What Are You Looking At? 

It’s a common thing that happens to riders. You go to get on your horse, and he immediately starts dancing around and looking at everything going on around him, rather than focusing on what you’re asking him to do. 

Your immediate response is to grab the reins and force him to stand still. But instead of quieting down, your horse just gets more anxious and starts dancing around even more. 

Asking a looky or worried horse to stand still can be counterproductive and cause a big blow up as he tries to escape the pressure you’re putting on him by making him stay in one place. 

Instead, try an alternative approach, which avoids making your horse feel confined or restricted and allow him to use his energy to your advantage.

If your horse is looking at something in the arena, take him into a circle until his attention is back on you. Photo by Nichole Chirico

Utilize His Energy

Every time your horse
becomes fixated or anxious at something in the arena, or has become laser-focused on something beyond you, gently pull him into a circle. Keep circling until his attention returns to you. Once his attention returns to you, you can go back to walking him around the arena.

By doing this, your horse is expending the excess energy he might have bottled up. You are also warming your horse up, and helping him become softer and more supple.  

Remove Forward Motion

If your horse is trying to pick up speed and move to a jog or lope while you’re attempting to walk around the arena, you can use a similar technique. The moment your horse goes to move into a faster gait, take his head to one side and pull him into a tight circle. By doing this you should be able to stop the forward motion and get his attention back on you. 

Continue to keep his head turned in that position until he finally stops and gives to the pressure. While you pull his head to the side, this is a good time to observe what he’s doing. How does he feel in your hand? Is he soft and supple or is he bracing against the bit? This can help factor in what you need to do during the rest of your warmup.

Fear Not

Here’s where using an object your horse is afraid of can turn into a valuable tool. Say you’re near a door, and your horse is nervous about approaching it. Instead of forcing the issue, gently shift his shoulders left and right. Because he doesn’t necessarily want to go by the door, he’s going to be more willing to move off your leg and hand, and naturally move away from said door. Without even realizing it, you’re working on suppling your horse and getting him to move off your hand and leg. And eventually your horse will get bored with the door and realize there really isn’t anything worth spooking at over there.

This drill isn’t about forcing your horse to confront his fear but using that looky behavior to achieve a supple and responsive horse.

Avoid Scare Tactics

One common mistake I see a rider make when dealing with a looky horse is when they go to a new environment and then show their horse every little thing in the arena. This can backfire, as it can make your horse fixate on potentially scary objects that he never saw to begin with.

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