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Out of the arena onto the trail?? Share?

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  • Out of the arena onto the trail?? Share?

    Hi all,

    So I have been learning basic dressage over the last few years on my young arab mare, both of us needed to be trained nearly from scratch. Believe it or not, we have barely ever gotten out of the arena. My instructor says that if the horse is on the aids, it doesn't matter where you are, in the arena or on the trail. I have gotten more confident about my ability to keep my girl on the aids, even when she is evading or spooking (knock on wood), so I figure maybe it's time for us to get 'out there'. However, it is hard to believe that it is 'the same', since without an arena it seems that a horse has more room to evade you if they are hell-bent on it, with no walls there to help confine a bolt or whatever the case may be. Am I wrong and do I, as my instructor says, have a lot more tools and control than I give myself credit for?

    I was wondering if some of you in the same boat, adult novice riders, could share about your first venturing out of the arena with your horse. Also any advice you may have...

    My horse has been stuck in the arena with me so she is by no means bomb-proof or desensitized or anything, but she is pretty level-headed for the most part. She has been exposed to lots of diverse situations, loud and strange noises, all kinds of 'stimuli', at the riding barn. She does have her days when she is jumpy and buggy-eyed at stupid stuff, I suppose most of them do. Also those of you who have been riding since you were two or whatever, LOL, feel free to chime in too, just not sure you can relate to the combined terror and blissful excitement of it all, since you probably went through it when you were, four or something? LOL! Please feel free, just know that what you say may be over my head!!

    Also how does all this dressage training translate out on the trail or say, doing endurance riding? You know, getting the horse forward, bending, on the bit and all of that... how does it translate 'out there'??

  • #2
    When we venture out, I usually have him on the buckle - it's a break from the "work' sessions, and I let him look around and see the sights. He still must be forward, and still respond to my aids. At times I will ask for something, but generally, it gives us both a break.

    We do work outside (weather permitting!!!!) in an outdoor, and I expect us to do the same quality work there as we do in the indoor, whether it's day time or night time.

    I say, don't worry about it. Go out, enjoy yourself, give your horse a break too!
    a 501(c)3 organization helping 501(c)3 equine rescues


    • #3
      I suggest that you get an experienced rider to take the horse out on the trail a few times first so you get to observe her reactions (this will make you a lot less tense) and also have an experienced "lead" horse accompany her. If she meets something scary, she'll be much more inclined to follow the lead horse. Keep company when you take her out, don't try to venture out by yourself right away. Good luck, it really is nice to get out of the arena every so often! : )
      "Reite dein Pferd vorwärts und richte es gerade.” Gustav Steinbrecht


      • #4
        Well I haven't been riding since I was two but I was very young when I started and am now part of the blue hair club (well if I didn't color it ). Still, I get the whole fear/concern thing everytime I take a young one out for the very first time or the very first "several" times if it's a more reactive, the type to test you at every turn, sort. First if I were you, I would ride out in a small group. Numbers can be very reassuring to both rider and horse. That is what I do with the real greenie meanies. Second, know that your horse has a stop and a go. I also find that I am more relaxed if I know that my horse will listen to my voice. I have definitely used trail riding to help my dressage and my dressage to help my trail riding. The conditioning and muscle build up I get with trail riding has kept my horses sound all the way through FEI. If I have a trying mount or a situation that is usually calm and fun becomes unexpectedly scarey due to the ATV group from hell (usually not juveniles but grown men who are reliving their youth), echoing gun shots, loose dogs, LARGE wildlife, etc, I've been thankful for shoulder in, leg yields, half passes, etc to redirect and focus my horse's mind and attention on me. Instead of giving examples of close calls, I'd like to point out that most of the time, we, my family, friends and I have a blast going out trail riding. I also go it alone quite often and when I do, choose tried and true trails/areas where my horses have been before and are comfortable with the surroundings. And FWIW, my son's Arab mare is probably the safest and most enjoyable trail mount we have (she's also been shown in dressage). Relax, find some friends to go with you and enjoy the chance to get out and do something different.
        Ranch of Last Resort


        • #5
          since you probably went through it when you were, four or something?

          Your instructor is right theoretically.

          But, that's theory and reality is more complicated

          Use your common sense 1st and foremost.

          Getting out of the arena is very important, but don't pick a day that is twenty degrees out with a high wind or you'll be all over the place.

          Start your first outings on calm quiet days. Get a feel for some things. If your horse sees or smells (and you can't see or smell) a deer she may spook a bit. Get comfortable that spooking isn't all that bad. Often my horse (who is hot and a tad spooky) is LESS spooky than I am. He handles unexpected gunshots much better than I do. Same with snakes. I tell him the weird gate is fine and he says, "ok".

          But, he trusts me not to put him in a bad situation, and I try not too.

