all 4 legs, but she’ll protect me in the process and waits for me to give the clue that it’s ok to check it out. She will also listen when I turn her away or back her up if it is not safe. My girlfriend has now been doing this with her horse and what a difference we have seen. It’s actually fun now to introduce them to new things and see what they do as they investigate.

    1. Shanna-
      I love what you are doing with your horse. It reminds me of a time when I boarded Zara at the county fairgrounds. On garbage day, there were lots of those black trash cans lined up along the road between the barns and the riding arenas. Zara, being a spookster, would look at those and stop cold in her tracks. I worked for about 2 hours, first ground work, then riding. I allowed her to sniff them and voila! She wasn’t spooked by them any more. But ever afterward, she felt like she needed to go up to them to sniff them, whether we were riding that way or not. It’s funny what gets into their minds!

  13. My horse is generally calm, but on occasion can be anxious. I’m always puzzled what might be causing this anxiety. He begins to bite and nip when he’s in this state. What do you advise or how can I discourage him from the biting?

    1. Hi Marilyn, thanks for your comment! I’d love to have you click here to learn about how horses express their anxiety.

      We also have another resource if you click here on handling mouthy horses 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  14. My horse Cinematic who was on the track for eight long years before my husband and I rescued him was a fractious, anxious horse. And he still can be. We never tiptoed around him, but he has taught us so much about trigger stacking in the past 8 years of owning him and training him, and that is something we are always aware of and try to avoid his going over emotional threshold. I will give you an example that happened today. He is very happy at a new facility we have moved him to. He has been there for a month and is part of a herd of four in a spacious paddock. I decided to try and mount him at the barn, instead of walking him to the outdoor or indoor arena and using a mounting block. As he is 16.3, and I am five four, I decided to use a picnic table as a mounting block. My husband walked him up, asked him to line up, which he understands. He did, but was very excited. I am a clicker trainer, so I clicked and treated him, and my husband then walked him off. We tried a second time, and he was way over threshold. I think the combination of mounting in a new area (not an arena, and not a normal mounting block) trigger stacked him. Maybe he could have handled one change of context, but not two. Or maybe even changing one context would have been too much. He is my constant teacher, and I keep myself safe by respecting his limits and trying to understand how he feels instead of forcing what I want upon him. I am 68, and it has taken a long time to understand the importance of their feelings, and asking for permission instead of using force. BTW, after riding him in the outside arena and dismounting, we then walked him back to the picnic table and asked him to line up. Guess what, he lined up perfecttly. I grabbed the saddle, he didn’t go over threshold and I could have mounted him but chose to end there. Thank you Cinematic. My best friend and teacher. What you have taught me is invaluable. You have also taught me that horses, like all of us, need time to process new information. Love you to the moon and back.

    1. Nice timing – thanks for this example – very helpful. I find I tend to “stack” ( great word and image) my expectations as opposed to being present and working with the now. Thank you for such a clear example of maybe you COULD have mounted but choose not to!

    2. They normally have the best lessons to teach us, as long as we are willing to listen which you are excellent at listening to Cinematic, Linda! You also brought up a great point to make about how many things we change at one time, sometimes it is better to just make small changes than a few all at once.

      Thanks for sharing 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  15. I have a shy dog. The person who causes him the most anxiety is a friend of mine who moves extremely slowly around him, trying to not upset him. She gives him treats by reaching the treat very slowly toward him. It’s incredibly weird to the dog, and always triggers barking! I keep trying to tell my friend that, but she just can’t seem to get it. Maybe I should show her this video!
    I really enjoy and value your teachings about horses.

    1. I’d love to hear if these tips work for your dog as well Pam!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  16. I have one gelding like this -he is extremely reactive and curious and alert. I have learnt that when he reacts at something and startles with us I just laugh it calms me down after the initial startle myself and he actually just calms down immediately

  17. I bought a 10 month old filly and the best advice I was ever given was to be normal and noisy around them.
    When putting in a rug just chuck it on you see so many people they fold the rug up and place it gently over the horses back big mistake.
    Also when leading I can swing my lead rope around and she takes no notice. Plus lots more x
    She is now 14 and the best horse you could ever wish for.

  18. Great advice Callie.
    I have recently started riding a TB. When he sees something that has gotten his attention he “freezes” in place, feet planted, head up. Trying to get his focus back can take a while. He is new to me as i am to him. Have tried moving him but he would not budge until he wants to. Some form of abuse on the ground am told as he needs work on the ground, not keen on men handling him, quite okay when ridden.

