First I think you need to figure out why your horse is acting like she is. IME it is usually out of fear, but I have certainly met a few horses who just don't want to go out. For example, right now I am working with a mare who has a lot of endurance miles and I know has been ridden out alone quite a bit and also isn't afraid of anything (seriously, I had a stupid GSD jump up and bite her belly and she barely glanced at him except to do a little "leave me alone" kick, we've had a dirt bike fly past us close enough that I could have--and probably should have:lol:--pushed him over and she barely flicked an ear, etc.) but was owned most recently by a really timid rider who turned back at the slightest provocation and thus spoiled her rotten. So, my lovely Lilly horse has decided that if she gets prancy and tosses her head and tries to turn around and run home I'll just let her.
So, if you have a horse like my Lilly, I think you just need to ride it out. I just push her forward, ride out her little "can I scare you?" bucks and her head tosses and her running sideways. I'm not afraid to kick her or touch her with the whip to get her moving again, basically I just force her to do what I want rather than what she wants. It took about 2 weeks of daily riding but she's pretty much over it now and is a fabulous trail horse. I also make it a point to make going out alone fun--we stop and graze, I give her cookies, some days if she walks out nicely I'll just ride out for 10 minutes then dismount and lead her home.
However, I don't think that's probably the case with your horse, based on your description. For a horse who is reacting out of fear, I think it's good to be slow and gentle rather than riding it out. One of my other horses, Noah, is really insecure and you used to not be able to ride him out alone. He wouldn't hurt you on purpose, but he'd spin violently and try to run home in fear. He's the gentlest animal I've ever met, but he's the lowest horse on the totem pole in any herd I've had him in and relies so much on the other horses that he didn't know how to function by himself.
I fixed Noah by two means: first, I spent a lot of time building our relationship. I'd put him in my round pen with solid walls and just chill, reading a book or whatever. Noah would at first pace and holler at the other horses and generally be freaked out that he couldn't see them, but eventually he would get tired and start looking to me. Whenever he came over I'd give him a cookie or some scritches and then go back to what I was doing. Eventually we got to a point where I can take him into the RP, turn him loose, sit with my book and he'll just stand behind me with his head resting against me (sometimes he'll roll first :lol:). That's all it took to get him to trust me, which is nice because I'm lazy and don't like to walk. :lol: This was in addition to the ground and under saddle work I do with every horse.
Then I'd start by riding him in the arena where he was comfortable, then trying to hack out. We'd work in the arena then walk out for maybe 100 feet, then turn back. We gradually extended that until we could get almost out of sight of the barn without him getting upset. However, getting him out of sight was the big hurdle.
For that I did walk him. Since we already had the "When CosMonster is chilling and reading a book, things are good" thing established, I did the picnic that another poster suggested. I'd lead him out until he couldn't see the horses, basically getting him near but not over his panic threshold. Then I'd find a spot with stuff for him to nibble on, set up my camp chair, and hold his rope while I pretended not to pay attention to him (note: pay attention to them, you don't want to get tangled if they freak out). It took about 10 minutes for him to start grazing next to me. We did that a few times then I started riding him out. I still took it slow and gradually worked him up, but now I can take him out for hours alone (well, I could...he's retired now and not in shape for that anymore, but mentally he's still there). All told it took about 2 months.
I've worked with a lot of barn sour horses over the years, these are just two that belong to me so the first that came to mind. ;) I use variations on these techniques for every horse. Most of my personal horses I've bought very young and lead on the trail before I can even ride them, so it isn't even a problem. I go for a walk or a run every day and bring one of the young or difficult horses with me each time (I figure I'm going anyway, might as well) and it really does help.
No way on God's green earth would I allow spinning and backing to pass without a sharp comment. Polite hesitation or uncertainty? Yes. Spinning and escalating? Nuh uh.
Originally Posted by Nojacketrequired
Confidence, schmonfidence. A sharp presence of spur and two smart whaps with a dressage whip usually results in
a.) a giant leap forward, which the rider must quietly sit, and
b.) pats as we carry on down the trail.
Giddy on UP, horse, you're FINE.
Well-timed and done with quiet conviction the whole conversation lasts three seconds and anyone watching just sees a slight hesitation and then some quick steps forward and then some pats.
Confidence is like a muscle.
It is developed by excercising it.
Not prancing around throwing a tanty 15 yards from the arena.
She won't be scared if you tell her, "Horse, you're FINE. Now let's go."
I echo this 100%. It's surprising how much trust you can really build when leading a horse on the trails.
Originally Posted by Bogie
When Sadie was past the "I wont because you cant make me" phase (having learned that I could too make her) and was dealing with a few fear issues (meaning the balking was mostly at places that she could legitimately be expected to question, like narrow ravines, narrow dams with horse eating frogs and herons and squirrels and such and no good option except to Go Forward, Go back, or Balk) I had a couple of different approaches.
I would outwait her--stop JUST before she balked (so it was my idea) and wait for her to relax and put her head down a bit before asking her to proceed. Sometimes that would do it.
