Despooking Your Horse

country tough trail versatility equine competition equine health horsemanship and training online learning Feb 15, 2024
Despooking Your Horse

First, if you are having trouble with your horse, do not be afraid to seek help from a trainer or clinician.  Do not feel like a lesser rider by wearing a helmet, and ride with others until you have overcome any issues.  Your safety always needs to be a priority!

In my world, I must have equine that are desensitized and able to handle some crazy situations.  Our mule and horses and used for lessons, daycare visits, nursing home visits, guided rides, and competitions.  With us hosting all sorts of clinicians and with me having a Masters in Teaching, I have been able to categorize every form of training used to despook/desensitize all sorts of personalities of mules and horses.  As an overarching theme, all equine learn from the release of pressure.  To put what I have learned to the test I competed with 3 different horses and a mule this year.  I ended up with a 12 year old horse winning the Reserve National Champion in Lead Line, a very spooky mare ranked 3rd in Missouri in the Open Division who also won the 2016 Reserve National Champion in the Green Horse Division, a small filly qualifying in Green Horse, Open, and the Futurity Division, and a mule winning a rodeo queen title, a Reserve Champion at the Festival for the Horse which was a Western Dressage competition, and qualify for nationals in the Green Horse and Open Division.  I am not saying this will always work, but I am saying that it is working for me with very different equine.


If you ask your horse to go over something or through something such as a ditch and they move their hindquarters to the left, you use your left heel to push them back over.  Blocking reminds me of the game of pinball.  If they skirt right, you apply pressure to the right.

Resting Point

I use “resting point” when all else fails, because once you start this battle, you have to stick with it until the task is finished.  Your mule is not on your time schedule.  It could take 10 minutes, or it could take 45 minutes.  In “resting point” when you have a refusal, it is time to get those legs moving and then offer the task you asked for to be the only place they get to rest and catch their breath.  If you offer it to them and they refuse again, then it is back to work.  I am never mean, just factual.


If you are past the point of being able to use blocking because they over shot the task, make them back up until they are able to correctly to do what was ask.  If your horse starts backing up on their own when they are scared, then you cannot use backing as your correction.  It is a fine line that you will have to decide what works for your mule.  Out of my four equine that we use on the ranch, I can use backing for three on the four equine.


Circle 75

This was a new technique I picked up from Amish trainer, Sam Shetler.  This is highly affective with spooky mules and horses.  Have you ever had a ride do a 90 or 180 with you on them because they spooked.  Typically, our first instinct is to pull the animal back towards the thing that spooked them.  Wrong.  Think about this; they were scared and now they have pressure applied to that side of their mouth.  You just justified their fear.  Instead, you should have that mule spin on their haunches with pressure for 75% of a circle in the direction they spooked.  You want to make their decision a BAD decision.  Once you come around, 25% of the circle has no pressure, which is in the direction of the initially scary object.  If they spook again, around you go again.  It does not take long for them to start seeking the release of pressure towards the object that once scared them. 

Treat Training

I am aware that I will probably get some humbles from the crowd from saying treat training.  However, last time I checked killer whales are doing performances with swimmers, dogs are doing some amazing agility maneuvers, and children have been taught how to use the potty for years with treat training.  Here’s an animal that spends over half the day eating, and you don’t think they would be motivated by a treat?  I do not use treat training with every animal, just the ones that are highly reactive, and I only use it after other tries have failed.  Typically, it is a sound spook or cumbersome items such as a raincoat, umbrella, or a massive stuffed animal.  I present the object and when they stop reacting I give them a treat.  There is a major right way and a major wrong way to treat train.

Each equine is a different combination.  My primary lesson horse just needs blocking, the highly reactive mare needs circle 75 and treat training, the small filly needs backing, and the horse needs backing, circle 75, and resting point.  Happy safe trails!

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest from Von Holten Ranch.
Don't worry, your information will never be sold or shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.