  19. Hi Callie
    Again a fantasic tutorial, I am so looking forward to your next one.
    Now, my experience with a spooky, strongminded mare is ongoing. I bought her 4 years ago from a breader. All she knew was that environment-her home. But unfortunatly the breader had to give up and sold all the horses. Cassy was one of three left. (my guess now, noone wanted her as she shows a strong charackter and a very nerveous one too.) Well, it did not stop me, I fell in love with her, wanting to give her a nice place to live. Once at the new yard, she was so terrible nervious, run all the time along her Paddock, run People over to get to her new Friends. All she wanted was being surroundet by horses, not humans. I gave her time, lots of time and just watched her. Of Course I sometimes thought: why did I do it? Why did I buy her? Will she ever settle?
    Well, the big OMG effect was, when I came out of Hospital (in which I only ended up because of her nerviousness and running me over), she saw me, and neighed at me quite nerviously..or perhaps it was happy? She still does it now, when she sees me. That gave me a feeling of: I have done someting right here.
    Our path has been full of Stones in the way. I became poorly with parsonage turner Syndrome, both arms, which resultet again in me being 2 months away from her.
    So glad to know that my daughter could help with handeling Cassy, I was getting step by step better. But one thing worried me: What if I cannot move my arms anymore as I use to, what About my mare? She would be far too much for me, her nerviousness maked me nervious. How would we carry on our path together? I cannot give her away, she is to easy unsettled and Needs a lot of time to get used to new things.
    Well, I found a way to make her help me put on her halty or bridle. I have still to take off the bit, say: Cassy ,help me plesae, and she Drops her head.
    She is still nervious around new things. We recently had to move stables, as the old stablemanager said it is too much for Cassy there. (Well, they had trouble turneing her out, let her run off into the feeld. so she knew, if she starts walking faster, they will let go). Now, at the new Yard, she is nervious, yes, but again I give her time. I am nervious too, as I know how quick she can turn and perhaps knock me over again. But, she gets turned out, not let to run of and she knows.
    She feels when I am nervious or have pain and not Feeling well.. She helps me in her own way to get better, to accept that I will always suffer with the lack of strenght in one arm. But, she is clever. She knows what to do.
    I have learnes to listen to her. I can read often what she wants, see in her musclemovment what she could do next. So, yes she was and is a handfull, but a nervious horse can help us open our way of thinking totally different as if we would have never thought to think bevor.(If that makes sence)
    I am so glad to have Cassy in my live. I have learned a lot off her and with her. I hope to have may more lessons of my beautiful mare—in a safe way.
    I am off to the satbles now, and the first thing what awaits me is a Neighing of her. 🙂

    1. Tina, you are an inspiration. How incredible that you’ve been able to find a way to continue working with her safely. Thank you for sharing!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  20. I am in the process of walking on trails for 100 mi and build trust confidence and bonding. Each day the ride is short – about 2 mi. My horse would start and startle often. I too would be nervous of the sense of “what could happen if ..)
    Then one day she started at the sound of wind in the leaves. Something made me think of using my fly whisk and hitting branches as we walked on. Of course at first she was startled. After maybe 3x she realized I was the cause and settled down. What I realized is that I was holding back – treading lightly – and she could “read” this in me. My taking actions that were perhaps more authentic to me being me signaled a better relationship.
    Thank you Callie for these amazing videos

    1. So very true Lindsay! Those ‘what ifs’ can totally show up in our body language.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  21. Thank you for that!! I have owned Prince for 6 years now, adopted him from a rescue that outbid a kill barn for him. He is all personality and highly intelligent…and also very reactive. He “blows up” very easily. For the first couple of years I was “sedative” around him…until I realized I was getting nowhere and doing him zero favors (sometimes I’m a slow learner). When I changed my behavior we progressed by leaps and bounds! I became the assertive leader this very unconfident horse needed. When he starts to react I firmly say, “hey!” and he stops…he is SO very willing to please. I just have one question though…he looks around A LOT (my boyfriend says he should have been born a dog…he watches EVERYTHING), especially when he’s nervous. When he’s not nervous he can look around and also pay attention to me. When he’s nervous it’s all about looking around and BARELY paying attention to me. Should I never let him look around when I’m working with him? Or just in highly tense situations? Thank you so much for videos! Your foot placement in the stirrups video made all the difference in the world for me!!!

    1. Hi Carri, this is an awesome question! Let him take the time to look and even better would be to look at what he is looking at or even when he isn’t looking be checking his environment for him. We go into much more detail on this and how to can help build your bond in our Pure Liberty Course taught by Andrea Wady 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  22. I just pretend that nothing has happened and go on with the lesson or ride. after a few years he rarely spooks. although it was never was very extreme just annoying. It may have unnerved a less experienced rider. He is just a horse who has to many opinions but lots of talent.. these horses are not for novice riders.

