There are you, enjoying your ride with your horse; when suddenly your horse performs the sort of spin around that would put a figure skating champion to shame. Without a word of warning he is off and running in the opposite direction, leaving you either hanging on for dear life, or wondering what just happened as you crash to the ground!
It is one of those things in riding that really catches you completely by surprise, and not in a good way! It is also one of those things what, once you realise that the horse you are on does this on a pretty regular basis, makes it almost impossible to relax and enjoy the ride.
Overcoming this challenge requires a certain approach and mindset. I feel it is really important to tackle this in a sympathetic, consistent manner. We know that some horses are more ‘spooky’ than others, so creating more fear around this type of situation for a horse who is already fearful will not provide any positive long-term results.
And this is exactly what we are looking for, long-term results. Unfortunately, it generally takes quite a bit of time in order to really get those results. There is no real lasting ‘overnight cure’ for this type of thing.
Yes, you can keep the horse going forward – but what I would aim for is that the horse continues to go forward itself, without you having to ‘guard’ him from spinning the whole ride… Far more enjoyable, right?!
So, first and foremost, we need to lay down the law when it comes to the spinning. Your horse needs to begin realising that while spinning around and running away worked a few times up to now, those days are over – and he must just trust you that everything is okay going forward.
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it! But as we all know, trust is not something which can happen overnight. This is why there must be a long-term approach when it comes to eradicating this behaviour from our horses habits.
However, while there are ways you can begin today to build that trust, and I will chat more about that just now. But first and foremost, you must put an end to the spinning around. This will be done through really becoming ‘strict’ on channelling where your horse goes and the direction he travels.
Shut and lock all the exits
So when a horse spins around, it is because he has found a ‘side door’ which was open and easy to duck out through. The rider must make sure that all those ‘side doors’ are shut and locked – all through the ride.
This takes a great amount of consistent effort from the rider. It means that as soon as the horse even thinks about spinning, that ‘exit’ is shut tight, and the only way out is forward (or wherever the rider wants the horse to go).
At the beginning the horse may get through the door, meaning that he might spin around. Perhaps initially the full 180•, but as you become more aware of his triggers, he may only get to the 90• mark, and later only a few degrees either way. What is important is that when the ‘spin’ begins, he is immediately turned back the direction he came from, and directed forward.
Attitude & Consistency will get you Everywhere
Now, earlier I mentioned that I feel a sympathetic approach is necessary for this sort of re-schooling. This is because there is a good chance that your horse has learned to ‘spin’ due to the fact that, at some point in his life, he did just that and it put space between him and something that really bothered him.
Said another way? He was afraid at some point and bolted.
Working through an issue like this with a heavy-handed approach will never truly give you lasting results. Yes, you can push the horse on and get past the ‘spinning point’, but would it not be far nicer to have your horse develop confidence in you and later himself, so that both of you can relax on your rides?
Sometimes a more experienced rider may be necessary in order to ‘shut down’ those escape doors effectively. Again, make sure you choose wisely regarding who you ask to do this for you, as it can have far-reaching consequences.
Noticing the Triggers
But back to the running away from feelings of discomfort; the downside to this, from the riders point of view, is that whenever he feels uncomfortable, either physically, mentally or emotionally, he thinks the best approach is to, once again, put distance between himself and that feeling, or whatever is causing the discomfort.
Maybe it is a signpost. Or a tree that looks a little ‘odd’. It could be a strange-looking gate. Or a shadow. It may even be a smell or noise… Either way, your horse does not enjoy how he feels and thinks the best way to handle this is to get out of there – as quickly as possible.
Begin to look at what triggers this behaviour for your horse. Is there a particular place he does this? Or is it a certain noise or occurrence that does it? Is he perhaps reacting to feelings of tension and stress in the rider’s body?
Whatever the reason, figuring it out is important. From here you can begin to set up ‘controlled’ introductions to that scenario, in order to give your horse some ‘wins’ under his belt. You will allow him to slowly realise that he doesn’t need to run away in order to feel better.
A long term approach
Developing his trust in you, the rider, is how to truly get to the bottom of this issue and see long term results. You can do this through groundwork exercises, retraining him to relax and trust you when you say that things are okay.
You can also create small ‘courses’ in a safe enclosed area which you can initially lead your horse through, and later when he feels more confident, ride him through as well. Time invested in desensitizing your horse will pay dividends in this situation. As will approaching the matter with a firm, yet gentle and compassionate frame of mind.
And finally, using your horses herd instinct can also work. However, I would caution against only using this method. Ideally you want your horse to feel confident on his own and in company. But, it can definitely work if you are in a situation where there seems no other alternative.
Riding a horse who is known to spin on a sixpence and head for home with no warning signs can be a daunting experience. However with patience, compassion and a well thought out game plan, it is definitely a challenge which can be overcome.
Stick with it and keep in mind that it will be easier if your horse trusts you first before learning to trust himself later.
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