Spook McGill? 19 Top Tips for de-sensitising your horse – not numbing it!


One of the first things that happens when a horse spooks – is the rider spooks too!

So, take a break; don’t think Kit Kat think Cadbury’s Caramels’ Rabbit and “Take it easy”

  1. First you: The following tips show how you can calm yourself down,  and in turn help to calm your horse:
  2. Breathe! When we are anxious our breathing becomes rapid or stops. Take deep breaths to relax yourself.
  3. Relax your shoulders. Drop your shoulders down and let your arms relax a little too.
  4. Relax your legs. The tenser you are the more your legs will dig in. A sensitive horse may confuse this as an aid.
  5. Talk in a soothing voice. “Shhh” your horse and talk calmly to it in a low husky “whickering” voice.  You can practice this at home, soothing your horse when grooming and just making it a relaxing time for him/her. This will also relax  you.
  6. Laugh and Yawn. Even if you are on the verge of tears, yawn and giggle even sing! If you are doing this at home when your horse is relaxed, he will associate the sound with no danger.
  7. Know your horse  If you know what your horses limits are then you can work on them.
  8. Soothe Your Horse. Horses don’t like to be afraid, so work on their natural instincts to bring them back to harmony.
  9. Encourage your horse to lower its head by having low and open arms. A horse is relaxed when its head and ears are down.
  10. Scratch your horses withers and neck as if you are mutually grooming.
  11. If you have a new horse always introduce them to a few “scary” things in the arena or yard before hitting the road.
  12. Introduce potentially spooky things when you horse is in a safe enclosed space.
  13. At first leave things far away but clearly seen then gradually move them nearer.
  14. Don’t always put them into the same place – or the horse might come to associate that particular area with spooks and then continually spook just there even when there is nothing to actually spook at!
  15. As he becomes accustomed move things into the arena and ask him to work around them.
  16. Working from the ground initially and give him something else to think about such as asymmetric poles laid on the ground, or jump stands to walk around and through; anything which will ask him to think about other things.
  17. Again introduce all new things slowly, take your time and praise then stop and return another time.
  18. Many people use the following in an arena to desensitize their horses: umbrellas, wheelbarrows, bikes, cars/lawnmowers, tarpaulins or plastic bags on the fence or even the ground.
  19. Do this safely though and think about yours and the horses safety.