Confident Rider Tip: Solving the Mystery of the Unexplained ‘Spook’

Question from a reader:

“Do you find that you can be working with your horse for a while, then ask the same thing of him as you’ve already done nicely, and all of a sudden he’s not paying attention anymore? And if you try to get his attention he ‘panics’ or spooks suddenly from the least little thing?”

People are often caught off-guard by the spook, bolt or buck that seems to come out of no where.  Some people think it’s just the horse’s way of evading doing something he doesn’t want to do or that he’s trying to ‘get them’.  While it may be true that horses will try to avoid doing things we ask of them (and, honestly, why shouldn’t they avoid work any less than we do?), it’s not true that they plot and plan ways to get us humans.

Here’s the thing about horses.  As prey animals they want to conserve energy as much as possible so that they have lots available when they need to run away from a predator.  So, a part from the exuberant play that youngsters sometimes indulge in, horses are pretty lazy (to put a label on it).  But, hey – I can relate.  I don’t like to expend any more energy than is absolutely necessary.  That’s why I’m always looking for short cuts to getting chores done around the farm.  One friend says I’m very creative.  I call it laziness.  

But back to the spooking, bolting, bucking horse issue.  So, why does an animal that likes to conserve his energy expend all that excess energy to avoid doing something he doesn’t want to do or just to ‘get the human’?  The answer is – he doesn’t.

There is always a reason for the horse’s behaviour.  Here are 3 possible reasons for that unexplained spook.

  1. Horses see, hear, smell and feel things of which we -mere humans with our different level of senses – are unaware.    Just because you didn’t see or hear anything that you believe would have startled  you horse, doesn’t mean that he didn’t see, hear or even smell something.
  2. Horses learn from repetition and it only takes 3 repetitions for them to see a pattern.  So, it’s really easy to inadvertently teach a horse to be nervous at a certain spot in the arena or on the trail or when asked to perform a particular transition or movement.  And that pattern can be created just as easily for you as it can be for your horse.  So, if your horse has spooked or reacted badly when you ride by a certain area or ask for a transition or movement, your anticipation of a repeat performance can cause you to be tense and nervous which affects how your horse feels physically and mentally.  Vicious cycle created.  
  3. How you sit on your horse affects how he feels.  Whether you’re in a western, english or treeless saddle or riding bareback, you affect (for better or for worse) your horse’s balance, alignment and level of relaxation.  Have you noticed how difficult it is to remain relaxed, supple and balanced when your horse is crooked, off balance and tense?  That works both ways.  So if you’re off balance, crooked or out of alignment in any way the less relaxed  your horse will be and the more reactive he will be to stresses (even little ones) in the environment.  And, you are more likely to give unclear and even conflicting messages to your horse.

Rider misalignment has a huge impact on horses behaviour causing them to exhibit unwanted behaviours or resistance.  You may be familiar with the rider vertical alignment (ear over shoulder over hip over heel) and the horse ‘nose/poll to tail’ alignment.  But are you aware of your alignment to your horse?

Horse and Rider Alignment

Horse and Rider Alignment – My horse is aligned poll to tail (her hind legs track up with her front legs); I am square (hips and shoulders); and we are aligned with each other.

You are sitting on your horse’s spine.  So, if you not aligned with his body and his bend, he will feel at least uncomfortable and at worst pain.  You are aligned with your horse when your belly button aims between his ears; your shoulders mirror his shoulders; and, your hips mirror his hips.  If your horse has a bend to the left (even a slight one), you mirror that bend when you keep your belly button aimed between his ears and your hips and shoulders square.  If your outside shoulder comes forward, his outside shoulder will mirror that and bulge out of the bend.  You’ll both be off balance and you’ll likely be hanging on to the inside rein trying to ‘correct’ him.  And suddenly – out of no where – is that spook or resistance to doing that transition …. 

The first step you can take to helping your horse feel less stressed and therefore less reactive to things in the environment is to improve your alignment.  It will also keep you better balanced and able to deal with any sudden movements that come ‘from no where’.

Your Turn:  Was this post helpful?  Share it with a friend who can benefit from it as well then leave me a comment below and tell me what you are struggling with.

The Bottom Line – The absolute best way to develop a true partnership with your horse is by building your confidence and trust in each other.

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You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship  

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship –Putting you and your horse in good hands.
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage


Horse Training: Evading the Bit – Why A Stronger Bit Isn’t the Answer

Seen on Facebook:  “Anybody know of a good bit to use on a horse that runs through commands and fights the bit? I need to try a new bit because the horse I’m riding has a hard mouth.

Jumble of bits

When your horse runs through or fights the bit, it’s called evasion.  Common bit evasions include:

  • Chomping, opening or crossing his mouth
  • Running away
  • Leaning on the bit
  • Shaking, throwing or tossing his head
  • Going behind the bit (nose to his chest.)
  • Going above the bit (nose straight up)
  • Tongue hanging out

Unfortunately, moving up to a stronger bit or adding a gadget (eg. draw reins) is a common solution.  While it may work in the short term, it doesn’t address the real source of the problem.

