The Shying Horse

Posted on June 20, 2017 by Jerrilee.
Categories: breed, equipment, history, military, therapy.

photo courtesy of: Your Horse Co.UK

It is the classic story of the horse who ran back to the barn. In every crowd is a person who remembers the time they rode a horse who spooked and ran away. “I’ll never ride again!”, they confess.  Unlike a bicycle or a skateboard, the horse is a living creature with the ability to think and observe. This means they are capable of reacting to whatever they see. Riders cannot control the random events in the woods or the ring where they ride, nor predict the reaction of the horse to those events. But it is possible to minimize the reaction of the horse by pre-training them to respond to guidance from the saddle. The historic mounted cavalry was highly successful in training their horses to charge straight into battle regardless of the noise and confusion. The average horse can be trained to understand that the rider’s directions are a priority over any instinct to run away. This pre-conditioning will bring momentary hesitation when the horse discovers a wild deer or a motorbike out on the trail. This hesitation gives the rider a chance to reassure the horse before he loses control.

However, occasionally you encounter a horse who stubbornly resists any training efforts and continues to spook and leap sideways at every noise. They are displaying a learned behavior rather than an instinctual reaction. We call these types of horses ‘shyers’.

photo:Linda Parelli teaching horse to focus

The habitual shyer is a menace for its rider. The constant bolting or sideways leaping to get away from imagined danger unseats the rider and can leave a loose horse on the run. To develop safer behavior in these horses it helps to determine the reason for their continual disruptions. While there may be several factors involved, here are three basic reasons why horses develop the habit of shying: aggression, insecurity, or the rider. Let’s look at these individually.

Aggression.   Over the centuries, the horse’s job was to carry soldiers through battle. Through the trials of war, certain breeds of horses demonstrated the ability to be warriors in their own right. They quickly grasped the need to charge, bump, or even trample down the enemy troops. They didn’t flinch as they took a stab from a bayonet or a bullet in the flesh, but continued into the thick of battle with wounds that were often fatal. These breeds still exist today and carry the genetic code of their ancestors. They excel in police work where they are asked to intervene and redirect the public through bumping or stomping into unruly crowds, or in search-and-rescue work where they must crash through rocky, wooded terrain in search of criminal escapees or lost hikers. These ‘warrior’ horses fit very well and yield very quickly to a forthright, commanding personality who assumes control such as the policeman riding on mounted patrol. But when ridden by an indecisive rider who avoids confrontation, the horse will assume control. Centuries of breeding make the warrior horse dominant and vigorous. Without a dominant rider, disaster is immanent. These horses will develop the habit of shying because they need an object to be overpowering and a reason to charge forward.  It is best to always have a job for these horses to keep them occupied.

Insecurity.  The oversensitive, insecure horse is clearly the opposite of our warrior horse. Ever fretful and in need of a soft touch and kind word, they refrain from the overt action of the bolder horse. They are generally the quieter horses in the corral who follow the lead of the warrior horse. When ridden they prefer a soft seat from the rider and perfectly fitting equipment. Beware of using bits too harsh for their mouth assuming it makes them easier to control. It will only elevate their hyper-tension, making them squirm and spin until the problem is fixed.  Sensitive horses do their best trail work with a dominant horse as a mentor. They ride behind their mentor, who shows them how to walk over rough footing, cross water in creeks, or step over tree trunks that may have fallen across the path. If they aren’t guided in this way, they often develop skittish behavior, shying at every leaf that scuttles across the path because they are too afraid to be out on their own. This is why the rider of sensitive horses finds their role to be more of a cheerleader, building the confidence of the horse and convincing the horse to work for them. Once their confidence is won, these horses are nearly indefatigable. They display a brilliance and intuitiveness in show competitions and ring work that never wanes. The complex work of dressage or the split second timing of stadium jumping are equal to their level of focus and intelligence. This is why so many of these horses compete at the international and Olympic level. They are best matched with the analytical, ambitious person with long range, competitive goals, rather than wandering through wooded trails.

Riders.  Developing your competency in the saddle is a life-long necessity. Each decade brings changes in physical abilities through the aging process that we need to adjust in both ourselves and our horses that we ride. If you love your horse you’ll want to be sure that your position in the saddle is balanced and easy to be carried around. This correct posture in the saddle is your best protection from the unpredictable, shying horse. Equally important is matching your interests and personality to that of the horse.  If your horse is constantly shying on the trails and nothing is fixing it, you need to analyze the personality of the horse and see if it fits with yours. It may be time to find a horse that better suits your personality. If you want to keep your horse in spite of its problems, consider help from a professional who can work with you and your horse. Their suggestion to change your saddle posture, or the saddle you ride in, could make a big difference. Riding should always be adventurous and fun. With a little homework, you can make your rides outstanding!

Olympic Rider Kyra Kyrkland on Matador

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