Looking for advice: Trying to solve spooking during so many changes

ngross

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Jul 5, 2020
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Our recent move has created so many changes & I'm trying to help my 14 year old quarter horse gelding to decrease his spooking. A little background - I've owned him for 6 months, my trainer helped me find him/worked with him and I & helped us build our partnership. My gelding is head shy (previously treated roughly & a previous owner tried to brand his face) He was used as a reining horse and its typical for him to spook at a hand/rope/broomstick raising quickly into the air or quickly towards him. A calm, slow, relaxed approach with clear communication and giving him time to process works well for him. We have a partnership, but it's not rock solid yet. My gelding has skills & manners - Ex: waits for a cluck/permission before walking on his own through a gate/forward, lowers his nose into his halter, respects my personal space, not mouthy, & responds to a very light leg and a light rein. My problem: we have moved from CA to WY & now our 2 horses live with us instead of boarding and my gelding is spooking more frequently and in response to a variety of triggers. A loud 35 mph wind with rain blew in quickly when the 2 horses were in the corral, we opened the gates to their paddocks & stalls, 1st horse came in, my horse hesitated at the entrance of his paddock and then bolted and began racing around the corral in fear. I walked calmly out into the corral, was able to get his attention and visually guide him into his paddock and then stall, where he calmed down, but other times when the wind has picked up - he is fine. He spooked when I was putting on his halter in his stall, but previously and afterwards has been fine with his halter in his stall. Other times I can't identify why he has spooked and he seems "on edge". He is the Leader of the 2 horses (and get along well in the corral, groom each other, and stand together against their shared stall wall with window bars, but when they are both in their paddocks they are still nipping and biting at each other across the fence - we're increasing the fence height tomorrow). When he spooks our other horse thinks there must be a reason/threat and he'll spook too. Their stalls and paddocks are beside each other, which they find comfort in, but it also becomes dangerous for us when we are in their with them. His reaction to the 35 mph wind and its noise mixed with rain and movement of the bushes etc - I understand and I'm glad he followed me and let me help him. But I have no idea what to do to help him with the other spooks that seem out of the blue - except, to make sure to not allow a "spook" to become an avoidance behavior, but I can't identify the trigger for his increased spooks. There are a lot of changes of course, so they have a structured daily schedule, they show they are learning the routines, and we are moving very slowly before we attempt to ride them. Does anyone have any suggestions?
 

Ale

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Feb 8, 2012
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How long ago did you move them, could just need more time to settle in? Also has their turnout length, feeds, exercise amounts changed alot as this could lead to extra energy that has to come out somewhere?
 

ngross

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Jul 5, 2020
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Thank you for your questions, Ale. We moved them 4 weeks ago. They have longer turnout times now, most of the day. We only bring them in to eat and at night. They are still eating grass hay, but now it's some from last year's batch from our own hay field (sold the rest last year since we weren't living here full time.) It has a bit of stray alfalfa mixed in most of the bales. Our 1st horse was given flakes of alfalfa at the boarding stable, but my horse was just given straight grass hay when boarded. We have not been giving them structured exercising, since we have been working to improve the ranch grounds, caring for the hay field and now it's time for cutting, baling, and preparing a place for hay storage. This batch of hay has a lot less stray alfalfa plants in it & we'll start feeding it in a week or so. The only "instruction" we have been working on has been walking them on their lead ropes, keeping them (and us) to their daily schedule, and establishing the routines we are using with them. This is the first time my husband and I have been responsible for their 24 hour care, so the 4 of us have been getting used to that. The horse have been playing in the corral together, running and rolling in between grazing. We don't feel we should try to ride them until we get my horse's spooking figured out. Today was the first day we saddled them and led them on their walk by the reins. Is that wrong?
 

carthorse

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Jan 6, 2006
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I'd be inclined to give him a bit more time to settle. Also go out into your pasture and take a good look at your grass - is it a different type from where you used to be? Some horses react strongly to changes in grazing and it could be that the types of grass making up your pasture are giving him too much energy, though quite what you can do about that short of killing it off and reseeding with something more suitable I don't know.
 

chunky monkey

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May 2, 2007
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Even if you dont ride can you lunge the horses. My boy if not ridden gets much more excitable and hard to handle. If i lunge him it gets his brain thinking and uses up some of that excess energy.

Whilst i appreciate you dont want to ride a spooking horse. I wouldnt recommend hacking out. Could you not have a small bit of field sectioned off to ride in.

4 weeks is still too soon for some horses to be settled.
 

Jessey

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Dec 20, 2004
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Alfa can make some horses a bit hot, it might be worth picking up a few bales of straight grass hay to see if it is effecting him, and as @chunky monkey suggests getting him working may help him settle. It’s probably also worth finding a trainer locally to help you along, there was a lot of really good horsemen in the area of Wyoming where I spent time ?
 

chunky monkey

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May 2, 2007
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I thought id read somewhere too that alfa can make a horse hyper, but didnt want to say that as i wasnt sure. But jesseys pretty knowledgeable on this stuff so im sure shes right. So you might want to change what you feed.
 

newforest

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Mar 15, 2008
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I moved mine two weeks ago and she appears to have made herself at home.
I pretty much left her alone the first week to process things. I wanted to get the field as I wanted it, so I was around without asking anything from her.
I noted where she was dozing or looking at the views (seriously she is :)) so I made that into where I groom /tack up.
But I saw some pretty speedy shoot offs with noises she's wasn't used to.
But I have carried on with the odd lunging /longreining session and she was ridden out in the first week. She's going to startle and be jumpy, I would expect it.
You might find though that the spooking is because you are not doing anything with them.
 
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Frances144

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Dec 21, 2011
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Time, give your horse time, lots of it. I know it feels like you are paying/keeping a field ornament but horses thrive on relationships and routine.

Change of environment, friends, food, people, etc upsets everything for a horse.
 
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