Winter Boogeymen

Getting out on the trails this time of year has brought the start of a second winter of being suspicious of boogeymen being out in the woods. Normally, soon to be 5 Fjord Charlie is generally pretty relaxed on the trails; solo or with others. Being a fjord, Charlie tends to be much more sluggish in the warmer weather and when winter comes around, has normal horse energy which is usually welcomed. The spookiness on trail is driving me crazy and really has me down this week. Ride one this week he was all sorts of wound up, second ride was much more calm but lots of reassurance, and our ride today was more like the first one. Startling at nothing and generally wound up. I got off and walked with him at one point to try and give us both a reset.

His spooks at the walk or trot are mostly just side steps of jolts which I don’t love but can ride out fine. At the canter, he will kind of half bolt, but never more than a stride or two which I can ride as well, but would rather not of course. I usually give him a spook or two if he’s got any, and go the reassurance route which usually settles him fast. Any more than that, and I get in his case about it, ask for some lateral moves on the trails, transitions, etc to get his brain more focused and attention on me. That hasn’t been working this week and neither have verbal “No’s” and bending him down after a spook to the point I don’t really want to give him a longer rein because it’s a matter of time before something riles him up.

Im thinking of going back to basics, hand walking some trails, ground driving some trails, more groundwork in general etc. I wish I could figure out what the cause was and now I’m worried I might be expecting this and he is feeding off me. Any thoughts/advice to get ahead of this? If it is just freshy winter attitude, I want to make sure we can still enjoy ourselves while we’re out.

Health wise, chiro and massage were out a few weeks ago just for spoiling him really, no prior issues and nothing they found. No new tack or anything else.

Merry Christmas and thanks in advance

Any given horse will trend more spooky more playful and more forward when they are feeling high energy. Horses often feel higher energy in crisp weather. They are wired to run around and play to warm up when its cooler. Also a Fjord is built for winter.

The solution is giving them more chance to burn off energy safely. Free longe or chase him around turnout until he stops zooming,let him cool off and ride.


I may start doing some ring work to start our rides then hit the trails! I usually do one or the other but this may work better for us this time of year. I usually keep ring work to about 20 minutes so that may help to cut the edge off. Thanks :slight_smile:


May also want to do bloodwork. Lyme, low on certain vitamins, etc. and the winter diet can impact vitamin levels that can affect focus.

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Coming five in some geldings, maybe 4 in 10 of those we trained, brings here and there some months that they are not themselves, but a more scaredy-cat, strange, some more bronky version of themselves.

One classic case of that was the spring one was turning five, had been here since started at three, all of a sudden he decided our farrier he had always liked all those years was now a stranger to blow rollers over and try to jump out of his skin when he came close?
Farrier looked at him, laughed and told him, you turkey, quit that, better hurry up and get that bird brain of yours back in gear.

Thankfully they outgrow it and if the basics were firmly in place before, they will be good to go once over that stage.

Maybe yours is there now, maybe he has some last permanent teeth coming in and is just a little uncomfortable?


Thanks Bluey, I was wondering this too with his age. We’ve gone through a couple testy periods in the arena, one last year and one this year. I was thinking maybe we are having one now on the trails too. They are generally short lived so far, so hopefully if this is the case, it will pass soon. He just had his teeth done in September and did have a lot of growth and some weird angles; I’ll keep an eye on that too.

I certainly don’t think it’s proper to suggest that a horse who’s spooky in the winter has Lyme. Otherwise pretty much every horse on the planet is going to be needing bloodwork.


@enjoytheride - my horse appreciates that I didn’t follow this advice. OP mentioned checking medical things at the end of the post. Also, if the person is where the horse goes from green grass to hay, vitamin E can absolutely be an issue, and since vitamin E impacts immune function - I suspect it caused a Lyme flare in my horse. And thankfully, bloodwork isn’t pricey.

