Horse Training Tips – Spooking

Dear Friend and Horseman,

Welcome to another Horse Training Tips Insider.

In my last newsletter, I posted my answers to training questions sent to me by my subscribers and online video members. The response to that newsletter was overwhelming.

Many people wrote to me saying how much they liked the information. So, in this issue, I’ve decided to do the same thing.

Okay, lets get on with the training questions.

Answers to good horse training questions


Hi Larry
It`s me Pia. I have ordered some more of your training videos……cause they are the best! – Anyway – I have a question for you – and I know there may not be any real answers……..but

1. Any idea how to react – or what to do when a horse starts to buck like hell? (excuse my language)

I got bucked off my horse Tucker  – he`s scared of everything – you never know when and why he gets scared – and usually I just sit and relax…..but this day he was really scared – and I didn`t relax.

 I gave him some spur – and then he jumped forward – and started a rodeo – I hung on for some time – but then he made a sharp turn – and I flew off – landing in a ditch – I was ok – but hurt for two weeks……so – if you have any techniques to get you out of a situation like that……. I would appreciate it. Thanks – and keep making those good videos!!!

Best regards

My answer:

Hi Pia,
Hey, thanks for getting my videos. I appreciate it.

First, let me say that a certain amount of “spooking” is normal for a horse. It’s part of his survival instinct. Evolution has produced a horse that managed to survive by being wary. The horses that weren’t wary got eaten by predators.

Because a horse has this inborn survival instinct, there are certain instances when “spooking” is an absolutely appropriate behavior… quick, sudden movements or something that looks like a hiding predator.

However, there are also times when a horse is spooking at something when there is no good reason for him to spook… an object that he has seen hundreds of times or an object that is a long ways away.

There are also horses that seem to spook at everything all the time. These usually have problems with their vision or they have developed a “spooking phobia“.

The very first horse I had when I was a kid had a spooking phobia. His name was “Lucky” and he was one of the most dangerous horses I’ve ever ridden. Actually, I was the one who was “lucky”. Lucky to survive riding him!

My parents bought Lucky for me as a surprise. I’d been bugging them to get me a horse for years. He cost $75 and that included the saddle, bridle and brushes. My parents were not horsemen. They had no idea how dangerous Lucky really was.

Lucky was a habitual spooker. When I first got him, he would spook almost every ride. I can remember it like it was yesterday. We’d be riding along and all of a sudden Lucky’s head would shoot up as high as it would go.

He would be looking at something waaaay off in the distance. He would then let out a loud snort, wheel around 180 degrees, bog his head and buck 4 or 5 jumps, then take off at a dead run.

I was bucked off in the ditch beside the road so many times that I lost count.

Eventually, I learned to weather the bucking storm. Lucky would wheel and go to bucking and I could ride it but I still couldn’t stop him.

He’d be running towards home full out. I mean really stampeding. When he realized I was still on his back, he would try other tactics to get me off. His favorite was to take me under the neighbor’s clothesline.

At a dead run, he’d turn and go up the first drive way we’d come to. Then, zero in on the clothesline and take me under it to knock me off.

It was weird but Lucky was a genius at finding a clothesline to take me under. He knew there would always be one located beside a farm house. It was amazing the way he would spot it and then head for the target like a guided missile.

I learned to step over and ride the side of the horse… the way I saw Indians do it on TV. This kept me from getting “clothes-lined” right out of the saddle.

Of course, when the clothes-line tactic didn’t work, Lucky would then head for a tree or a building and try to scrape me off on that. Again, stepping over and riding in one stirrup kept me aboard. (My saddle sure got tore up, though).

Lucky never did completely get over his spooking habit. However, once he learned that he couldn’t get me off, he didn’t do it nearly as often. If I had known then what I know now, I could have fixed him.

Okay, this is what I do when a horse starts to spook at something

As soon as the horse sees the scary object, I start schooling him to get him listening to me instead of concentrating on the scary object. Keep him busy and moving.

Example: Let’s say you are riding in the pasture and your horse sees a deer off in the distance and starts to spook. I’ll immediately start to trot very small circles and ask the horse to give his head into the circle. I might stop, rollback and trot the other way. I might spin, back up or sidepass. Do anything that will take his mind off spooking.

