Horses Who Spook in the Wind
“Some advice on what to do in windy conditions” – a Horse Training Article
by Linda Parelli
Whatever the time of year, the weather can suddenly turn windy… sometimes making horses spook more easily. In this article, Linda Parelli gives us some advice on what to do in windy conditions.
It’s natural for prey animals to be spookier in windy weather. All that movement in the bushes makes it much harder to detect a predator, so they are on high alert. But here’s the key: when a horse completely trusts you, he will no longer feel unsafe. It’s all about the relationship.
Many people think they have great relationships with their horses, but let’s take a look at what a “relationship” between horse and human really means. Does he see you as friendly and trustworthy and a worthy leader?
Think about and answer the points below.
- Does he come to you as soon as he sees you or turn away and leave?
- Does he prefer your company or the company of other horses?
- Does he let you touch him everywhere or does he have spots he’s worried or defensive about?
- Does he do what you ask willingly, or does he argue with you or get skittish and bracy?
- Does he move confidently where you ask or does he balk and shy and try to go the other way?
- Does he become more relaxed in your presence or more tense?
- Is he calm when you are calm, or does he act as if you aren’t even there?
- When he’s afraid, do you get tense and hold him back or can you stay calm and focused without making him feel worse?
This is the kind of relationship we are talking about. When you can confidently say “yes” to all the above points, then you know you have transcended the prey-predator relationship of constant insecurity (with both you and your horse). Once this relationship has been formed, all of your problems go away… not just the spookiness when it’s windy.
Horses respond to love, language and leadership in equal doses. Some people are really good at love, others at leadership, and most are not good at language with horses. This is because for the most part we are taught to longe our horses in mindless circles to blow off steam, saddle up and get on, kick to go and pull on the reins to turn or stop. There is so much more that you can do to communicate in a more sophisticated way; a way that gives you the language to calm a horse down, prepare him, and use energy and body language more than legs and hands. In order to truly get your horse’s trust as friend and leader, you need to be good at all three: love, language and leadership.
Different horses need to be shown “love” in different ways; this is not just about petting your horse and giving him treats. If your horse is unconfident, nervous or withdrawn, you need to give him lots of undemanding time. If your horse is confident, domineering, playful and easily bored, you need to do interesting and playful things with him.
Either way, you are showing how much you care about his emotional needs, and each approach does not work for the opposite Horsenality (his unique personality)! Learn how to approach your horse as the individual he is and he’ll start to change his opinion of you.
Horses have a well-developed language between themselves, but when it comes to horses and humans, you can’t even call it a language. A series of kicks, squeezes, pulls and clucks might help you start, stop and steer, but you really have no way to get the horse connected to you mentally and emotionally.
How are you going to tell him everything is okay? It’s not by saying, “easy boy,” but if he looks at you like he does his alpha horse, he’ll take his lead from you. If you are calm, he will behave calmly.
Pat Parelli figured out a way to communicate with horses using body language and a specific set of maneuvers that horses use with each other. These are maneuvers which mares use with foals right from the beginning.
He named these maneuvers the Seven Games. No matter what maneuver you want a horse to perform or situation you want him to be able to deal with, one or more of these Games can be found at the root.
The most important game is the first one, the Friendly Game. Until we accomplish this maneuver, horses can be suspicious about our predatory intent, and that alone is enough to make them not want to listen.
What is a leader in the horse’s eyes? The horse is calmer, smarter, braver and more athletic! The 7 Games help you to appear this way because they are the games horses play with each other in order to establish dominance and leadership within the herd.
When in “Horseville”, you need to do as horses do, to feel, think and act like a horse and to earn your position as alpha, as the leader rather than the “owner” or “rider”.
Horses are natural followers who are looking for natural leaders. In a horse’s eyes, natural leaders are good communicators, sensitive and focused. They are mentally, emotionally and physically fit, and they never use force, fear or intimidation. If leadership does not come naturally to you, then you need to learn it. Your problems are not about the wind.
As your horse’s leader, you are going to be taking him into situations that he has no genetic preparation for; therefore, it is up to you to prepare him. Use simulated situations where constant movement is a feature and play with your horse on the ground as if nothing’s going on, as if to say “don’t focus on that, pay attention to what I’m telling you!”
You could have a friend tapping on a fence, rhythmically rustling a tarp or blanket, opening and closing an umbrella, etc. You don’t want them to come near you; just have them in one spot a good distance away from the horse so he’s distracted but not panicking and trying to leave.
Play the Seven Games with your horse as if the object is not there. Each day, play the Games closer and closer, retreating as soon as your horse gets worried and then re-approaching. Continue doing this until your horse doesn’t care what else is going on. You will improve not only his self-confidence but especially his confidence in you as a leader.
Remember, it’s not about the commotion; it’s about your ability to stay focused and keep getting your horse to focus no matter what is going on.
There is no quick fix for a spooked horse. It’s all about building their self-confidence, their confidence in you as their leader, and then maintaining that confidence as you go into more and more challenging situations. When your relationship becomes really strong, all those problems simply disappear; it’s not about the wind.
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