KBR Horse Training Information

Exercising Body AND Mind

Retraining Spooky Horses

A horse that unexpectedly spooks at things can be unnerving and even downright dangerous. Many times the way the horse perceives and reacts to his environment can be changed. This feature will discuss some logic and concepts that we use to teach horses to respond more reliably to unexpected stimulus.


The horse should respond rather than react to unexpected simulus.
  • The horse should be curious.

  • The horse should look to the rider / handler for advice or direction.

  • The horse shouldn't trigger an immediate flight response when confronting something new.


Most horses don't retain much knowledge when they are highly stressed. This characteristic presents a problem when a horse is startled and bolts. He experiences a stress avalanche, he instinctively flees, and when he recovers his composure he is a safe distance from the stimulus. This survival behavior reinforces itself each time the horse blows up.

Our strategy is to progressively change the association from fear to curiosity so that the horse can learn to accept and investigate new or unexpected stimulus.


Aggressively confronting a frightened horse seldom works. Pequiño, the horse in this feature was aggressively confronted by a "certified" trainer using a flag (plastic bag on a stick) which only served to further undermine his self confidence and make him even more volatile.

We opted for a more systematic approach, rebuilding the horse's perception and response foundation and increasing the challenge as he demonstrated his ability to process the stimulus that we were presenting to him.


Since Pequiño had a real issue with plastic flags, we needed to create an environment where he wouldn't instinctively bolt from them. Sharon and Patty Thomas decided to reintroduce him to plastic flags using clicker targeting. He was pretty scared of the flag at first but within about ten minutes he would touch and snuffle it with his nose. The fact that he would approach and investigate the flag on his own was a good enough start for one day.
Snuffling the flag

Continue to Part Two

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