Monday, May 12, 2008

Spooking Weather

It was a chilly, blustery day, with winds around 25 mph. Siete wanted to go out and play, but her mother wasn’t too sure if it was a good idea. Silk is fairly unperturbed by most things, but the wind was really tossing around muck buckets and branches. In the pasture, every time a gust blew up her mane or her tail, she leaped into the air in these crazy spooks. Siete just munched the grass and ignored it all.

I’ve never seen Siete spook at anything. Silk doesn’t do it often, and she makes one quick sideways jump when she does. If I’m riding her, I can usually tell just before she does it and remind her to pay attention to me. When I bought her, she had been living in a barn where Corgis chased her and nipped her heels. So, she’s not fond of dogs. Our one really big spook came years ago when a dog suddenly appeared and ran towards her.

Most of the time now, Silk will spook when she thinks that she needs to get my attention. Last week, I was leading her into the back corral when the mama barn swallow dive bombed out of Silk’s stall. It startled both of us so bad that Silk almost tried to jump in my arms. I admit my heart was pounding.

So, today, I told my horse that when she had enough of the wind in the pasture, she should just let me know, and we’d go back inside. After about 45 minutes, Silk came and stood by the gate. I brought her in and left Siete out for a few more minutes. Silk took refuge in Siete’s stall, so of course, Siete decided that she was ready to come in too. That was it for going out today. Both horses stayed tucked in the barn as the wind rattled and roared.

It does make me wonder why some horses are spooky and other aren’t. Does anyone have any insights on this? I know that Icelandic horses usually don’t spook because they have no predators in Iceland so their fear/flight reflexes aren’t strong. I was thinking that Siete has never had the kind of frightening experiences her mother had, so maybe that makes her more level. She’s always been a plucky little horse. When she was just a baby, the first time we walked out with Silk, Siete raced ahead of her to be the leader. Maybe some horses are just born brave.


Pony Girl said...

That is such a good question, Victoria! I wonder if it has to do with their first few years of life. Perhaps their experiences and exposure to different stimulus, etc. Although some adults are more nervous and anxious than others, so perhaps it is just their physical makeup. I have seen my sister's spooky mare become a lot calmer after they worked on some confidence issues, and just had more exposure to the trail. However, there are still days, or even just a part of the ride, where she just brings out that spooky personality and jumps sideways at a something as harmless as a daisy. I am lucky that My Boy is not overly spooky. He will look at things, and jump "in place", but handles most things well if he can see them and figure out it is harmless.

Alien Thoughts said...

The wind makes enough noises that the horses cannot hear properly what each individual noise is. They jump at anything in line with their fear/flight instinct - better be safe than sorry. I call it having the wind in their tails and they often use it as an excuse to tear around madly at full gallop. Dreadful sense of humour. lol.

M. C. Valada said...

Well, I've certainly heard people opinion that Arabs spook because (a) they can see farther than most horses or (b) they are smarter than most horses or (c) they have scrambled eggs for brains [I nearly jumped over the stall to rip out the throat of the woman who said that near me] or (d) like Lucy in "Non Sequitor" they have vivid imaginations.

Ace has now done big spooks in two lessons in a row. We think he's doing it as an evasion because I am now requiring him to work when I ride him. I took the spook on Saturday really well. Today, because I'm stiff and sick, not quite as well, but I didn't come off. On Saturday, we couldn't determine the trigger for the spook. Today, Gayle caught a door opening over the fence. She said I actually had a collected canter, but what I do know is that my butt left the saddle for a moment, which didn't happen on Saturday.

Wednesday will be better.

Transylvanian horseman said...

I think that much has to do with what a horse saw when it was young, and with what consequences. If a youngster has seen traffic, dogs or whatever and not suffered any ill effects, it will probably accept them as "normal".

A horse also subliminally pick up signals from its rider, so if the rider tenses up expecting a spook when something strange appears, it is more likely to happen.

I found that my native breed horses were more attuned to noises in the undergrowth than vehicles or machines, as if they were hard wired to look for natural threats.

I also noticed (albeit in a small sample of horses) that the horses that were more socialised to people were less likely to spook than the more aloof horses.

billie said...

I suspect it has a lot to do with their early environments and what they've been exposed to. Keil Bay was used to a very pristine environment when I first got him, and I was told by his owner that he didn't like things being moved around or added to his space. A set of ground poles in his pristine dressage arena would upset him, for example.

Bless his heart - when I bought him we boarded at a very laid-back family stable where the barn-owner's kids had dirt bikes, a de-spooking obstacle course made up the barnyard proper, and things were shifted around nearly every day. To his credit he acclimatized quickly. He's not really a "spooky" horse but simply needed exposure to more things.

He has spooked twice with me since I got him. The first time was the first week at the new barn, and the second time was the first month here at our farm. His spooks are so athletic and elegant it's like riding a dressage movement, so I was actually glad to experience them and realize that I could ride the spook w/o a problem. Funny thing about Keil Bay is that he is quite bold out on the trail - the spooks were in the arena.

We actively try to de-sensitize to things we notice startle the horses. The pony experienced applause at his first show and it scared him, so my daughter gave him breaks but kept bringing him back to the spectator area so he could get used to it. By the time we left that day he was fine with the noise.

He was spooky with umbrellas so we spent a day working on that. He ended up picking up the open umbrella and walking around with it in his mouth.

Our herd will run around if a plastic bag blows into the field, but I always go get it and show it to them so they know it's not a monster. Sometimes I think they just want an excuse to run and play, because they really don't seem terrified, just enjoying their mobility!

Someone told me recently that she has worked diligently to de-sensitize her horse to all the "everyday" things they might encounter, b/c she wants to know that when her horse spooks, it's something potentially dangerous - an unstable bridge, a snake, etc. Makes a lot of sense to me, although we haven't gone quite that far in our efforts.

Callie said...

We've got that cruddy really gusty wind today. I was thinking of riding a bit, but may not, because of all the wind. Hey, by the way I put up those lilacs for ya.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I think only the horse himself knows why he is spooking. Last week at the farm we had some horrendous wind as I was turning out. Two were fine, and the rest were absolutely crazy. Nate was actually doing rears and handstands and the others just blasted off. It just seems that the wind makes them feel energized, especially if it is a little chilly. I won't ride any one when it is windy, since I had a really bad fall of a windy day from a spook as the jump standard fell over in front of the horse I was riding. These days I like to be a little more cautious than I used to be.

Anonymous said...

i think the only spook -less horse is the one that hasnt spooked --- yet. My TB mare is much more spook proof than my arab...

billie.. what process did you use to de-sensitize since there seem to be so many ways?

gp in montana