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.

You can get your Free Instant Access to my report “The 3 Most Important Skills You Need to Develop Confidence With Horses” when you visit

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  

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

Women in Transition – An Equine Guided Workshop


October 26th – 1 day workshop in Mulmur, ON (north of Orangeville)

This workshop is open to women of all ages & no previous horse experience is required.

Change equals risk. Whether we resist it or embrace it, change is inevitable in life. Most people fear change and prefer to stay in the comfort zone of the known and familiar.

In this workshop, we will look at the resistance to and fear of change as well as some ways to not only get through it, but to approach change in a positive way.

You will learn how to:
stay focused
let go of the need to be in control
reduce emotional attachments to outcomes
reduce your concerns about failure

When you implement these strategies, you will feel less frustration, increase your drive to make change happen and have increased confidence and self awareness. For more information or to register, visit The workshop is limited to 8 participants – only 2 spaces remaining.

Women, Horses and Smooth Transitions – It’s about more than riding

Transitions.  Change.  Turning points.Winding path through trees

You can’t ride a horse without performing transitions – unless you’re just sitting on the horse not going anywhere.  But, even if you don’t ask for it, at some point the horse is going to move – because that’s what horses do.

And if  you ask your horse for a transition, but you or your horse (or worse, both of you) are not balanced, supple and in sync with each other, you’ll be in for a bumpy ride.  It won’t be pretty, it won’t happen quickly and you won’t enjoy it.

Transitions are also a part of life.  Here we are in late summer transitioning into fall.  The Swallows have left the barn for their long flight to South America for the winter.  And, I’m hearing more Blue Jays and Chickadees in the trees.  Some of my friends have just sent their young adult children off to the first year of university and others are becoming first time grandparents.

It doesn’t matter whether the change is thrust upon you or something you choose; whether it happens quickly or evolves slowly; whether it’s a small change or a huge one; whether you’re 18 or 78.  Letting go of the old and accepting the new is challenging.  It’s a process – a journey.

“Where has the time gone?” is a question we all ask at the different stages of life.  Events like your child’s first or last day of school, the birth of a grandchild, the death of a parent, a change in career or relationships, retirement are all points along our journey that cause us to remember the transient nature of life.  But instead of fearing and bemoaning these changes as we suffer a mid-life crisis, we can ride forward through them.

In riding, smooth transitions require the horse and rider to both be supple, balanced and in anne-hennessey-small.jpgsync with each other as they move forward through the change of gait.  It is the same in life transitions.

  • Developing Inner Stillness helps you quiet the loud, non-stop chatter in your head (the monkey mind) so that you can connect with your inner voice.  The voice that whispers guidance to  you quietly so that you can reflect, re-evaluate and get clear about your true priorities.
  • Identifying Obstacles that hold you back from letting go of the old and moving on with the new.   Only when your recognize what the obstacles are can you develop a plan to go through, over, under or around them.
  • Discovering Resources and Strategies that will help you create and take the actions that will keep you moving forward into your new reality.
  • Connecting with a Supportive Community that helps keep you safe as you explore your feelings and connect with your authentic self; keeps you motivated and focused on your journey; and helps you build your confidence.

If  you find yourself (or someone you know) stuck in this state of transition or could use some guidance and support as you move forward through whatever change is happening in  your life, the “Women in Transition” Equine Guided workshop may be right for you.  I’m collaborating with my friend and fellow horse woman, Dr. Victoria Creighton.  The workshop is on October 26th at her gorgeous farm in Mulmur, Ontario, and her 3 lovely horses will be our guides as we work through each of the four areas mentioned above.

Fall is a wonderful time for re-evaluating where we have been, where we are, and where we are going in our lives.  Then, when winter arrives, we can take time to hibernate and incubate new ideas, thoughts and feelings as well as plan the actions we’ll take to move forward.  Because we must move forward or we stagnate.

Your Turn

What do you struggle with when you’re facing a transition? What are your specific challenges in the four areas mentioned above? Leave your thoughts below as a comment or through Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.