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Trail Riding and a Spooked Horse

How To Handle A Spook During Your Trail Ride

Spooked Horse On Trail RideA spook can happen with little to no warning. One minute you might be walking, trotting, or cantering along the trail, and the next moment your horse could be leaping, spinning, and bucking. Instead of finding yourself horseless and on the ground, keep the following tips in mind; after all, riding a spook starts with good trail etiquette.

Practice Good Trail Riding Etiquette At All Times:
Trail riding is a fun and exciting way to become more connected with your horse as you trek through a beautiful landscape. However, just because the scenery is beautiful doesn’t mean that you can be lulled into bad riding habits. No matter whether you prefer English or Western riding, the following habits should be adopted along the trail.

  • Stay alert and monitor your horse — When a horse is tense his tail will come up, his neck will tighten, he might begin to sweat, and he will begin to look furtively around. If you notice these symptoms, make sure that you keep your seat deep, your heels down, and reigns short.
  • Practice a good riding position — Whether you are riding a young horse or sitting atop a “school master,” you should practice a correct position. This means: shoulders back, hands and elbows at the correct angles, heels down, and eyes forward.
  • Before you head out on the trail, make sure that you know the experience of each horse and rider — Handling a spook on a trail is as much about knowing your horse as it is knowing the skill of your fellow rider(s) and their horse(s).
  • Be considerate of your horse — Even the most experienced and willing horse can have an off day. If your horse is being particularly stubborn about entering into the woods or crossing a small creek, take a moment to properly assess the situation. If you lose your temper or attempt to force your horse, you will soon find yourself in a battle against a 1,400 pound opponent.

With these trail riding tips in mind, let’s discuss riding a spook.

What Is A Spook And How Can You Stay On:
Dealing With A Spooked HorseAs the name suggests, a spook occurs when a horse becomes scared. There are several factors that can trigger a spook: a sudden change in the weather, moving bushes or swirling leaves, and leaping deer are all common causes. During a spook, your horse might shy, try to bolt, buck, or spin.

Staying atop your horse during a spook will require you to stay calm, sit deep, keep your heals down and shoulders back, and most importantly not pick a fight with your horse. When a horse is in the middle of a spook, he is not thinking clearly. For example, if your horse is mid-bolt and you simply pull back on the reigns, chances are you will simply frighten him more. With this in mind, here are a few tips for the most common types of a trail riding spooks.

  • Shy — When a horse shies, he will move quickly away from the “scary object” in a lateral fashion. To stay on during a shy, put your heels down. Lift your hands slightly so that you can keep your hands supple as you follow your horse’s neck movement. Sit deep in your seat so that you can feel which direction your horse is going to go. Finally, post-shy, try and calm your horse down by stroking his withers, saying “whoa,” or otherwise speaking in a calming tone.
  • Bolt — When a horse bolts he propels himself into a reckless gallop from a standstill. While a bolt can be scary, do not simply pull back on the reigns as your horse might be tempted to grab the bit in his teeth, which will cause you to lose all control. Instead, use a pulley reign. A pulley reign will require you to plant one hand at the withers, while you pull up and slightly back at a 90 degree angle with the other rein. When implemented correctly, this emergency breaking tactic will encourage your horse to slow, while simultaneously forcing him to circle.
  • Buck — When a horse bucks, he will put his head down and kick-up his hind legs. Staying on during a buck will require you to keep your weight balanced. Do not be tempted to lean too far back, as you can quickly become off-balance when your horse finishes one buck and launches into another. Instead, sit squarely on your horse. Lift your hands and kick your horse forward. It is important to note that when you horse is moving forward he will have a harder time producing a powerful buck. Finally, use your legs, seat, and hands to get your horse to lift his head; he can’t buck if his head is in the air.
  • Spin — The key to sitting a spin lies in your seat. With your heels down and your legs wrapped securely around the barrel of your horse, you should sit as deep as possible. When you sit deeply, with your shoulders back, your seat bones will feel as if they are connected to your horse, so that you can instantaneously feel as he shifts his body weight in preparation for a spin.

The Bottom Line is Sitting A Spook Takes Practice:
With these tips in mind, you will be better prepared to sit most types of spooks. Remember that the best thing you can do during a spook is to remain calm. If you panic, then your horse will continue to panic. Instead, focus on your riding basics (heels down, shoulders back, seat firmly in the saddle, hands up and supple), so that you can quickly react to your horse. In short, the more prepared that you are, the easier it will be to sit a spook and get back to a fun trail ride.

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