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I have to restrain myself from suggesting Lyme testing for so many horses. But that’s what it was with my gelding, and I am so glad we tested. It’s not an expensive test, and I know so many horses (and people) who are positive. It’s an easy, reasonable rule out, I think. I got tested too, actually, after both my horse and my horse vet were positive.


I feel like everyone suggests ulcers, and to treat to see what happens. But given various rebound concerns from treating ulcers, I’m firmly in the camp of doing bloodwork first for similar symptoms - vitamin/mineral levels and a Lyme titer first. Not that pricey, and no side effects… If nothing shows up in bloodwork, proceed on to ulcers, body pain, etc. But bloodwork is high on my list to ID possible causes of out of character behaviors.

We are down to mostly hay this time of the year, he does get CalTrace Plus which has Vitamin E in it. I’ll have to look and see what’s recommended and see if he is getting enough. We trail rode with a friend the last ride out and he was a saint. Not ruling out Lyme at all, ticks are prevalent in my area and I have yoinked a couple off him before I realized that fly spray takes care of them once the flies die down for the year. My guess is it’s environmental/seasonal, he has been totally fine riding in the arena. It is on my radar though, I’m probably more worried about it than a lot of people in know haha.

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My Lyme guy even got weird about grooming - so If your horse is normal in the barn and arena, may not be a medical issue. I use the sound muffling fly bonnets on my horses in the winter. It not only keeps their ears warm, it muffles the apparently exaggerated noises of winter wind and weather. Maybe worth a try?


I’ve not thought of using the bonnet on him in the winter! Mine is your run of the mill kind, I’ll give that a try on our next ride out and keep the sound muffling one’s on my radar. Certainly won’t hurt!

My mare LOVES her ear muffs! She zens out on them, lol. The Schoekemeule (sp?) run big, but I love the Le Mieux. I also just ordered some from Schneiders that were on sale - look like they are more for summer weather, but a great price, so worth trying. I have the Centaur and don’t love those, and also have the Horze/Equitania version that look nice but haven’t ridden in them yet.

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Talking about ear covers…

My riding teacher’s sort of ruined Arab gelding (ruined before my teacher got him) spooked at EVERYTHING, no matter the weather etc…

I bought him the Fenwick Face Mask with Ears. This keeps the horse’s ears warm in the cold and the flies off his ears in the summer, and the titanium in it seems to help her gelding FOCUS ON HER instead of looking around for stuff to get upset about.

She always puts it on him now because all of his spookiness comes back big time when she forgets to put it on.

He is young, it is cool out and you most likely are feeding more hay as Winter is here and maybe riding not as hard?

Nothing that he is doing is ( to me) anything but excess pent up energy. Get his butt in the arena and work him good and then give the trails a try.

Our last two trail rides were great! We did 7 miles on the 30th with friends, and did a decent bit of trotting. I did put his fly bonnet on. We rode again today on the trails by ourselves (with his bonnet) and he was his normal self! Lots of loose rein walking.

Unfortunately the outdoor is now frozen and not good for riding or much of anything really; that will be touch and go until about March im guessing. On non riding days Im getting him out to hand walk and do some groundwork which seems to help. Going out with the group seems to be good in the mix too! One of our buddies is a seasoned endurance rider and his horse is rock solid. And he had his two girlfriends in the group too :two_hearts:.

@candyappy - we are only riding a little less! I try and suck it up as much as I can throughout the winter as long as it’s not raining or super super cold. He is getting a couple flakes extra during turnout as there is no more grass. I don’t know if that’s enough to get him revved up or not. I’m guessing it’s that he’s young and loves the cold haha. On the group ride, there was a spot on the trail that cuts a sharp turn. The group took it at a trot and we bypassed the turn and made it a baby bank jump…then did a little squee buck after then went right back to the trot. He was definitely having fun. I was much happier for that than the spooking he was doing before :joy:


Glad to hear it! I, too, use an ear bonnet year round on my now 10 year old. He likes to pretend his forelock tickles his ears u/s, nevermind that it doesn’t bother him if he’s nekked in the field LOL!

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