We all think we know what an honest-to-gosh spook looks like but sometimes looks - just like spooks - can be deceiving.
Remember that healthy horses feel incredibly good, better than you or I will probably ever feel, so all that energy and joy of life has to go somewhere. Thus, "the spook that really isn't". It's a playfulness that I love to see but personally don't enjoy riding. What to do?
Turn-out and longeing and consistent work are easy answers. Look too at what you're feeding your horse - horses don't need a high carb diet (period!). Also, too much protein can be a problem. Some horses just can't tolerate alfalfa and, excessively sweet feed is not good either (though I do feed some horses a little grass chop which does have crude molasses in it). Sometimes altering diet alone can really change a horse's behavior.
I always let my playful horses really play on the longe line before I put them to work. I see people who don't want to take their own time to longe or if they do, may be reluctant to let their horses kick up their heels and shake their necks and really play before they get down to work. Some people have the mistaken belief that a horse who "broncs" on the longe line will by "bronc-y" when ridden. That is definitely not the case.
Horses that have too much energy are just not going to listen to their rider, their minds will be on everything and anything else. They'll "spook" and "scoot" and no amount of trying on your part will change that situation. They cannot focus until you let them get that energy out of their system.
Sometimes too, "fake spooking" is actually a horse's way of trying to evade their rider and evade their work. This is a very learned behavior so it's best to put these guys right back to work after a spook - no coddling! I definitely will get after them for this using my spurs or crop for discipline. I like to work these horses more in each single session. I want to put them away a little tired - not exhausted because that can cause a horse to "hate" their work but I definitely want them worn down. If they have the stamina and I have the time, I may even work these horses in the morning then again for a shorter period in the afternoon - I'll definitely work them at least twice a day at a show to make sure they're able to focus when I need them to.
So, management is again the key. These playful horses take more time but often they learn to enjoy working and their energy can be used in a positive manner. Many of these horses go on to become really good show horses or whatever their job will be! Hope this helps you deal with your playful horse! Talk to you next week, JD.