The idea is to keep him busy to get his mind on you instead of the scary object. As soon as he’s listening to me and starting to get a little tired, I’ll let him stand and rest while facing the scary object.

Usually, the horse is more interested in catching his breath than spooking. This teaches him to associate “resting” with “not spooking”. With most horses this is all you’ll have to do to address the problem.

However, in your email you said, “Tucker is scared of everything and you never know when or why he gets scared”.

You need to know that this isn’t normal behavior for a mature horse. Either his eyesight is bad or he has developed a phobia about spooking.

Have is eyes checked first. If they are okay you need to really address the spooking phobia.

I’ve had horses like your Tucker. They would spook every five seconds and jump out from under me or do some other dangerous action. I got hurt plenty of times.

Here is how I brought those problem horses to their senses… I made the act of “spooking” very, very uncomfortable for them. Let me repeat that in other words… Whenever they spooked for no good reason, I made them wish they hadn’t.

I would spin them hard and fast. I would jerk them to a stop. I would spank their butt and make them really drive forward into small circles. I short, I made them associate “spooking” with unpleasant, hard work.

In a short period of time, they weren’t so keen on spooking any more. I guess they figured it just wasn’t worth it.

You might keep this information in mind the next time Tucker decides to spook and unload you in the ditch.

Good luck,

Larry Trocha
Larry Trocha Training Stable

Pia’s reply:

Hi Larry
Thanks very much for your good reply….but Tucker could start balking or bucking in a situation like that – it`s like he freezes up and won`t move and then when you get him moving he`ll buck and pull stunts cause all he wants is to get away – but I`ll definitely try it. Thanks again.


My answer:

Hi Pia,
I just can’t picture a trained horse doing that. However, if he was my horse and he wouldn’t respond by going forward in a circle and start to listen, I would take his reaction as a lack of respect for my authority.

I’d make sure he respected my requests or I’d make him wish he had.

When he tries to get away or buck, use draw reins or an effective bit so you can get his head. And when he balks, spank him on the butt with a crop to make him go forward.

Some horses really resent being told what they can or can not do. Some of them will fight and you can get hurt (of course, you already know this, don’t you).

If Tucker is really serious about his bad behavior, it might be a good idea to get some help from a professional trainer. If you lived closer, I’d advise you to send him to me. In 90 days, he’d be fixed.

Larry Trocha
Larry Trocha Training Stable

My comments:

Okay, I know what I advised Pia to do above sounded a bit harsh. And I’ll be the first to admit, “on an average horse, it would be”. But, when a horse puts his rider in physical danger again and again, any means to make that horse safe to ride is more than justified.

Fixing the problem not only makes him safer for his rider but it may save the horse’s life as well. Dangerous or un-ridable horses usually end up at the slaughter house. We can prevent that if we can turn the horse into a safe and useful riding horse.

Now, I know for a fact that a few people who read this newsletter are going to send me hate mail. They will call me “bad names” because I advocate disciplining a horse for bad behavior.

Well, so be it. If those people don’t like what I say, they can unsubscribe from this newsletter.

Furthermore, there are people who will think that generous amounts of “petting and cookie treats” will fix this kind of problem. They are mistaken.

If you sincerely want to know why “petting and treats” won’t fix a spooking problem, I’m happy to explain it…

If a horse constantly spooks and you pet him to reassure him, all you are really doing is rewarding him for the spooking behavior. The “petting” will prolong the problem, not solve it. Pet your horses for good behavior only.

After reading that, I can just hear all the “cookie advocates” protesting… “petting is how I let my horse know that everything is okay and that he doesn’t need to be frightened”.

My answer is, “I agree with you. With a normal horse that occasionally gets frightened, that is the appropriate thing to do. Ppet him to re-assure him.

However, you need to use good judgment. There is a time when petting is the way to go and there is a time when discipline is the appropriate action.

Want to see video examples of exactly how to accomplish this?


You can see a good example of this in my online training course titled, “Groom, Saddle, Ride & Fix Bad Behavior“.

In the course, you’ll learn how to deal with just about any problem you can imagine.

Including horses that rear, buck, balk, kick, bite, spook, are barn sour, buddy sour, won’t cross water and won’t go where you want.

Larry Trocha
Larry Trocha