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Horse Runs Backwards When Spooked

15 August 2011 No Comment

Horse Runs Backwards When Spooked
We asked horse expert Lynn McEnespy.
More about Lynn McEnespy

My fiancé’s mare, Misty, has this wonderful habit when she spooks, she backs up at the highest speed I have ever seen…. and she is not paying a bit of attention to what is behind her when she does this, so far she has backed into a parked pickup and put at 800 dollar dent in the door, backed into my horse and almost knocked her off her feet…We have yet to find a way to stop this when it is happening…. there is no turning her or getting her to move forward until she stops backing on her own…we do trail riding and some of these trails have pretty good drop offs. I’m afraid she is going to back right over the edge of one some day…any ideas on how to correct this?

Misty is 11-years-old. As I said there is no getting her to move forward, change her backward direction, or turning her in circles when she does this. She just totally ignores the aids. At any other time she is a well-mannered, well-behaved, responsive mare. The only thing I could think of other then trying to get forward movement the usual ways, control the direction of her backing, or circles were spurs or a crop, but have hesitated to have him use these aids as she seems to be spooking and I’m not sure those are the answer either. I have also thought of the continuing to back her when she wants to stop, but that wont work either as she doesn’t stop until she runs into something and can back no further anyway. Luckily she does not spook often, but when she does this is her response…thanks for any help you can give us…


YIKES! This sounds scary and potentially dangerous.

I am always an advocate for the horse and sometimes I think I am a horse hypochondriac, however with all training problems the question of the horses health must be taken into consideration. A good friend of mine, Dr. Charlyn Brandt, DVM, CEA, referred to this type of problem as “brain”, “pain”, or “training”. Frequently, the “brain” or “pain” would prevent the “training”.

Standard methods would deal with reinforcing the “go” response by doing transitions from halt to walk, trot, and/or canter and insisting on prompt response to a light aid. If the light aid is not effective, then a good smack with a whip is in order to get the response, even if they canter off or jump forward. The lesson is repeated until the horse will canter from a halt when you breathe deeply! (No joke – I spent a lot of money learning this lesson from a very well known dressage instructor.)

With your horse, it sounds like the “brain” part turns off whenever she is scared. This is also the case with horses that pull back and won’t stop until something breaks. This is very difficult to rectify as it can be caused by a multitude of problems including eyesight, back pain, or even EPM.

For safety sake, and assuming you want to keep the horse and your fiancé, I would suggest you invest in a month or two of training with a reputable professional in your area. Be specific in discussing the horse’s problem and request an assessment of the horse’s ability to be a safe trail horse for your fiancé. Also, horses remember riders, they are not programmable like computers. If the training seems to be resolving the problem, make sure you arrange to ride the mare with the trainer several times to learn how to deal with the situation if it arises again.

Good luck and keep us posted on your progress,

Lynn McEnespy

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