Last weekend Red and I participated in a Trail Trials event at Cuneo Creek. We competed in the novice class and actuall won 5th place in our age category. Even more exciting - we achieved a HUGE goal. We rode solo on the trail. I was stoked. Red? Not so much. But he dealt with being a lone horse in what he perceives as a world of horse-eating predators. We have been working for trail confidence since last year when our friend Laura gave fair warning that she wanted to ride solo in Trail Trials come summer 2010.
Even though Red is 18, he behaves as if he never walked a trail without the company of other horses. When we leave our home stable of Freshwater, he panics when his traveling buddies leave his sight. Here is my dear ninny horse last Friday, freaking out in his pen as he watched his friends walk away with their humans.
Isn't anyone there? (Cherie, sorry but you're just a human.)
Well, maybe I can handle hanging out with just Cherie.
You can see that even with hours and hours and hours of work, being left behind by his temporary herd overwhelms Red with concern. This has been a dangerous tendency when his "buddies" left him on the trail. Finding himself alone, Red would go into full alert. As his fear would elevates, his regard for my direction would decrease. I was left sitting a horse that felt as if he was about to explode, one who was determined to regain the safety of his friends at all costs. While his fear of being eaten, or whatever, has not evaporated, his willingness to trust in our partnership has grown.
I think several strategies were critical in laying a foundation for our success. One - lots of trail time. When riding with friends, I would ride Red away from the group. We started by veering off and taking just a few steps in another direction. Over time our "independent" forays built up to a few hundred feet. This summer I have been taking Red on walks into the woods (walking side by side). Whenever Red's head elevated (signaling his anxiety) I'd cue him to drop his head and then scratch his special spots on his belly to reward and further calm him. If possible, I would find ways in camp to have Red leave his "herd" rather than wait for the herd to leave Red- this seemed easier for him to accept. Finally, our preparing for trail trials has really emphasized our work together as a team. I believe this has also contributed to Red's new confidence on the trail.
Cherie, I KNOW I saw one of those daisies move.
Don't ya know that bears love to hide under flowers?