Calming Tips for the Normally Calm Horse

Hi everyone, happy Monday! :yes:

I wanted to reach out about some exercises for a normally dead-quiet horse that has a new found phobia of going off the property. I’ve been riding a OTTB gelding that raced for a few years, retired, and has been mostly ridden around at home and trails for the past couple of years. Normally he’s very agreeable with everything you ask of him – jumps around 3’ courses relaxed as can be, auto lead changes, hacks around on the buckle. No real spook in him and while still somewhat green, he’s a nice solid citizen.

However, I’ve been taking him to a few off-property events such as hunter paces and a few lessons and he is the exact opposite. Very tense, inverted, quick, and overall quite nervous. He hasn’t been bad in that he’s pulling dirty tricks or stopping at jumps, but he’s just not the same horse. I imagine he’s probably just back at the track in his mind, but I wanted to see if you had any exercises in your bag of tricks that may help with getting a more relaxed horse and an overall better experience for him.

I’ll do some figure eights or other little exercises to keep his brain busy, but as soon as we start something different, we’re back to the same tense, upside-down neck, giraffe movement type thing. What are your suggestions? I’m open to anything as I know this guy could be great in the show ring if I could get him to go around just like he does at home!

I appreciate the help!

Is there any way you could get him off property when there isn’t an event or a planned training schedule? Maybe he just needs some more miles hanging out and seeing new places. Trailering him around, going for a hand walk, watching the happeneings, eating some grass, but not having any questons asked may help him to realize this isn’t the end of the world. We used ot take some babies for show weeks, where they just hung out and got to be in the atmosphere without ay questions asked. Less stress. Also, make sure you stay as calm as possible and arent getting tense unknowingly.

Does he have a mellow buddy that could go on a few trips? The less of a production the trip is the better, probably – maybe a quick jaunt down the road to a good trail riding spot. You can work up to hectic show-type environments later, once he gets the idea that getting in the trailer doesn’t automatically mean he needs to get revved up.

I thankfully don’t have this problem before but when I was showing in the HB ring with my yearling, we gave him Alpha Omega Chill orally about an hour or so before we’d take him out. It would take the edge off of him and would allow us to have a productive show.

Now - 4 years later, he is a solid citizen and although he still gets a little excited right off the trailer (never nervous) he calms down right away. I feel as it is because we have never thrown a lot at him at once, and due to the Chill, he has always had positive experiences.

That being said, if you don’t want to use a natural calming supplement, I would start by more exposure but asking less of him. Start by just taking him some place and hand walking him around. Let him graze, let him relax before you start incorporating riding and training. I couldn’t agree more with MtnDrmz - let him graze, hand walk, etc and not having any questions asked. The less you can throw at him at once the better.

My young horse learned to feel extremely secure with me next to him over time, and now when we go to a new venue, I still take the time to hand walk him and I always put myself in between the “scary” objects such as the bleachers on the outside of the ring, that way he can see that Mom walks past them with out an issue nor a reaction so they are safe.

A lot of times they will react off of your own personal anxiousness - even if you don’t feel like you have any - you might be giving off some type of nervousness/excitedness/etc. By hand walking or taking a step back, you might find yourself to relax a little bit and therefore comfort and help him.

Mine started off a bit looky and tense away. What helped was eventually when I got my own truck/trailer and we started going places. A lot. Like every other weekend. And eventually, in a few months, it became No Big Deal, and she’s the same as she is at home. Lots of patience, and lots of practice!

Turn out overnight before you go to show, event etc. Works wonders.

I’ll also second turning out all night. :slight_smile:

Turning out is useful, as is continuing to go to shows, Keep your calm, keep your calm, go into quiet classes well below his skill level. Keep your schedule light and unhurried.

They do get used to it, honest.

This from one who walked one to the secretary’s stand who was on hind legs almost the whole time. :lol: