Indigo is a pretty brave horse. Shes never said to me "I WON'T". She might hesitate for a moment or give a few spooks. She trusts me and knows where her own feet are and finds her way through anything I have pointed her at with a little encouragement.
Last night I seen her old owner and we had a chat about this spotted pill. Her husband used to ride Indigo. He just wanted to, as she described it "John Wayne", get on the horse and toddle down the trail. Indigo is perfect in an arena or any controlled environment. She most certainly is not a dude ranch trail horse and likely will never be. The only problem is Indigo has an addiction on the trails. Indigo is a spookaholic.
Every person walking in the distance, every bird in a bush, every manhole, asphalt spot on the road or kid on a swing is a potential horse eating monster.
She does the classic dive to the side or the rocket ahead when a bird comes darting out of the bushes. The thing is with Indigo this horse never misses a beat; she sees EVERYTHING.
If you notice every picture I have taken off her back her ears are forward.
When shes in the barn she might fall asleep for a minute only to pirk up suddenly and stare with great interest out the door. She hears every sound, every cat fight and every bird (more on birds later), and probably every mouse. I often startle her when I just walk around the barn and the wind is blowing in the right direction she didn't hear me holler for her before appearing. She jumps, whips her head up, flares her nostrils and bugs her eyes at me, then stares, alternating her ears between whats going on around her and me. After a nicker and studying me for a few seconds she comes over. None of the other horses jump. They look and then continue eating.
Her biggest fear is birds. I don't mean she sees one flying in the air and goes postal. She hates when they flap in bushes. She especially hates when they fly out in any general direction. Don't even get her started on ducks in ditches. They quite possibly might be the end of the world. When all this erupts she just wants to get the hell out of Dodge.
I remember letting a friend ride her a few years ago. This friend has a good seat but not a lot of horsemanship knowledge. Fast forward a mile down the lane and bushes appear. Indigo spooks, my friend reprimands her. Indigo spooks, my friend reprimands her. Lather, rinse, repeat. I mean lather. By the end of that ride Indigo was spooking at things she normally wouldn't give a second glance to. We switched horses.
So I thought about my friends approach as well as many other riders who I have ridden with that had the same reaction to a horse spooking: punishment. Now I know some riders will disagree and say sometimes horses spook to get out of doing work. I do not necessarily agree with that because when you stop work and focus on reprimanding the horse spooking your giving the horse what it want's; an escape from work.
I often talk about how much people teach me about horses. I don't mean sitting there watching someone working with a horse, I mean watching people interact. Maverick and I were at this amusement park called worlds of fun. We just got on this ride called boomerang and a man and his young daughter got in the cart behind us. The young girl was totally terrified. Instead of the dad going "it's going to be ok, it's just a ride" he was bullying her "I don't know what your so scared of, quit crying, STOP IT, ENOUGH, YOUR JUST FINE" telling the girl how she felt when obviously she was scared. About this time the girl was bawling her eyes out and the ride attendants were telling the man she cannot ride because obviously she was that upset. They got the girl off the ride and she went down the off ramp and the father rode the ride alone. We sat there shaking our heads. After we got off the dad caught up with his daughter who's eyes were now dry. He continued to shatter her confidence and respect in him by telling her he couldn't believe she didn't ride and it wasn't even the scariest ride there and she couldn't expect to ride other rides if she couldn't go on that one. Parenting at it's finest.
So backtrack to riders punishing their horses for spooking. Put yourself in the role of that parent and your horse in the role of that girl. By the sounds of the conversation that girl had been on rollercosters before. Maybe your horse has been on trails. Obviously something about that rollercoaster scared the girl. Maybe something about the trail your horse has been on is scary today. Are you going to be the parent who bullies and scares his kids or the rider who pats their horse and tells them it's going to be all right?
So putting this into perspective what do you think will give a kid/horse more respect and confidence in you? Grabbing at the reins and getting upset, making the kid go on the rollercoaster or praise and encouragement?
It takes a long time to make a confirmed spookaholic come clean but it's possible.