Recently my mom had a fall from a horse and sustained very serious injuries (see link “My Mom’s Accident” on the right for more info)…. the horse she was riding spooked when a miniature horse came trotting up to us in the pasture as we were riding through. But it was not just a normal spook; this horse acted like the mini was a lion that was about to eat her. She jumped sideways, eyes bugging out, snorting, and then snorting and crazy, spun around several times and then bolted. When she took off, she veered suddenly to the left, my mom torpedoed off to the right, landing on her head. Although she attempted to regain control of the horse just prior to her fall, the horse was completely out of control. Recently I had the opportunity to ‘correct’ this problem (although a horse might never really be cured of this type of behavior, the following is a good guideline for resolving or reducing this type of behavior)…..
I was riding the same horse through the same pasture and in the same spot, when the same miniature pony came trotting up to us. (It was deja vu all over again!) My mare started to freak out; her eyes bulging, snorting, and started dancing around on two legs…. without hesitating, I immediately grabbed one rein and prepared for the One Rein Stop by cranking the shortened rein right around to my knee, bending her head as far as I could…. (this is no time for gentle; in a dangerous situation like this, use WHATEVER means necessary to crank that head around to your knee)…. meanwhile, as she was spinning around (now on one leg), I grabbed a large hunk of mane. I do this because I don’t want to rely on the saddle in these situations… my best bet for staying on the horse is to connect to the horse, not the saddle.
I spun her about 5 times with my inside spur firmly planted, and when the mini was about 2 feet from us, I stopped my horse from circling, and “Faced her fear” (the mini). As she stopped and sniffed, I let the reins out a tiny bit, but made sure I had a good grip in case she tried to squirt out to the left or the right. Had she tried this, I would have immediately brought her head back to the mini, continuing to make her ‘face her fear.’ She sniffed the mini several times and then began to lower her head. I let her reins out a bit more, and she let out a breath (a sign that she was starting to relax)… at which point I stroked her neck and praised her (still keeping my grip on the reins tight in case of a sudden attempt to bolt out of there….) I let her take a few steps, keeping in mind that it was very possible she might explode again. She didn’t. As we walked throught the pasture, the mini followed along beside us. I allowed my horse a bit more rein, but was keeping a sharp eye on her for signs of another spook/bad behavior. Fortunately, she was good for the rest of the ride. I will follow up again by bringing her back to this pasture and doing the same thing again, until she no longer bats an eye when the mini comes running up to her.
In situations like this, although dangerous and scary, I would rather be on the back of the horse than on the ground… I would not recommend this to most people. If you encounter a situation where the horse is really freaking out (beyond a normal spook), it is safer to get off quickly. Your life/limbs are far more important than any horse, and far harder to replace. Use the method described above only if you are a very confident rider, and as always, it pays to practice this technique at home with things like umbrellas and tarps and other scary items… just have someone there to help you and do it in an enclosed area. Start small and work your way up. Soon your horse will be ‘de-spooked.’
I plan to put up a video showing the technique I described above…. stay tuned!
Since that first correction with the minis, my horse is now perfectly calm with them. When we ride through the field, all three minis come up and circle around my big horse like tiny planets… then they do fly-bys as we walk through the pasture. My mare has never spooked at them since!