How to Overcome a Spooky Horse/ Spooky Rider Mindset

Have you ever ridden in an arena where there seems to be a spooky corner, or a scary side, or a monster behind the mirror? You horse just doesn’t want to go there, and quite frankly, neither do you?  You said yes?  Let’s take a deeper look into the eyes of the riding boogie man and if in fact, this is real or our mind playing tricks..

Often these scenarios start off quite innocent. Maybe your horse had a little shy or a look or spook, when they passed something that scares them such as a duck flying from the pond beside the arena, or maybe a kangaroo pops through the trees as you are trotting down the long side, or your horse has never seen a mirror before. Circumstances happen to all of us from time to time, but how you respond to them makes all the difference!

Are you going to create a scary movie and recreate that same experience each ride, or are you going to see it for what it really was - which was a single moment in time.

Often when we have an experience, we hold onto it - mentally and physically. We will hold onto that experience for days, weeks or even months. If your horse shied at the mirror when it first walk passed it and you decided that “My horse doesn’t like mirrors” then what are you going to think next time you ride in that arena? My bets are hedged on something that goes a little like this:

Option a) Here we go again, my horse doesn’t like the mirror in this arena so I probably won’t get a good ride. 


Option b) My horse is always scared of other horses and when he sees himself in the mirror, he is going to think it is another horse and he will freak out again. I should just ride at the other end of the arena so we don’t get into a fight again.


Option c) We never have a good lesson in this arena because my horse doesn’t like the mirrors.

If you have already decided that something is going to go wrong, where do you think your focus is will be? When you expect your horse to shy at a particular place in an arena, you automatically get ready to react and respond to what you think is going to happen, before it actually does.

Our body reflects what our mind is telling it. 

• We tense up in our shoulders
• Our breath comes up into our chest and is more shallow
• We physically get ready for the shy by leaning forward (the fetal safety position).

We basically create our horse’s response to the mirror, via anticipating in our mind, and confirming with our body's reaction. We repeat that bodily response time after time, until we have ‘trained’ our horse to assume that the mirror is scary and with that, we encourage the shying. We are really quite clever at teaching our horses, without even realising we are doing it!

If you are finding yourself in this situation and ready to find a positive solution, then here is what you can do –

Stop talking and thinking about it before it even happens!

I am always amazed by the number of riders who tell me exactly what their horse is going to do, before they even get on the horse. Thinking about something, then talking about it, and finally feeling like it is already happening, is the best way to recreate the same results. If you don’t want to experience it again then just STOP IT and start to think, talk about and imagine your horse just walking and trotting past the mirror calm and relaxed.

Now I can just hear some of you saying: “That might work in the walk and trot but definitely not in the canter.” Can I point out that you are doing it again! Didn’t you hear me before? I said STOP IT…….

Let’s be realistic here for a moment, you don’t know what your horse is going to do in the canter until you are cantering, no matter how smart you are and how well you think you know your horse.

So let’s make some changes off your horse:

• Firstly, decide what it is you want your horse to do when you ride past the mirror.
• Then think, talk and imagine that process.
• Take a moment to visualise your horse walking, trotting AND cantering past the mirror and your horse being calm and relaxed.
• Visualise the two different scenarios – the one where your horse shies, and the one when your horse is calm and relaxed. Observe where your breath sits in both these scenarios.

When you are on your horse, take a moment and let your breath go to that place where it was in your visualisation. The one when everything was good. It might take a moment for your breath to get there (deep down in your belly) but please, give yourself that time to get there. This is really important.

When you start riding say to yourself: “My horse is calm and relaxed when going past the mirrors”. When you say it, say it like you mean it! It will help you relax and calm down, and your horse will be more relaxed and calm as a result. Saying “Oh my god I have to keep trying to relax but I know my horse is going to spook any moment now”, is not going help you or your horse to relax now is it?!

So remember, instead of predicting or assuming, stay in the moment. Ride each stride at the time. When you think something might happen make sure it is something positive and a memory worth creating.

Happy riding, Tanja

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