Training a Safe Trail Horse AKA Goodbye Buddy Sour Brat
In my job, I start where my client is at, considering their resiliency and what strengths are already evident - gonna take the same approach with my Red Horse.
- He has never hurt me or tried to dump me when I am riding him.
- He is safe around other horses, no kicking or biting.
- Red can ride in any position - lead, middle of the pack, or bringing up the rear.
- He is responsive to my aids on the trail, in the presence of other horses.
- Trailering is not a problem as long as he is not in the 1st slot of a slant.
- Red will give me everything he's got. If he is tired or breathing hard, he still works for me.
- When coming upon an unfamilar object, Red will stop, back up, spin, and retreat. He will fight to ignore my request to move forward.
- On a few occasions, he has made little bounces with his front feet. Not a full fledged rear, more like a threat about where he might take the argument.
- Red does not "do" trails by himself.
- If our trail buddies leave or go out of site, Red panics, calls out, rushes forward with his head as high as can be.
- I often feel like I am riding a potential powder keg, as Red moves with high head, mincy steps, and total hypervigilance.
- To tolerate having his buddy horse go out of site.
- To accept unfamilar objects and move on down the trail.
- To focus more on me instead of what imagined predators are hiding under the twigs and pebbles.
So here is our ultimate goal: Red will go safely and calmly down a trail by himself.
- Ride the horse the entire trail. Guide, direct, cue so that your horse is tuned into you, not the buddy horse. "When you are on the trail it is so important to focus on the journey and to be ahead of your horse. I always suggest people ride actively and guide their horse's foot falls in some way the entire ride. Lightly side pass around the odd rock on the trail for instance and always pick the path, sometimes diverting one way or another where it's safe just to keep the horse expecting and receiving the rider's input. Whenever a horse is "left to his own devices" and is allowed to navigate his own way down a well marked trail for instance, they tune out their riders much easier." (historyrider, horsecity training forum, thread: terrified, what to do about a horse that gets terrified when riding alone, post #4, 11/08)
I think this is one of the most important things for me to focus on, actively riding Red. Instead of enjoying the company or scenery, I've got to be consistently communicating what I expect from Red when we are on the trail. No more taking a million photographs and leaving him to follow the tail of the horse in front.
The other strategy we have started is riding "away from" our trail group. I have been making these forrays short, sweet, and rewarding Red for being so brave. This idea came from one of the riders on the Back County Horseman Redwood Unit's Half-Assed Trail Ride. I only know him as "Bella's rider."
- On a trail ride go "against the flow". Ride away from the group on every opportunity - to the side, back in the opposite direction, stop and let them walk away. Get your horse used to being left and leaving others. (bella's rider, Half-Ass Flat Ride, 6/09)
While we've got alot of work ahead, I'm happy to report our first, tiny success. Today Red and I rode across the street from our barn, along the general pasture fence line, crossed the road, and came up the lane between the paddocks. He was such a GOOD BOY.