  23. Very interesting – I think we all tip-toe round a nervous horse,
    But I have seen a few Western trainers just move along as with any other horse.
    I shall give it a try.

    Thanks Callie

  24. Great video Callie. Such good advice. I love how you act around nervous horses, not tiptoeing, just being natural. My pony Maya is unflappable on trail rides when the elder pony leads the way, but nervous when we’re on our own. Her feet get ‘stuck’ whenever she’d sees or smells something she perceived as scary. One day while solo and ‘stuck again,’ I realised that Maya’s ‘sphere of awareness’ was bigger than mine. I was focused on the track and immediate vicinity and she was conscious of the new wild pig trail through the forest, the movement of deer on the far hill, etc. I started to practice making my ‘awareness bubble’ bigger than hers. When I do so, she’s relaxed. It’s like she knows I’m watching out for her, and no longer startles at ‘snakey’ sticks or bearlike rocks.

  25. I have learned this very valuable lesson with my own horses. When someone “tip toes” around a nervous horse, it confirms that there is something dangerous out there to be afraid of. By behaving in a normal way (and even accentuating noises & actions somewhat), it may initially bring on spooking or more heightened nervous behavior. Ignoring this behavior and acting as if nothing is wrong is very effective in calming that animal over time. Combining this approach with directing the nervous horse to do a “job” that they know how to do will be even more effective. This helps provide distraction and brings focus away from the scary object or action. To the horse, your confident approach and direction (even if you are a bit loud 🙂 indicates that you are a leader to be trusted.

  26. I know exactly what you are saying ….. I had to be soooo careful and quiet around my mare when I got her 7 years ago (she was pretty feral, intimidating and very opinionated) but I don’t feel that my initial approach was wrong because I did gain her trust (but not her respect). Over the years we have established a great connection/bond and she is very respectful of me and others (yard staff often comment on how good her manners are). But I don’t think I could have achieved this without first having gained her trust (in a quiet way) and, gradually, becoming her leader/partner. We still have the occasional ‘off day’ when something sets her off and her head is in the clouds but I can usually get her focus back on me and bring her energy levels down, usually by moving her feet and ‘being the one in charge’. Every horse is an individual (as we are as humans) which is something I totally respect and I always assess my horse’s mind/emotional state and respect what I see/feel and progress accordingly ………. the last thing I want is a horse that’s a robot. I want my horse to feel she can ‘express’ herself and tell me how she feels that day (doesn’t mean she gets out of working) …. I feel it is mutual respect for each other that works of us…… but may not work for others. Always love your training videos and courses. XX

  27. This approach seems so much better because she will probably be in situations that will be stimulating and she’ll need to feel safe.

  28. I rescued a 4 1/2 year old, untrained, mostly left alone, away from humans. I didn’t know until I took him, that he was skittish. I had very little introduction to a skittish horse. The first time I tried to brush him, the day I got him, he shied away from me, violently. It made ME skittish because I realized he could hurt me, and I was 59 at the time, highly breakable. Because of that, I was on tiptoes, watching out I didn’t do anything so spook him, or have him hurt me. What happened was, because of that, he felt my vibes, which made him even more skittish!! It took me a trainer and several years to get myself calm enough to realize I was half his problem. We fed off each other’s fears. Not a good thing. I finally decided to drop the “what if” thoughts from my mind, and just try to treat him as I had always treated other horses. It’s taken a long time, mostly because we are both working on our own confidences, but we’re finally getting there!! I do have to really focus on where his body parts are in relation to mine, but also to focus on myself and my thoughts, because he picks up on them so fast! I force myself now, to take him for walks, to ride to scary places, to know when to quit before things get bad. Every time something goes right is a step towards tomorrow, for both of us.

    1. Hi Debbie, it can be a vicious cycle but just like Callie explained it is so important to make sure to not tiptoe around horses that tend to be a little skittish!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  29. Great video and information to share with others. Thank you. My latest rescue is a 24 year-old Dutch Warmblood that startles at lizards and squirrels that are chilling at my outdoor arena.
    I always have my horses vision checked by a Vet if they are spooky.
    Zeus was a show jumper who should be accustomed to outside distraction, but he was 200 plus pounds under weight when I got him. Now, he is a bit frisky, working on ground manners and standing still at the hitching post. He’s going to be great in my military program. I don’t tip-toe around him and have told my wranglers to mimic my efforts. 🙂

    1. Testing vision is always a great idea when you have a really reactive horse! Another recommendation I give people is testing for Lymes disease if it is in your area because that too can cause horses to be reactive.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  30. I had a boarder whose horse I rode while mine was on loan. She was not easily startled per se. She WAS really tense, however. Riding her felt like sitting on a keg of nitroglycerin. She never did spook, startle, or anything else, but definitely NOT an enjoyable ride since I felt like I had to be ready for some theatrics all the while. No idea what was going on with her and I was delighted to go back to riding my own horse. I didn’t really ride her differently, though. Maybe that was the reason she never misbehaved?