If you want to eliminate the problem and build a better,  more trusting and willing partnership with your horse read on.

Following are 3 causes of bit evasions and how to correct them.

Cause #1 – Dental Problems & Poor Bit Fit

Horses run from pain.  Sharp teeth, ulcers inside his mouth or an injury to his tongue will be aggravated by the bit – even in gentle hands.

The Correction – Have your vet or equine dentist check for sharp or broken teeth, ulcers and even damage to his tongue.    Just like you, your horse should have his teeth checked by a professional at least annually and in some cases every 6 months.

Cause #2 – Poor Bit Fit

If the bit is too wide or sits too low in the mouth, it will move around too much.  If it’s too narrow or sits too high, it will pinch and damage the skin and bars in the mouth.  Bits also cause pain if they are too fat, too thin or don’t leave enough room for the tongue or push up into the palate.

The Correction – Check the size of the bit and how it fits the shape of your horse’s mouth.  It should not stick out on either side of the mouth or pinch the corners of his lips.  It should be about ¼” wider than the measurement from lip to lip (corner to corner).  Find the style of bit that works with the shape and size of your horse’s mouth having enough room for the tongue, not pressing on the palate and fitting easily between the bars.

When fitted correctly, the bit sits quietly across the bars without pulling up the lips or moving up and down.  Remember “a wrinkle not a smile“.  For most horses, this means at least one but no more than two wrinkles in the corners of the lips  However, for some horses there may be no wrinkle at all.  Adjust as necessary to ensure the bit fits comfortably without sliding up and down loosely.  

Cause #3 – Busy or Unsteady Hands

Hands that are busy, unsteady, tense, see-saw,  pull or constantly bump the horse’s mouth cause pain and discomfort.  They are also the sign of a tense and unbalanced rider.

The Correction – Develop an independent seat.  You should never use the reins for support, balance or the primary means for controlling your horse.  Your hands must work independently from your seat so that you can influence your horse without creating tension or resistance.  You will be balanced, able to follow and work with your horses movement – applying your aids at the right time, with the least amount of pressure and without tension.

For your horse to be able to perform at his best and be a confident, trusting and willing partner, he needs to be pain free, balanced and relaxed.   You can help him develop this way of going by being a quiet, balanced and relaxed rider.

Your Turn – What do you do when your horse evades the bit or gets strong?  Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Like this post? Share it with a friend, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  
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You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (  
Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship – Putting you and your horse in good hands.
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Confident Rider Tip – Managing the ‘What If’s’

Whether you’re suffering from ‘show nerves’ or are afraid to ride at all, you may have been told by your friends, your coach, or even said to yourself – “It’s just in your head”.  

"Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed." Michael Pritchard

It’s true that fear exists in our brains.  There’s a perfectly natural and instinctive program that starts automatically when our brains believe we are in danger.  It’s meant to keep us safe and prevent us from doing things that could cause us physical harm.  The problem is that when it interferes with your enjoyment of riding or showing, then fear is no longer your friend.  

Your brain can’t tell the difference between a real or an imagined danger.  So, when we ‘think’ we might be hurt in some way, that fear alarm is triggered.  The perceived ‘hurt’ might be potential physical injury or emotional (i.e. embarrassment, judgment, etc.)

The good news is that you can take control and manage that fear – whether it’s a mild feeling of stress, a stronger anxiety or an out right shaking in your boots fear.  

You solve any problem at the root of it.  And, the root of the fear is in your head – your thoughts.  When fear controls your thoughts, you go into that negative spiral of the ‘what if’s’.  You ‘think’ that whatever you are about to do is not going to end well.    Riding becomes miserable instead of fun.

The good news is that you can influence your thoughts to build your confidence.  To control those show nerves. To have fun riding your horse.

Change your thoughts and you change how you feel.

Simple advice.  But most people struggle with it.  Take these 3 steps to do it successfully.

Step #1 – Be aware of what you are thinking and saying.  You have about 50,000 thoughts every day!  And you’re unaware of most of them.   As you go through your day, notice how often you use dis-empowering, negative phrases.

Perhaps some of these phrases sound familiar.

  1. “I don’t know what to do!”
  2.  “I’m stuck.”
  3. “This won’t work.”
  4. “This is too much for me.”
  5. “I’ll never get this.”

Notice the emotions you have when you are talking to yourself and to others.

Step #2 – Write down your thoughts.    Keep a journal (on paper or digitally) where you record your negative thoughts.  Write them down as soon as they happen (or as soon afterwards as you can) so that you can record them as accurately as possible.    Note what was going through your mind and what you were doing at that moment.   Also notice the emotions you were feeling.  What came first, the thought or the feeling?

You may find writing down negative thoughts and feelings is difficult.  You may prefer not to face them, feel afraid or even think they are stupid.  But, ignoring the negative thoughts and feelings won’t make them disappear – it just makes them stronger.  You’ll deal with them in the next step.

Step #3 – Flip those negative thoughts on their heads. Once you’ve recorded and become aware of your most common negative thoughts then you can re-write them into empowering phrases that build your confidence.   By changing a negative to a positive statement or question, you give your sub-conscious mind a problem to solve.  It loves solving problems.  So, it will go to work figuring out an answer.  You will move forward.  It will work. You will be able to handle it.  And you will get it.

