Equine Behavior Questions and Answers

The Question: My question is how to I get my gelding to stay calm even while the other horses are screaming for him?

I wanted to send you an email to see if you had any advice on how to handle my gelding. He is twelve years old and has always been spooky and full of energy. I moved him back in April to a new barn and he has calmed down considerably. There are three other horses that he is out with during the day. I recently tried to trail ride with him and he did great until we were on the way back and he heard the other horses at the barn screaming for him and he smelled the barn. He started to get very anxious and wanted to bolt and started screaming back. The other horses are all together so they have companions, and when I ride close to the barn but out of site of the other horses he is ok, it is just when we were trail riding. My question is how to I get him to stay calm even while the other horses are screaming for him? Thank you so much for your time.

The Answer


Your gelding sounds a bit like one of mine. My boy is thirteen this year, but heís still full of energy and spooky. He spooks at things like clumps of weeds sometimes! My guy tends to spook because he gets bored, and trail rides are good for him because they give him plenty to see and do.

The behavior your boy is showing on the trails isnít surprising. Horses are herd animals, meaning they feel most secure when theyíre with their herd-mates. His herd-mates donít much like him being away from the herd and when they hear or smell him getting close, they call to him. He wants to be with his herd-mates, so he answers them back.

You can try a few things to help him out on the trails. First, you might try riding him along with someone else. Then he wonít be alone on the trails and may feel more comfortable. If he behaves with another horse along for company, you can try alternating between riding with another horse and riding alone.

If that doesnít work or isnít possible, try very short rides away from the barn. At first you might only go 5 minutes down the trail before turning around. If he behaves, praise him and put him away. If he doesnít behave, turn him around and head further down the trail once he starts screaming or put him to work turning in circles, turning on his haunches or forehand, sidepassing, etc. In other words, when he doesnít behave he has to work and work harder. When he settles down, try going back towards the barn. As long as heís quite and behaved, praise him and keep going but if at any time he begins misbehaving, turn him around and make him work. Over time, you can gradually increase the length of time you are out riding.

Some horses are insecure when by themselves, and they need you to be a confident, quiet and firm rider they can trust. Being a confident rider will give your boy the confidence to be out alone, too.

Good luck Ė and I hope your trail rides become much more enjoyable soon!

The Equine Behaviorist

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