Other times I would turn her, again BEFORE she tried to spin, and work her really hard up and down the stretch of trail just behind us, so that it would be less work to just go past the booger. Sometimes that worked.
Other times I would nag her to put one just one foot forward--nudge with the legs, bump with the legs, tap with the whip, and so on until she would grudgingly give me the step I'd asked for. Then praise her to the skies and do it all over again. After fifteen minutes or so of cutting the cat's tail off by inches she would often give the big sigh and proceed as if nothing had worried her.
And sometimes, especially if I KNEW she was really worried by whatever was ahead, I would whip out my cell phone and call Mr. Jeano to come out and demonstrate that the Trail Was Safe. If she saw him and he spoke to her she would nearly always go right on past whatever had been bothering her.
I NEVER got off and led her, not once. Always rode it out, because at bottom this was a big role change for her, to accept her rider's leadership and judgment. She'd been ridden too many miles by someone who was inebriated if not blind drunk for most of their rides and had, I think, learned that she was the only one responsible for her and her rider's safety.
She is a horse who can be trusted to take care of her rider. She actually walks out more willingly and seems to enjoy herself the most when its just her and me, no other company. She's fine with other horses but I swear she likes our time alone together.
I didn't read other responses, so sorry if I'm redundant...
Originally Posted by Nojacketrequired
Your words actually make it sound like she is being stubborn, not afraid. A great little mare I used to ride put up a protest at the start of every ride out alone, once three or four hundred yards in she was the happiest trail horse you can imagine.
Your mare sounds barn sour/herd bound. If you can handle a reasonable amount of histrionics and that is all she is likely to give, I recommend pushing her through it. If you think she'll dish out more than you can handle, try another alternative.
If you walk her out on the trail in hand, how is she? If she is good to mount from the ground at all times, hand walk her out a ways and then get on. Borrow a human to hold her when you get on, or one willing to walk the whole trail with you, as a bridge for her from being completely alone yet not as "good" a substitute as another horse.
Perhaps when you have access to a riding companion ride her out with the friend and split part way. If it's a loop, have the friend turn back the way you came once you are past the halfway point, an out and back have the friend go on while you turn and continue home; the mare should want to keep moving since heading for home, and you can tell whether she is just buddy bound or genuinely afraid.
I personally like to get all my greenies out on the trail as soon as brakes and steering are installed. It keeps them more willingly forward than circles in the ring. I like to take them solo so they don't pay attention to their buddy, or have an incident if the buddy horse acts up... they need to learn that their rider is who to listen to. I ride them in company only after they go well solo, and have had a spook and learn how to respond to me.
Living on the edge... :D
Please do not allow her to spin, that is a good way do develop rearing. She can root all she wants but she should never be allowed to turn around or go a different direction in this situation. The best option is to have a ground person walk with you and if she refused to listen to your command to go forward, have the person lead her. It will eventually break, but may not be pretty. Nip it in the bud ASAP
When I first got my guy he could put my butt in the dirt pretty much at will, and he had the same issue as the OP's mare about trail riding alone. In his case it was mainly a confidence issue, so I led him past a lot of scary stuff.
When he started getting barn sour I fixed that by keeping his trail riding easy and fun, but when we got back to the barn I never got off him right away. Instead, he went into the ring for flat work (he enjoys jumping). The ring work didn't last very long, and on the days he was on his best behavior, only a few minutes.
This has been a very helpful thread. Thank you. Any more comments, suggestions, experiences, are very much appreciated.
Originally Posted by sschuessler
I have EXACTLY the same problem! My mare, on the way out will GOGOGO and on the way home shes just like... No, Nah I'm good. We walk slowly slower, slower... Then if I ignore her she'll start to gradually change her angle as we walk, so over a period of about 100m we end up pointing in the other direction! Of course, I don't ignore and badger her about walking in the right direction, so we usually are fine.
Still, if anyone has any genious plans to inspire my mare to walk home more willingly I'd be glad to here them. (Not wanting to hyjack the thread tho)
Meupatdoes, I am quoting something you said:
"Confidence is like a muscle.
It is developed by excercising it."
I LOVE this. I am going to pass this along and use it on myself as well.
What COSMonster did with Noah. Great post.
Lots of good advice here,.. One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that you are starting out with a particularly big hurdle - riding away from your barn - which is leaving the herd and home at the same time.
You may not be able to make this experiment, but if you were to trailer somewhere and then try riding alone, it might not trigger the same emotions in your horse. Or follow the variety of advice given, from walking out on the trail to splitting off on the way home but be sure you break it down into pieces you can succeed with and build from - that's what YOU can actually handle, not some idealized rider you would like to be. If you really want to get there, you will.
