Spooking in the Dark

Tonight, my young rider found her horse tense and spooky at the various secretive noises in the dark. The horse is very quick on his feet and very agile when he spooks so she was understandably nervous herself. I would like to share with you a few steps that I followed with this pair tonight which let them focus on each other and finish relaxed and content.


I took the horse to the lounge pen and worked with him in-hand focusing on three main elements:

1) yield response to the poll pressure. He has naturally high head carriage which he uses to his full advantage to see everything around. We worked towards him dropping his neck on light downward pull on the lunge line which the rider then did herself too. It gave her immediate attention of the horse and now she can work on this for it to become his conditioned reply.

2) lateral neck yield. The horse being tense and outward focused responded by quickly spinning to the left and right with his hindquarters every time he was asked to move his neck but with repetitions, he began to relax and yielded the neck a few inches without his whole body following. Again it gave the rider a tool to gain his attention as well as having a suppling effect on the tensed body of the horse.

3) calm walk and trot on the lunge. We worked through a few spooky moments to finish on much softer, more peaceful but still forward gaits first with me then with the rider. Again the slight vibrating pressure on the lunge line helped the rider to call for horse’s attention and for lowering of the neck.

The above work lasted about 20 minutes which improved the horse’s focus and relaxation.

Once on, we worked for further 30 minutes on large circles and leg yields which transformed him from a tense escape-waiting-to happen into a quietly relaxed horse ready to listen to his rider. The rider was rather relieved too and found her nerves disappearing with the horse’s calmness.

We did all the ridden work in walk to prioritise the horse’s obedience and trust in the rider as well as to build the rider’s self-confidence.

It was such a positive session even though it could have gone very wrong which prompted me to write this quick post before it escapes me. Sometimes, the less is more formula really is the most effective and benefitial one.

I’m running a busy little grassroots clinic tomorrow so off to catch some sleep.

Happy Riding!


2 thoughts on “Spooking in the Dark”

  1. interestingly, some of my best schooling sessions have been in the dark; my horse can`t get distracted by things around the arena. Obviously he had to get used to the shadows cast by the floodlights first!

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