Sound reactive horses ... solutions?

Unfortunately I’ve had a couple of instances where my mare - while hitched - has heard a noise behind her and panicked, which resulted in crowhopping, bucking, and attempts to bolt away from the cart attached behind her. It’s not an equipment or pain issue, it’s definitely triggered by a sound behind her - combined with the sensation of the breeching engaging and disengaging (when she lurches forward and then meets the resistance of my pulling back to attempt to stop her).

It’s been quite terrifying (I was lucky to have a coach present for the second one) and, while I already know I need to go back to basics with her once again to work on more desensitizing, I’m thinking ahead to another bit we can try that might give me a bit more control over her until I’m more confident in driving her without anticipating a panicked reaction again. At the moment she’s in a half cheek french link and goes beautifully in it for the most part, what should I be considering as a temporary substitution when she’s seeming ready to be put to again?

Ear plugs or a sound proof bonnet



I wouldn’t have thought of that, so have ordered a pair to see if it helps! Thank you :slight_smile: Can ear plugs be a long-term solution to a problem like this? Does anyone else out there rely on the regular use of ear plugs for their more reactive horses or ponies? (Asking because I genuinely am not sure).

1 Like

I don’t drive, but for my very sound reactive mare, yes - plugs have been a long term solution. I don’t use them every time I ride, but she seems spookier in indoors where the sound echoes differently, or in the winter when ice is sliding off the roof. Plugs have been a lifesaver, probably literally. I find that no bit makes a difference, if she’s freaked she’s freaked, so reducing the stimulus is much more proactive and effective.


I know people who won’t ride of show without them so yes they are fine for long term use


I feel the turn this thread has taken required a more fitting title so have modified it accordingly!

I don’t drive, but I ride daily with ears stuffed for my reactive horse. Pro tip: soft foam cat toys cost pennies on the dollar and are the same thing as Pomms, just in different colors. My favorites are from Pet Valu if you’re Canadian, since they are solid colors and $.89 each, but otherwise, these work well (even if they are ugly):


The cost savings there are hilarious! Thanks for sharing that link, I may have to swing by Pet Valu en route to the barn (since dealing with this dangerous issue is my entire reason for being right now :sweat_smile: ).

Question, though … the fluffy ones seem easy to grab and pull out, how does that work with these round foam ones? Is it possible to grab them without accidentally shoving them too far in? (Ear plug newbie here, clearly).


I am so jealous that you have Pet Valu! When they left the states, I cried. I miss those cat toys!

Unless your horse has abnormally large donkey ears, I can’t see how you could stuff them too far in. I just make sure they are in firmly and any hairs are gently tugged free. Most all of the horses I use them on shake their head after having them put in, so I wait for the shake and then check they’re still firmly in. Usually give a gentle push with a finger to be sure. Pulling them out is easy, either by pinching the ball or popping them out with a finger.


I have to say, standing tied in harness with blinkers on is hard to beat as far as training for this goes. I Am training a horse for a lady who literally sets her watch for 30 minutes than asked me if she has stood long enough for a good lesson. She is a very nice lady and I have to chuckle. I have done many parades where the horses were harnessed and “working” for over 8 hours. at the same time even at shows the minimum a horse will be expected to stand is 2 hours when we are hooking the 6. We practice this at home, while chores are happening, just so when we are out in the public we are safe. obviously we try to work younger horses and stallions in with some consideration, but I expect more from them at home than we do in the show.

Not saying that ear plugs are a bad deal, but at the same time when your stage coach gets robbed the 20th time that day in a shoot out, the horses tend to settle in a bit.


Another cheap way to do ear plugs is an old polo. I would just trim off the end to make a square and stuff it firmly down the ear. You can get about 100 ear plugs out of a polo.

But horses can hear pretty well with ear plugs, or at least mine could, they could even hear commands on the lunge line. But there’s something about earplugs that makes most horses less noise reactive.

In the interim you might want more bit in case you need some emergency brakes… Usually a Liverpool version of whatever mouthpiece she goes best in it’s easiest. You can put it on the cheek for mild and use the slots of it’s going to be a tough day.

1 Like

I’m bowing to @DMK 's much greater Driving experience, but I’d hesitate using earplugs on a Driving horse.
Blinkers already limit their field of vision, desirable as you want them focused on your only aids: voice & hands.
I want my mini to hear Every.Single.Thing. I say.

