Spook Proof

Despook your horse before you end up in trouble.

Despook your horse before you end up in trouble.

To help prevent a blow-up the next time your horse gets scared, The American Quarter Horse Journal asked AQHA Professional Horseman Sallie Jo Reid to offer some helpful tips on how to spook-proof your horse.

You can’t be too prepared when it comes to despooking your horse. Once you desensitize him to everyday things you see around the arena, find some unusual props to work with.

Some good despooking tools are:

  • Tarps – Tarps make great spook-proofing tools because they can make a lot of noise, and they are easy to move around. Start slowly by showing the tarp to your horse and slowly work up to walking him over it or throwing it on his back.

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  • Pompoms – Pompoms are great to work with because they are small and easy to handle.
  • Umbrellas – You can twirl them in your hand or pop them open to get him used to things moving around him.

Realistically, no one has time to expose a horse to every possible object that might frighten him, so it’s smart to have an emergency plan for when everything goes wrong. A good trick of the trade is the “safety pull” technique. For example, if you go into a show arena and your horse is afraid of a banner, tip his nose away from it so he doesn’t have to see it. Force him to look across the arena at the buddy he rode in with or anything that gives him good vibes. Ride away from the spooky obstacle, and bit by bit, work your way back.

Don’t Panic
Your response as the rider determines whether your horse will be brave or whether he will let his anxiety get the best of him.

Typical Rider Responses:

  • Trying to force a horse to go where he is afraid to go, which only makes him more fearful
  • Taking the horse away from what he is scared of; teaching him that if he doesn’t want to do something, he should act afraid

Neither of these responses will help in the despooking process.

The American Quarter Horse Journal offers you great help to get the most out of your horse with the “Borrow a Trainer” series. Subscribe today!


Keep these techniques in mind when you feel your horse get nervous:

  • Monitor your own body language.
  • Stay calm when your horse spooks. The more confident you are, the more confident your horse will be.
  • Redirect your horse’s attention by changing his focus. If you can get your horse to think about something else, he will be less inclined to react to what spooked him.
  • Get him to move his feet. Turn him to the right, walk forward, back him up, walk to the left.
  • When you feel him start to relax, reward him.

Just remember, despooking a horse takes time. Horses are creatures of habit and learn from repetition. Stay focused, and your horse will gradually learn to trust you more and be prepared for whatever comes his way.

Go to QuarterFest on Our Dime!

AQHA members have a great opportunity to win a trip to QuarterFest: A Celebration of the American Quarter Horse. This one-of-a-kind event, May 1-3 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, will be a chance to ride, touch, observe and learn how to care for your American Quarter Horse.

If you’ve visited AQHA’s new web site, americashorsedaily.com – and you want to visit QuarterFest – here’s the deal: In 200 words or less, tell us which tip on americashorsedaily.com you have benefited from most, and explain why. On the site, you’ll find tips and advice on training, recreational riding, showing, horse health and breeding – so you have lots to choose from.

Send us your entries no later than March 27. And please adhere to the word limit; longer essays will be disqualified. We’ll only accept one entry per person. The contest is open to AQHA members over age 18, and the winner will be notified by April 3.

The prize includes airfare to Murfreesboro from anywhere within the contiguous United States, hotel accommodations and event admission. Visit America’s Horse Daily for complete rules and to submit your entry.

16 thoughts on “Spook Proof”

  1. i just bought a 10-12 yr old qh mare that has never been handled and if affraid of every thing i have been on her back and have about 2 hours riding her in a small arena but she feels like she is ready to blow at any time have cracked a whip next to her and shot a pistol next to her and that dont spook her but if she steps on a small branch and it cracks she comes unglued and bolts to the side lucky she dont buck hard wind is a big deal also with her any advice mike

  2. MIKE, 2/25/2009

    I HAVE HAD AND TRAINED HORSES FOR 40 YRS. PUT HER IN A STALL WITH LOTS OF STICKS OR BRANCHES ON THE FLOOR, PUT A FAN ON HER FOR THE WIND WITH SOME STREMER’S TIED TO IT. AND THEN LEAVE HER FOR A FEW HOURS OR SO. THIS SHOULD HELP HER. IF NOT REPET IT TILL SHE IS BETTER.

  3. I have a gelding who has walked over plastic one day and then the next day act like it going to get him and bolt side ways. He also doesn’t like plastic bags…any advice.

  4. Try feeding him out of a plastic bag. First just flat with a carrot or alfafa on it, then, as he gains confidence, tweak it while he is eating. Working slowly step by step you can eventually get him running over to you in the paddock when you flap the plastic bag as he will expect a treat. Once he is desensitised, you can substitute praise and stroking for the treat.

  5. I have a gelding who is herd bound. I took him out on a trail with about 8 other horses once. We stopped at a point along the way for about 20 minutes and then began to move out. As we did, we were one of the last to leave and he saw all of these horses “leaving” him. He took off after them. After about 10 emergency breaks, he calmed down. When i take my other gelding out of the pasture, he gets quite nervous pacing back and forth. Does anyone have any suggestions for helping him feel better about being separated? Do I just need to practice taking him away from my other gelding on the trail until he realizes we’re not leaving for good?

  6. Have a 6 yr. old quarter horse,spooks at everything,(rares up and throws rider off it back)dogs,cats,everything,what can be done to despook him?

  7. I have a big Kentucky Mountain horse,,I have work with him for the last 9 months trying to de-spook him,not scared of a whip,unbrella,or bags above his head,,but if anything is on the ground,,he is very spooked,,no matter what i do nothing is working,what do i do now?

  8. I have a 6 year old mare i broke. When on the trail with me on her back she spooks at everything (lizards climbing on a wall, just everything)…if i get off her and walk her she doesn’t spook at the things she just spooked at while i was up on her….Please help…what am i doing wrong????

  9. I have a 6 year old mare i broke. When on the trail with me on her back she spooks at everything (lizards climbing on a wall, just everything)…if i get off her and walk her she doesn’t spook at the things she just spooked at while i was up on her….Please help…what am i doing wrong????

  10. I bought a impressive blood horse didn’t know it at the time but when I got him the only thing he spooked at was cows. I took him to the cow pen and he got over that now it is like he hunts stuff to be silly about. It is a jurking spook he doesn’t take off and run. But my farrier said this was of his bloodlines. Can you tell me if this is so. This horse is 6 and broke well but bought for a handicap child and I to ride together. If you can help Thank You so much.

  11. All of the people that are having problems with their horses or young ones about being spooked all I can say is CONSISTENCY. If you are afraid of the horse’s reaction then have a trainer do it, if you are doing it wrong and letting him get away with running away from it then you are just teaching him that he can run away from something scary whenever he wants. If you are insisted on doing it yourself make sure you are doing it right and have a trainer show you how to do it if you need it. I have a palomino QH colt that is about 7 months old and he is doing great in his desensitizing, I try to do little stuff every day. kathy norwood I do not believe that getting spooked of certain things can transfer through bloodlines, all i can say to help with the spookiness is to take the opportunity of him spooking at something and turn it into a lesson to make him get over it. David Henderson the only thing you may of not desensitized her enough to things while your riding her, it is not in a horse’s instinct to be rode so they may be a little jumpy while your riding them. Kevin 11/26/2009 if your gelding is the leader of the herd then he most likely doesn’t want to lose track of his herd, if he is the underdog than he is most likely unconfident without his herd. This may be in his personality or it’s something that can be fixed with CONSISTENCY. Geldings may have stallion like behavior if they are gelded late or the weren’t fully dropped when he was gelded, we actually have a gelding that also has stallion behavior, he HATES being seperated from his herd. These are my opinions you do not have to agree with them but I thought I would just throw it out there anyway. Thank You.

  12. Im gnna enter my horse in the falls city parade this year how to I get her prepare to handle all the.noise

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