Help For A Spooky Horse

Sacking out a horse is a good way to expose the animal to new things. However, sacking out will never replace good solid training.  A horse that is trained by someone who takes the dominant position as the herd leader will not be as spooky as a horse that is trained or ridden by someone who does not.


It’s all in the attitude. I try to explain to a beginner rider right off the bat, that they may see me be rough with a horse once in awhile.   What appears rough to a human, really isn’t rough to a horse it’s natural and comforting to them.  Of course I’m not going to take a whip and beat a horse, that would be ridiculous.  I do however man handle them once in awhile when they get out of line.  Manhandle to me means to push them around.  I treat them like a horse.  Horse’s knock each other around all the time.  It’s how horse’s establish their pecking order in the herd.


Horse’s don’t feed each other treats. Treats don’t teach horses to behave.  It’s not a good reward either.  The best reward is to learn to understand how a horse’s mind thinks.  Horse’s like a release on their mouth, a pat on the neck, and a message on their crest.  Of course they love food, but I would not use it as part of their training.


When a horse feels secure that you will keep him in line, and be his leader by consistently keeping him in line you will see that sacking out is not really necessary. I prefer to use sacking out to check how much training a horse needs.  It’s also good for a less confident rider to help the horse learn to accept different things.


There are only so many hours in a day. I can’t be all things to all riders and all horses.  I just can’t do all of the training that needs to be done, so therefore sacking out is a little bit of an insurance program that a horse will not spook for a novice rider.  What I am really trying to say is that sacking out is a good tool for your horse training bag, but it is not the be all end all.


The best way to help that spooky horse is to:

  • Consistently maintain the leadership position.
  • Spend lots of quality time with the horse.
  • Be consistent at all times keeping your horse’s attention while riding and training.
  • Keep his mind occupied with work, instead of what is going on around him.


First a horse will look at something, then he will spook. Keep him busy with work, and he won’t even notice clothes blowing on a clothesline.  Be single minded, determined and confident.  That is what makes a good herd leader, and that leader is you.


About Deanna Castro

Deanna Castro has been training horses and riders professionally for over 18 years. She trains riders in Horsemanship, Western Pleasure, Showmanship and Trail Riding. Deanna is married to Native American Horse Trainer Fredi Castro and she is the author of "Six Weeks to a Better Horse".
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8 Responses to Help For A Spooky Horse

  1. Sabrina says:

    GREAT blog entry!! I do use treats for training here and there…depending on what it is that I’m teaching. Flash for example…for weeks seemed like he just wasn’t understanding ANYTHING…spooked at EVERYTHING…wouldn’t lick/chew…tense jaw…etc. So when he’d do as asked…even if it was accidental…he would…as always…get his release and “good boy”…BUT then he’d get a chunk of apple. It made WONDERS in his behavior…and he started picking stuff up quickly…was less spooky and looked forward to work. Flash still gets treats here and there when working depending on what we’re doing especially new behaviors but not as often…we’ve broken down that barrier for the most part and so now things are easier and those treats aren’t as necessary. And depending on what it is that we’re doing with Diago…he gets treats too…like what we’re working on right now. I want to show halter with him but do NOT want to use a whip, jerk on the lead, etc to get his attention…so instead…I set him up…and make a clucking that sounds more like saying “t” over and over…while holding my hand out either to my left…right…or above my head…and when he looks with his ears forward and reaches just a bit…he gets the treat! If he takes a step…he gets put back…no treat. If he wiggles his lips or anything silly…no treat…ONLY when he gives what I’m after…and it didn’t take more than a few sessions and he’s NOW getting it…LOL!! And he’s starting to become consistent with just the “t” clucking and pointing without the treat in my hand. I spent MONTHS trying to get him to do it without a treat and just pets and “good boys” and it just didn’t work! The way to my boys brains is through their stomachs…LOL!

  2. dcastro says:

    Thanks Sabrina! There definitely are some horses that can work while being fed treats. Yours definitely sound like the exception rather than the rule. I like to blanket response no treats, because most horse’s just cannot handle it. Keep up the good work :)

  3. Just because a horse is sacked out doesn’t mean it’s not going to spook anyway. I’ve seen with mine that have been sacked out, they’re good with what was used but can still react to something else.

    One of the young horses I am working with now can get funny about the saddle with someone he doesn’t trust. Acts like he’s never seen it before. But me, I have no problem with him. It’s like you said about acting like the leader. He knows he can trust me to take care of him no matter what.

  4. Sabrina says:

    Thanks Deanna!! I totally understand using the blanket statement of “no treats”…trying to explain the specifics of when it’s appropriate and the exceptions to the rule could take hours…LOL! I definitely know many more horses and situations (even with my boys) where treats are definitely NOT the way to get what is desired.

    And I agree with MiKael…and about being a leader. The other day I was talking with the barn owner about starting back to work with Diago. He told me “be careful”…and “he’s a spooky thing”…and went on to tell me about how during evening feedings he’ll take off out of the barn when a pigeon or any of the other birds who nest in the barn flies in. At first I thought he was talking about Flash until he said Flash would take off out the door after Diago. He’s NEVER been like that when I’ve been in the barn…even when the little buggers would dive bomb us!! The ONLY thing I’ve ever seen him spooky about while in the barn has been when a snowplow drives by. Jason and I were talking about it after I got home and we assumed it was because he trusts me to keep him safe…and if something doesn’t bother me…then it’s not worth worrying about…with the exception of snowplows…LOL! Of course this is the same horse that’s reared at the barn manager of the last facility we were at…scared another gal at the same facility to the point where she refused to turn him out…and had people telling me he’s dangerous and that he’d kill me someday. I’ve NEVER had that thought even cross my mind when handling him as he’s NEVER done any of the behaviors to me or in my presence that I’ve heard others describe to me nor has has given me any reason to believe he’d purposely injure me let alone “kill” me…LOL!

  5. dcastro says:

    Mikael, good point! So true, we can’t sack a horse out with every single object that he could encounter.

    Mikael & Sabrina, you both are awesome :) . I love to hear that your horse’s trust you so much. For me gaining trust from a horse, that’s half the fun of the whole process.

  6. Pingback: Help For A Spooky Horse Deanna Castro Professional Horse Blogazine | Shed Kits

  7. Kyanna says:

    Hello Denna, I am a beginner rider and my new horse tends to be very spooky. He also has a problem of where he cribbs constantly. I am terribly afraid to get on his back . He is Broken and his breed is Paso Fino. He is afraid of cars. You can barely wave a blanket without him jumping away and running. I have researched lots to get him out of his spooking habbits. He is most relaxed after a nice long groom. But Shortly after he is straining his head away cause of something flapping in the wind or something shiny he is seeing on my clothing.

  8. Hi Kyanna,

    It sounds like your horse is in need of some ground work. By working him from the ground before you ride him it will allow him to get some of his excess energy out and then he will be able to think clearly.

    Groundwork should be training time and not a free for all as some horses would like to think. Time spent training on the ground will be reflected in the saddle. From the moment your horse leaves his stall he will be training.

    I think the two of you would benefit greatly from my ebook Six Weeks to a Better Horse. This will walk you step by step through my training program to get you on the path to change the horse you have into the horse you have always wanted.

    Keep me posted on your progress!

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