The Shying Game | Equine Behaviour

Written by Wednesday, 14 March 2018 11:24

It seems to me there are two kinds of rider reactions to a horse who is spooked by something - the look and approach or the look away and ignore. Both camps are trying to instil trust and confidence in their horses and, of course, both think they are right. Like many things in equestrianism it can lead to some heated arguments!  

I know this from experience as I'm a believer in not making an issue of something that my mare is shying at and instead make sure she is listening to me, usually with the help of shoulder-in (bending away from the scary object). The two people who I often ride out with, on the other hand, ask their horses to confront what is scaring them, saying things like, 'look at it, it's not scary, go on, see…, come on, get closer…have a good sniff…..' which means I have to hang around, usually harrumphing whilst my own horse usually starts to get wound up too! And equally if I make 'helpful' suggestions whilst they're struggling with a balking side-ways horse, their response is often far from polite! 

Now, I have to admit, I was just like them, because their method seems to make sense, doesn't it? If as humans, we have a child or friend who is frightened by something that we know isn't going to harm them, we try and get them to overcome that fear by showing them that it isn't scary. And of course, there are many respected trainers who use this method. But, having taken on quite a few horses who shy, I can definitely say that this method has very rarely made them less spooky and it was actually a relief when I got a trainer who said, ' just keep away from that area of the school for now until we've got his/her attention and they've relaxed.'  I also had the benefit of hacking out with another trainer (I can't recommend this enough) who showed me that if you keep your horse focused on what you are asking, and particularly make use of shoulder-in when you approach and go past something that has made them tense up, you actually create a much more confident horse, one that definitely shies less and less. 

Equally, I think riders can get fixated on spooky objects as much as their horses do. By concentrating on the way your horse is going (rhythm, relaxation, suppleness etc) and in return keeping their concentration on you, you're both much less likely to become distracted and will grow in confidence together.

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1 comment

  • Comment Link Janette Clennett Wednesday, 04 July 2018 13:30 posted by Janette Clennett

    I have a mare who constantly shies given half a chance, if I ask her to face the object she is shying at she makes a great drama of it and turns it in to a battle. If I ask her for a shoulder in and to collect, she is so busy thinking of ways to not do as I ask she forgets to shy. Unconventional or not it works :)