I’ve had the misfortune of having a pony behind us freak out & make an awful racket, causing mini to try to bolt forward & escape whatever it was.
My extra loud WHOA! & steady, holding hand were helpful in having him settle.
Same just Sunday, when he decided dropping to roll in a deep, sandy part of a trail was an option.
In that case, voice & whip convinced him otherwise.
Good thing, as I had a passenger & no way either of us could have gotten to him in time to stop the roll.

I’d go with @house 's suggestion of working on extended Stand & Halt, along with a stronger bit/bit setting < @DMK’s “emergency brake”.

1 Like

You may want to do some sound conditioning to help horse be more accepting of odd, peculiar or SUDDEN surprise noises.

We have found the Spookless CDs to be very helpful in this area. They are made for horse training in particular covering MANY kinds of sounds. I got a used CD player at Goodwill, put the CD on repeat play while horses are stalled. Sound was moderate to start, over several days. Then volume was louder as time went on. Horses came out to be harnessed, shod, groomed, driven away from the barn while hearing the noises.

No one had/has earplugs, never thought to use them! There also used to be noise tapes at music stores that contained many kinds of other noises too. Not sure if they still make those kinds of recorded things now. I carefully guard that tape!! Probably should try putting it on something more modern for easier use. Just a whole different class of loud noises.

A Google search turned up the Spookless site to purchase from. I believe you can read the noises on each of the CDs. If buying only one, I think the one we got was the Police Horse training tape for the most kinds of noises.

Something I learned about half-cheek bits, is that if you turn it so the cheek is pointing upward, add a bit-keeper to the bridle cheek, put the cheek in the other loop of bit-keeper, the bit always seems to work a little better.

Watching son ride with a ring snaffle with the half-cheek in the bit-keeper, there is less “time lapse” between reins and horse response, because mouthpiece is already in position on tongue to signal responsive horse.

Sorry if this sounds awkward, but any type ring-sided (D-eggbutt-loose ring) bit with a jointed mouthpiece, needs to have the slight slack taken up by reins before horse knows what you are asking. This is the “time lapse” mentioned earlier. Most horses have a little slack in reins to prevent continuous pressure deadening mouth feel. Taking up the slack has reins slide up the ring to get straight to the hands, mouthpiece slides to lay across tongue, THEN horse is ready to respond.

The bit keepers keep mouthpiece across tongue all the time, no need for bit to get aligned.

Changing to a bit (same mouthpiece) with cheeks creates leverage which the ring-sided bit does not have. So the way both bits works in horse mouth is completely different. Not using the curb chain on bit with cheeks kind of defeats the purpose of making bit stronger. Use of the curb chain will change how the joints fold in the mouth. Often are worse, joints poking up into top of the mouth, twisting because curb chain does not allow the same kind of pull as ring sides.

If your horse needs a stronger bit, use one! Being frightened you will lose control with your present bit is not worth it, takes all the fun out of driving. Then keep working for better obedience.

Personally I have nothing against direct pull, ring-sided bits. We consider them a step in training, with the final goal being a horse who goes well in a curb/leverage bit. We just think horse can do more things easier, in a curb bit. Some things are easier to teach them using the curb bit. The leverage is actually very minimal, rein in the slot just below the mouthpiece, curb chains in place, not usually tight. Our mouthpieces are solid, ported, thick, so horses are comfortable wearing it. No jointed mouthpieces here.

And we are back to horses ignoring science, mechanics, with some horses loving those jointed curb bits!! Ha ha


I’m so glad you said this! The cause of all this panic is the result of a terrible, no-good, awful decision I made to try and use my mare to drag a pasture with chain-link. She startled when she heard the noise behind her and when the drag appeared to “chase” her, she just exploded. We were so lucky there wasn’t more physical damage done to her or I by the time I was able to detach her from this monster, but clearly, it’s had a psychological effect that wasn’t apparent until she heard the cart make an unusual noise behind her yesterday - whereupon she took off in a blind panic. We had to move fast to detach the cart from her harness in the few seconds we had when my coach managed to get to her head, because I don’t think she’d have stopped bombing around the arena until one - or both of us - were seriously injured.

We’ve already begun working on scary noises today just in a halter and lunge line, and I’m just hopeful that between additional desensitization and a stronger bit (for back-up if needed), we can get back to where we were before this whole darn thing occurred. Sigh. We had already done so, so much desensitization and she was a complete superstar throughout, which is why this setback is so disappointing.

Anyway, I’m checking out that Spook Less site as I type this … thank you for the suggestion!