  31. I have been doing the quiet, slow moving action on a horse I saved from the kill pens. Very slow progress. Will be trying your suggested. Very excited about this.

  32. Hi Callie
    I don’t think this is an unconventional approach at all, this is just common sense. I had a young warmblood that was so reactive to her environment that she was dangerous to be around (17.1 hh and 645 kg). With extra regard for personal safety, she was just handled normally, given consistent boundaries, never over taxed mentally, and treated with endless patience and love within those boundaries. All this messing around that people love to do today with herbs and whisperers is just an excuse for poor horsemanship and lack of understanding. Having said that, and I know it sounds harsh, I’d strongly recommend Sharon Wilsie’s Horse Speak. It’s made my bond even deeper and I wish I’d known of Sharon’s work earlier in my life.

  33. I currently have a very insecure Arabian mare I “rescued” two years ago. She was petrified of hoses, sudden moves, anything different in the environment, the wind, change in weather, a leaf moving, you name it. I got run over by her a couple of times. At first, I thought she was just not wanting to cooperate, but I came to realize that at 10 years of age, no one had ever really built a bond with her or provided any in depth training, socialization with the environment, etc. When I tried to get her to walk over a pole using conventional methods, she flat out REFUSED and would FIGHT. I finally began introducing them using a clicker and also placing them in gateways where she would HAVE to walk over them if she wanted to come in and eat. Even that took work as food wasn’t enough of a motivator at first. Clicker training was what made the difference. She will now startle at something such as a lawn mower going by, but it is a smaller startle and she doesn’t bolt. When i talk to her in a normal voice, she comes forward, head and ears up and just watches. I just maintain a safe distance and relaxed posture, acting like it’s no big deal and let her work it out for herself. I take every scary opportunity as a training session. We have a close bond now, and I will sit out in the field with her every so often and do nothing, just watch her and the rest of my herd. Now, when I introduce something new to her, she reaches out with her nose to check it out and then touches me which I take to mean she needs reassurance. I continue to just let her work it out on her own though, and eventually will be riding her. This year we had a setback in training due to physical issues on my part but I’m getting ready to get back to it. Prior to my problems, I was finally getting quiet lunging sessions and we were really progressing with various groundwork exercises. My goal is to eventually have a competitive trail horse. Keep these great videos coming!

    1. Barbara, thanks for your awesome comment! Yes, for these horses it can be all about finding what works for the individual horse and I’m so glad to hear that clicker training is the tool that has been a great asset to you! Keep up the great work 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  34. Thanks for validating this approach. I have a nervous 19 year old Arabian mare that I got from a sanctuary. She had some major mishandling for years, but is smart and willing. This is the first horse I’ve ever “trained” and have professional help. I discovered this approach accidentally, through trial and error. As you say, the key for is always putting both of us in a place where neither will be hurt by a startle. She’s got a long way to go, but is starting to understand that business as usual is not necessarily going to harm her.

    1. Hi Judy, thanks for your comment! Sometimes with those horses, it can be a long road but so worth the hard work! I hope you’ll keep us updated on your Arabian mare 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  35. I am riding JR in a new place for him. Right by a river, cornfield, woods with scary cicadas and birds. He hates the cornfield end of the lovely outdoor arena. I am usually cool with him doing groundwork. It’s when I get on to ride that’s the problem. I get nervous which absolutely doesn’t help his confidence. My instructor is working with me to keep my leg on and not over react with the reins. Anyway, I love your advice to be a bit more assertive and confident in my actions. Hoping to apply this in my next lesson! Thx!

  36. As always, this is a great video! Thanks for making one on this topic of spooky horses. When I bought Zara 4 years ago, she was very spooky. I remember feeling out of my league as a rider because I hadn’t ridden a horse since I was in high school which was over 40 years earlier. My trainer taught me the same things you taught us in your video – act in the usual way around spooky horses. Tip-toeing around translates to predator behavior which makes them even spookier. He taught me that horses need a leader. If I spook at what they are spooked by, in their minds, they are the leader, not the rider, which reinforces their spookiness.

