Top five spook-busting tips from stunt rider and trainer Ben Atkinson

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We’ve all experienced spookiness at some point or other, and for some it’s an unwanted behaviour that can quickly ruin a hack, schooling session or dressage test.

The main reason your horse spooks is because he has a strong flight instinct.

Put simply, he’s programmed to run away from anything he perceives to be a threat.

In the wild this would be a lion or a wolf, but in our domesticated horses it’s plastic bags and pheasants.

All-action rider Ben Atkinson needs his horses to be able to deal with noise, movement, crowds, gunshots, galloping with others, the lot. We asked Ben for his top tips to desensitising a spooky horse.

  1. Leave scary (but safe) things in your horse’s stable to desensitise him to new things.

  2. If your horse is scared of dressage boards or water, leave a white board or blue tarpaulin outside his stable door so he has to pass by it or walk over it.

  3. Tie balloons to the arena fence when you ride.

  4. Ride with other people in the school with you, moving around and making noise.

  5. Do some gymkhana games – they’re great fun and a good way to help your horse get used to unusual objects, riding with other horses and so on.

With a spooky horse the most important thing is to take your time, taking tiny steps every day. Always be ready to go back a step if your horse is struggling.

Find out more tips from Ben in the full article in issue 447, available here.

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