So it turns out that Spook Less CDs are all sold-out, HOWEVER, you can access the Mounted Police and Trail Riding editions on Spotify, Amazon Music, and Youtube. I’m presently checking-out on Amazon with a tiny bluetooth speaker that I can tie to the end of the lunge whip and project these sounds from behind her as she’s lungeing.

Feeling more positive today about Project Spookproof the Pony :+1:

1 Like

Usually a drag/stoneboat/sled - whatever is first used to introduce weight pulled - is attached with a breakaway in mind.
Twine that can be quickly untied, anything that can be un-attached ASAP if horse objects to the weight or noise.

You can also have someone follow as you ground drive, with that person pulling the drag, so the noise is there, but not attached.

Good luck & hope your mare can Forgive & Forget, get past the setback. :crossed_fingers::pray:


When I go out, I put the reins in the slot below the ring on his bit for a little more control than when I am working him in the arena. We were out driving the road when an Amazon van was backing out of a driveway. That sound made us BOTH do a double take. It was a really weird, almost alien beeping/trilling sound. Thankfully he was sensible about it and listened to my direction, but he wasn’t a fan.


I think you probably have more than just a noise issue, this is SCARY THING ATTACHED TO ME and noise all tied up in a neat bow. Ear bunnies aren’t going to fix that, plus they can most definitely hear with them in, so I wouldn’t even bother.

You are going to have to break this down into a lot of small steps, but at the very least noise needs to be conquered without a vehicle attached before I’d try too much else.


I would fasten the speaker making noise ON YOURSELF. You then can turn it off as needed. Being on the whip, following her, is not going to go well because speaker is too far away to turn off quickly.

We had a horse at the Trainer, who requires all horses to go quietly before ever hitching, when a hand bell is rung. Have to say the TB forth in her breeding appeared after ONE clang of the bell!! She took off like a rocket, galloped in the indoor, just wearing harness, for a VERYYY long time. She was blowing pretty hard when she finally was ready to listen to WHOA. Not sure how bad she would have been if bell had rung more than once! This is why you need to be able to stop the scary noise INSTANTLY if horse wigs out.

It took almost a month to get our horse to quit reacting to the bell. Most of that time it was only one clang and she was off! She did work down, then it took some jangling to get her going. Finally one day, she just did not react! They rang the bell like it was a wedding! Horse twitched her ears, kept jogging on the arena wall, changed direction when asked, changed speeds as asked. Never reacted to the bells again, even wearing a belled collar during lessons. Horse then was able to progress in training again.

You may want to invest in a kicking strap to have it on hand when trainer thinks horse is ready to put the cart back on. Strap goes across the top of croup, fastens to shafts. Horse is less able to lift rump for kicking with driver and cart weight holding rump down. Discourages kicking, bucking behaviour. LESS LIKELY to get a leg over a shaft or kick the dashboard. Helps to have a cart with a seatback to prevent human falling backwards during a commotion.

As DMK said, there is a lot going on here. Horse needs to work thru all those little things to get back to her original self. I suggest starting any pulling with very light weights, small car tire. Big weights, hard to move things are scary! Gives horse that “somebody has got me!” feeling.
Horse has to learn to take pressure when pulling. No place else in her life is she allowed to push on things. Always taught “Give to pressure,” move over, back up. So moving weight is against previous training. It is a building process, learning to handle increasing weights. Takes time, sometimes a LONGGG time. A month or two is not a long time.


Thanks for the advice, all, it’s truly appreciated. I’ve worked with her every day this week, and we have successfully conquered noisy aluminum plates tied in bunches with the twine tucked under the end of the turnback strap between keepers for quick removal if necessary) as well as bells, and have been playing the Spook Less soundtrack while lungeing.

I wore the bluetooth speaker on me to start, but it didn’t seem to really elicit much of a reaction from her (maybe a good sign?!) so I cautiously snapped it on to a ring on her saddle so she could hear the sounds coming from behind her (which is our issue).

It’s tough because it’s the sudden loud sounds that really cause her to jump forwards (which is a fair reaction, I suppose, it’s just what happens after that … i.e. the bolting). Banging the sides of the arena as we go by etc. seems to affect her the most, so I’m trying to condition her to freeze in place (aka halt) if she’s scared or uncertain.

I’m all ears if there are any other suggestions or ideas, otherwise will continue this until I feel safe enough to slowly add the cart into the mix with a helper on-hand. I did snag a mullen liverpool bit on clearance ($10!) at a local tack shop too, but will introduce that beforehand during one of our “noise sessions”. Ahhh, horses :crazy_face:

1 Like