I started conditioning a young horse out on the trail last year in a situation where I basically HAD to ride with someone else - a good friend, so not a chore in that way, but her horse was quite a needy type and I knew the one I was riding leaned that way too. Still, I have ridden herd-bound horses and find it very tiresome to change that behavior once it is established - so I was determined to address it early on. We started to do a little split-off where the trail would permit - going the other way around a clump of bushes, for instance, and then reuniting before either horse had a chance to become very concerned. Then one day, we bit the bullet and broke them up, on a big hill where they would have plenty to occupy them and we could ride off in opposite directions. It was also on the way back to the trailer, where the edge was already off their energy levels. There was a lot of calling the first time, but when the head came up to scream, I'd ask for more forward and eventually, it died down. The second time we did this, there was a lot less vocalizing, and the third time. la. la. la... he'll be back at the trailer. We even did a ride where we met a friend and then split off, riding with her mare instead of his buddy, and getting into a strange trailer for the first time. By the end of ride season last year, he went to a ride alone. I think it worked for a couple of reasons. First, I took care to really break it down into small steps, but if he did start to get silly, I either rode him forward, did a shoulder in, or did a one-rein stop, depending on the situation. Not in a hard-ass way, just to redirect. I am not a fan of pitched battles - too many blackberry bushes and treetrunks on our narrow PNW trails. Second, my friend owned the horse I was riding, and so she wanted us to succeed.
I agree. Start with leading her and bring some treats so you can reward her along the way. If there is a shorter loop do that one first so she can have some success and it wont' be too tramatic. After she gets some confidence, then start trying to long line her on the trail. When you lead her, you are the lead horse and its not the same as when you are on her back and HER head is leading the way so long lining is a good intro to being on her back.
The "work her hard when she doesn't do what I want" thing just made things worse with my mare, who for instance decided one spring that she would not walk over the shadow of the power line on the trail access road, and also seemed to feel that she was above things like crossing even the tiniest trickling stream or bridge. She wasn't scared; she just didn't wanna. We had very good success with the "bore the horse into obedience" method. If she balked and spun at the shadow or at the stream, I just pointed her back at it, and there we stood. Every minute or so I'd give her the cue to move on, and if she spun or ducked, back we went to standing pointed at The Evil. Eventually, she becomes so disgusted with this song and dance (it happens every Spring; every year she picks something to have an Opinion about), she just sighs and goes over the stupid obstacle and after a few increasingly half-hearted attempts at similar obstacles, we're done with it and she's over herself. This is just what works for us; every horse is different.
We also tried backing her over shadows and streams, with the thinking that, "Okay, you don't want to go forward over it? Fine, let's go backward," but, the bore 'em approach works just as well and requires less energy from ... ahem... her rider. And she's calmer about it than she is about backing up.
make sure there is food at home. either cookies, oats, alfalfa, or hand grazing. some sort of high-value treat. and maybe just hang out with her a little. Like the previous poster that would settle her nervous horse by reading a book in his space, i often read around my horses. or you could pick out her stall. Any sort of quiet, in-the-same-space activity should help.
Originally Posted by iRide Ponies
Great thread. I always feel self-conscious when I lead my mare on trail walks alone. I actually think she is pretty much fine going by herself but I am kind of nervous about it. I like getting the exercise and she doesn't seem to mind walking beside me though she often ends up pulling ahead of me.
I never thought I would have such a problem, or consider it a problem, but the last time I rode the pony we went out the backside of the barn and down the lightly graveled lane next to the indoor and that little bugger speed racked to the parking lot and gave me some chit when we had to pull over and stop for the truck coming up the main driveway. He didn't want to stop!
Originally Posted by iRide Ponies
And he's been more than willing to go down the road less traveled too. Going back to the barn he's in no hurry, but he has misbehaved upon dismounting and tried to head into the barn real quick. It's always something.
OP I recall having a horse that would misbehave to the point of dangerous under specific conditions. You could ride in company or alone, but not part company during the ride or she would do everthing but throw herself to the ground having a hissy fit. I never did have the time or assistance I needed to really address the issue, using friend's horses. Time will help, it did for the riding out alone for us. Time and persistance.
I think you should get a hugely calm, confident rider or trainer to ride her out to the trail once while you watch. If she goes fine for the trainer, then you know it's you who needs to give stronger direction. Nothing wrong with crop and spurs, correctly applied.
The above 100% although I will say that when I was younger I could ride any horse away from the barn - horses that their owners were afraid to take out of the ring sometimes either because, well, they never rode out of the ring or they were just scared of their own horse or had tried it with bad result. And because of the above-mentioned abundance of confidence I could generally hop on anything and take it for a trail ride with the above-mentioned attitude.
Originally Posted by meupatdoes
Once in a while one of them was a bit spooky but we could get the job done and after a few rides the spookiness would generally be better. Very, very rarely was there a horse that was just not cut out for it and it was not worth even trying because while you could go out on a trial ride it was far from relaxing or enjoyable and just never took the edge off them but this was very rare.
Once I took several years off from riding and gained a bit of weight, my overabundance of self confidence is - lets just say - no longer overabundant, and am sure that I would not just hop on any old strange horse and amble away without a care in the world like I used to.
It make me realize though how much of this type of issue is most often in the riders head, not the horse's.
Sometimes it helps to get one of those fearless kids and let them trail ride your horse for a while. One who will hop on and just naturally assume they will not have a care in the world. Usually those kids are not in need of spurs or a crop, with the right kid the horse just feels it's ok..
Bumping this thread up to get the old spam thread off the main page and restore the layout there.