    As I learned the fundamentals of doing ground-work with horses and then riding, I learned a whole lot about how to handle a spooky horse, which put me more at ease being around her. I discovered that when she spooks, it’s best to be calm and emotionally neutral; use my knowledge to help her understand there’s nothing to fear. When I first began this adventure, I didn’t think it was possible for me to be emotionally neutral in times of her panicking but today, that is exactly what I do. She is still spooky, but not as crazy as she was in the beginning. She’s improved from “spooky” to “looky”, that is, she sees things (sprinklers, tar in the asphalt, flapping stuff…) that she gets tense over but usually she walks passed them. Nearly always I take the time to work with her to get over the “looky.”
    The take-away in my message is – knowledge dispells fear. As the rider/trainer of a horse, your knowledge of what to teach your horse imparts knowledge to them. As you learn more and apply that knowledge, the less you fear and are reactive to. The more you are able to teach your horse, the more they come to know that the things that spook them are actually nothing. Then they begin seeing you as the leader. This is the heart and soul of cultivating the bond between horse and rider. It’s a circle of power.

    1. Hi Connie, so wonderful to hear from you! I remember when you bought Zara, it is so great to hear that she is doing better! I love what you shared in the last paragraph, my trainer has a similar mantra she shares with me that I find helpful. The horse gets their confidence from the rider and the rider gets their confidence from their skills. The more confident you can be in your skills the more confident you can be overall 🙂

      Again – so happy to hear from you!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. Thanks Julia! I’m always checking out what Callie has to say but most often I don’t have time to respond. Between School, Work, the farm and my animals … ’nuff said!

  37. I’ve only been around a few nervous horses & I personally didn’t work w them. When a horse spooks when I’m walking them I simply let out the lead line and let them do their thing. I always walk w a long lead in a figure eight not coiled, so the horse can pull out as much lead as it needs. Then I just say come on, let’s go as I would normally talk. I go slow around new horses the first time , a meet and greet but then go about my business as usual. I also constantly talk to the horse or myself LOL , when grooming or tacking up. The only time I’m ever worried is when the flies are bad & I might accidentally get cow kicked. When riding I go w the flow with spooks & shies & then it’s back to normal. I pretty much ignore nervous behavior though take note of it. However I do like to know what I’m getting into first so I’M not spooked. I believe horses look to us for confidence. If we’re not confident they get worried, frightened & that’s when bad things happen.

  38. What I have learned from my trainer working with my very nervous five-year-old Arab gelding is to remove pressure when they get nervous. He said the last thing they need when they are nervous or afraid is pressure. When he leads him to a scary place, he lets him have a long rope and lets him go ahead of him. He then goes to the scary object and moves my horse to both sides of the object and gradually my horse will approach the scary object by himself, without being driven with force or pressure to the object. He also stays calm when my horse spooks and makes loud noises and gestures on purpose. For example he will stand on a tractor or other scary object and them stomp his feet. My horse is getting less reactive and his methods are working.

  39. My mare was highly suspicious of everything when I got her as a 6 year old. She had sat in a backyard pretty much since she was a couple of years old so she hadn’t been exposed to much. I started by walking her up to new things and, if safe, had her touch it and then treat. The ‘touch it’ game is still her favorite. I started taking her everywhere around the property and doing everything with her. Setting up poles, I did it one handed with her lead rope in the other, banging the poles on the ground, etc., and put them away with her as well. Today, I needed to give something to another boarder in a plastic bag and my mare went with me and it gave me a chance to make noise with the bag, open and close the car door, etc. It seems like little things but it made a huge difference to my mare. She’s 18 now and is still a “looker”, but rarely (knocking on wood) spooks anymore. We even stopped during our ride to let a gopher snake cross our path the other day and she just watched him go. 🙂

  40. I began approaching my ‘nervous’ 17 y.o. AQHA mare the same way — trying to be normal instead of walking on eggshells because the farm is a noisy, active place. She is my arena horse now, because trail riding on her, even around the farm, was not safe. She is definitely a “flight” horse, and after coming off several times, I decided to retire her from riding outside the arena. She seems to enjoy the arena riding, and neither of us enjoyed riding out anymore. Back in the day, conventional wisdom was to take is very slowly and let the horse get comfortable. I really think the bigger deal we make of something — loading in a trailer, putting on a saddle, walking past obstacles, all we are doing is teaching the horse that this is something to be worried about — even the human is afraid. Now I try to be straightforward and matter of fact, and take extra time where is is REALLY needed. She seems much happier with things this way. Thanks, Callie, for all you do for your subscribers!

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