Even though a horse’s natural reaction is to run away from danger, John Lyons says it’s not only possible, but essential, to teach your horse to override his flight instinct. That’s great news for trail riders and anyone who will be taking their horses into unfamiliar surroundings. John’s spook-in-place training makes horses safer to ride because they’re less likely to run, buck or bolt the next time a plastic bag goes blows by or a deer bounds across the trail.
It begins as a ground work exercise. The object, however, is NOT to get your horse to run from whatever item you choose to scare him with. “If your horse runs, you’ve done too much,” says John. “Your goal is to get your horse to stand still and look at the scary object. He may flinch or flick his ears, but he shouldn’t run.”
You’ll need to start with something that only scares your horse a little bit, even if you just flap your arms and utter the word, “Boo.” If that’s too scary for the horse, tone it down. Start with just the word “boo.”
As the horse becomes accustomed to different scary sights and sounds by remaining in place, you’ll increase the intensity of your efforts to frighten him. Remember, the idea is not to get the horse to run, but to get him to face the feared item. John notes that once a horse is no longer afraid of a particular object or action, it’s no longer useful as a training tool. This is not sacking out, although it will have that effect.
Before you start the lesson, you’ll need to do some homework first. Some prerequisites to spook-in-place are ground-tying, and round pen work, in particular, getting the horse to turn and face you using both inside and outside turns. Even though you’ll do your best to keep your horse from running, you’ll want good footing. Also, make sure your enclosure is safe and secure and that you never do anything that might send the horse crashing into or over the fence.
If your horse does start to run, do your best to stop him as quickly and quietly as you can. Then begin again. For more details about spook-in-place training, stay tuned to the upcoming issues of Perfect Horse. PH