Here are 5 more examples of confidence-breaking phrases and their confidence building alternatives:

“I’m afraid my horse will spook”  becomes  “I admit that I have a fear my horse will spook. What help can I get to work through this?”

“I hope I don’t fall apart in the show”  becomes “I have prepared myself and my horse well for this show.  We will do our best.”

“I can’t do what my coach wants me to do”  becomes “There’s something I’m not getting yet. I can ask for more help and I can practice more. I know I will get it eventually.”

“I’ll never get these transitions right” becomes “We’ve only been working on these movements  for a short time.  It takes time to get them consistently.”

 “I can’t afford riding lessons or training” becomes “This is something that’s really important to me.  I need xx dollars.  I just need to figure out a way to make that extra money.”

Taking these 3 steps may seem difficult at first.  But the more often you do it, the more natural it becomes.  Practice changing your thoughts to evoke positive emotions and your confidence will grow. 

Share your ‘what if’ and the positive alternative below.  Can’t think of a positive alternative? Post your negative thought & I’ll help you out.

Want more tips on Winning the Mental Game?  Join me on January 8, 2014 at 7pm EST for a free online video training – Confidence with Horses – 3 Actions To Take Now to Be More Confident in the New Year!  To register,  click here.

Free Shipping when you order my paperback book, Confident Rider Confident Horse, from by January 17th.  Use the code SHIPSHAPE14

Like this post? Share it with a friend, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  
Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.
You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (  
Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship – Putting you and your horse in good hands.
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage

Confident Rider Tips – 5 Fast & Simple Steps to Being a More Confident Rider (Today!)

Confident Rider Tip - Focus on progress instead of perfection.

How’s your self talk?  You know that constant babble that whirls around inside your head.

Is that voice  – your own voice – your best friend or your worst enemy?  How you talk to yourself affects how you feel and what you do.  When you learn to take control of the ‘thought monster‘ your confidence and your riding will improve.

And you do want to improve your confidence and riding, don’t you? (I thought so.)

Here are 5 steps to help you tame the Thought Monster.

Step 1 – Be aware of your thoughts.  The average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts every day.  Most of these thoughts do not change from one day to the next. And, about 80% of these thoughts are negative! Most of them focus on the past or the future, obsessing about mistakes we have made, planning ahead or worrying, creating fantasy or fiction.  The good news is that when you recognize your thoughts, you can change them.

Step 2 – Write down your thoughts.  When you write down your thoughts, you see exactly what you are thinking about and how often you are thinking about it.  Notice how often you use words like ‘never’, ‘always’, ‘should’ and ‘can’t’.  Also notice how often your thoughts are complaining, whining or judging (yourself or others).   Be careful not to beat yourself up or feel discouraged when you see how many negative thoughts you have.  We all have them.  As Dr. Phil says “you can’t change what  you don’t acknowledge”.

Step 3 – Create a new thought. Take your most frequent negative thoughts and put a positive spin on them.  For example, if your self-talk tells you “I’m such a loser! I’m never going to get these transitions right!”  Remove the judgment and stop beating yourself up.  Try re-framing the thought to a more positive message like “I’m still learning and right now, I’m having a hard time getting these transitions right.  What can I do or who can I ask for help to learn how to do them better?”  This puts the focus on how you can improve and gives your brain a problem to solve.  And your brain likes solving problems.

Step 4 – Become your own cheerleader.  It seems to be human nature to have self destructive, negative thoughts.  And, we are very good at creating negative stories in our heads about future outcomes.  But, you can change your thought patterns so that, instead of focusing on the negative, you can focus on the positive possibilities; instead of being your own worst critic, you become your best support.  Treat yourself with the same compassion and kindness you would give your best friend if she were feeling down.  Avoid saying anything to yourself that you would not want another person to say to you.

Step 5 – Practice. Practice. Practice. – Retraining your brain is no different to physical exercise.  The more you do it, the better results you see.  Just like going to your yoga or exercise class, there will be days when you won’t be motivated to do the work of paying attention to your thoughts or replace them with positive messages.  The more you practice it, the more natural it becomes.  And, you’ll feel a sense of pride for your accomplishment and a sense of control over your life. That creates an incredible boost of confidence!

The Bottom Line – Your brain can only hold one thought at a time.  Give it something positive to focus on or a problem to solve.  You can feel better about yourself and more confident – today!

Your Turn – What are some of the negative thoughts you have about your riding (I’m sure you won’t be the only one with that thought).  Share them in the comments below and I’ll help you re-frame them.  

Share this post to spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Enjoy your journey!

There are lots more practical and in depth tips on improving your Confidence and your Partnership with your horse in my book “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.   NOW AVAILABLE on!

 Interested in organizing a Confident Horsemanship clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (  

Click here to grab your FREE REPORT “The 3 Most Important Secrets You Need to Know to Develop Confidence with Horses”

Brought to you by Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship – Putting you and your horse in good hands.