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


However good a rider you are or how well you know your horse, and it can be the quietest of cobs or the hottest of horses, if you are not concentrating and your horse suddenly flips round; like our horse Dolly does for a pass time! Your heart can’t help but flutter and your breath become short. Oh! And you bottom sore if you landed on the floor.

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” says Horse Scout Blogger (who particularly likes chocolate).

So, top tips time:

First you: (six on one)

The following tips will help you can calm yourself down, and in turn help to calm your horse:

  1. Breathe! When we are anxious our breathing becomes rapid or stops. Take deep breaths to relax yourself.
  2. Relax your shoulders. Drop your shoulders down and let your arms relax a little too.
  3. Relax your legs. The tenser you are the more your legs will dig in. A sensitive horse may confuse this as an aid.
  4. Talk in a soothing voice.  Talk calmly to him 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. You can try this on other people too…..but don’t blame me for any consequences!
  5. 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.
  6. Know your horse  If you know what your horses limits are then you can work on them.

And now your horse: (half a dozen of the other)

  1. Soothe Your Horse. Horses don’t like to be afraid, so work on their natural instincts to bring them back to harmony.
  2. Encourage your horse to lower its head by having low and open arms. (Keep your arms soft thought!) A horse is relaxed when its head and ears are down.
  3. Scratch your horses withers and neck as if you are mutually grooming.
  4. Introduce potentially spooky things when you horse is in a safe enclosed space.
  5. At first leave things far away but clearly seen then gradually move them nearer.
  6. As he becomes accustomed move things into the arena and ask him to work around them.


A little bit extra –(six of the best)

  1. Don’t always put scary things in 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!


  1. 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.
  2. Again introduce all new things slowly, take your time and praise then stop and return another time.
  3. 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.
  4. Do this safely though and think about yours and the horses safety.
  5. Let your horse look. If it sees no danger it will calm down. Be prepared for it to not like what it sees and spin, but if it does keep it going in the circle to face the problem again until it understands there is no danger.