De-spooking a Horse

A spooky horse presents considerable risk to a rider. Many serious accidents occur when a horse reacts negatively to something unfamiliar. Using natural horsemanship techniques you can teach a horse to be brave through any challenge. Putting the time and effort into de-spooking is well worth it. De-spooked horses are safer and more enjoyable to ride.

Prior to Training

Saddle your horse with your usual saddle and bridle. Do not forget to put on a helmet. Mount and warm your horse up as normal. Be sure your horse is responding to all of your cues. Ask the horse to turn to the left and right and to stop and back up. Once the horse appears to be responding well, move on to the de-spooking training.


Find or create an obstacle that your horse is afraid of. Be sure that the area and the obstacle present no threat to you or your horse. The object could be a bridge on a trail, a plastic bag in a tree, a strange piece of farming equipment or anything else that you know frightens your horse.

Start from about 20 yards away and ride in a straight line towards the obstacle. When you first notice your horse tensing up and preparing to spook, stop, relax your body and point the horses nose directly at the scary object. This will give you maximum control if it decides to spook. Do not allow the horse to move sideways or backwards.

If the horse tries to move or turn, softly pick up the reins and turn its nose back to the object. Pet your horse to reassure it that it will be ok and remember to stay relaxed. A horse can easily feel the tension in your body. Take a few small steps closer to the object then ask your horse to stop. If the horse moves willingly, offer praise in the form of a pat and reassuring voice.

Continue taking small steps forward with stops in between. Draw closer and closer to the scary object until you are within 5 feet of it. Stop for a long while, release all pressure on the reins and talk to your horse in a calm voice. When you are sure you have control of the horse's nose and are confident that it is comfortable, slowly walk the horse past the object. If the horse passes the object with confidence, continue walking beyond the object then stop and offer praise. If the horse is still nervous, back up to a place where it is comfortable and repeat the exercise.

Follow these steps with objects that frequently scare your horse. Once a horse understands that the object is not a threat, riding will be safer and less stressful for both of you.