          All of your schooling will pay off. If your horse comes "off the aids" (head up or a spook) for a few minutes, you should be able to put him/her back on the aids fairly quickly and go on. It gets easier and easier and finally you will be able to do all of your dressage work out on the trail or in the fields and ignore the real world.

          As far as bolting goes ... if you feel your horse might be getting ready to bolt you can open one rein (completely loosen) and do a tight circle using the other rein. I have done this many times with a horse in mid-air and we have landed 180 degrees from the direction that the bolt was going in and the horse just goes, "What happened"? End of bolt, walk out nice and safe.

          A bolt must be stopped in the first stride or your horse has all of the advantage. It is not that hard.

          Happy Trails.


          • Original Poster

            Wow, some really cool advice so far, glad I asked !


            • #7
              I am taking my Friesian out, and I am getting the whole fear on the trails thing for the very first time - yikes! He is afraid of the big wide world - very different from our cow horses! He not only thinks that squirrels are going to eat him (ok, so he's probably right - they do lurk up in the trees) but then on the way home, he's a nutcase in very large clothing. I have to practically keep his head to my knee to keep him from going up. My solutions? A much saner horse to keep his head to their shoulder, and a lot of miles. He's getting a bit better, although he's a bit spooky, and taking him out AFTER we ride in the ring.

              And I've found that ironically, bigger groups make him more confident. He feels safety in numbers and I can wedge him between a couple of horses I know don't kick if he gets really rank.

              Oh, and my daughter has been taking her young horse out on the road for comparison, and he's GREAT!!!! He is easy, doesn't spook, and gives the older guy confidence. So don't assume that just because she's green that she'll be bad Dumbo the flying elephant is just a big scaredy cat, and her horse is just brave, end of story.


              • #8
                Definitely see if you can get some other very quiet horses to go out with you. When I took my OTTB out for the first time I went with three very, very quiet geldings. They sort of made a wall around me, one in front and two on each side. SO comforting for me, LOL! I quickly discovered that my guy was as quiet as a mouse out on the trails and we've been hunter pacing ever since! So get some quiet horses to follow and approach it with an attitude of fun.


                • #9
                  Pretty much agree with what everyone else says. Taking a horse out of the arena is also really good for its brain, will help it in a show environment, etc.

                  My advice is go out in a group. Most horses are calmer when with other horses and if yours balks and the others are all walking on ahead, it will usually decide to follow the others rather than run back to the barn. (Ask me how I know this )

                  It's also OK to stop when you feel like it. Try to turn around when things are going well, but if your horse is really upset, you won't break them forever if you turn around. Know your own limits.

                  I don't trail ride alone, mostly for safety reasons. However, my mare is road safe, and I would ride her on the road alone just because there are other people -- cars, drivers etc. who could at least notice me and call 911 if I was laying in a ditch!

                  Also, take it slowly! Your horse is probably less of a spook than you are . I started out with riding maresy just to the end of the driveway to look at the road, then would take her 50 yards or so and bring her back, and eventually we were going nearly a mile in either direction. It took several months but that was because of me not her. (This photo always cracks me up because I am practically begging her to spook at the sign on the ground, and she's like, "Whatever, mom.") If I get nervous, she gets nervous. In my favor, she is more a "spook in place" kind of horse than a bolter, although she has a wicked spin and half-rear if something *really* scares her.
                  Last edited by quietann; Mar. 22, 2010, 01:35 PM.
                  You have to have experiences to gain experience.

                  1998 Morgan mare Mythic Feronia "More Valley Girl Than Girl Scout!"


                  • #10
                    GET OUT THERE!

                    Lots of good advice here.

                    As a trainer, I get asked all the time to take horses out. I am the only one at my barn who goes out regularly on my own horse. I take my clients horses out for the first couple of rides in the spring when they have had a winter break from trail.
                    I let them walk on the buckle as long as they behave, even if they speed walk. (My horse is a champion speed walker! Very comfy and fun!). Once we trot and canter it is back on the bit with shoulder-in or leg yielding to help keep thing under control. And LOTS of half halts.

                    One thing I tell everyone: If you are going out, the first few times either ride your horse or lunge your horse first. If you ride, do the normal amount of riding your would regularly. Then give him an hour or two break and then go out. This way the horse is a little tired and more relaxed. And just WALK with maybe a little trotting. Then when the trotting is calmer and you feel more confident you can canter.
                    After a few rides, you can skip the "warm up' and just hop on and go out.
                    I also recommend having your trainer or someone you really trust take our horse out a couple of times with a steady-eddy.
                    Save going out solo for when your feel confident you can handle the silly stuff (OMG Who moved that bush there?!?! Is that a branch on the ground? That squirrel moved quickly!) )

                    I went out both days these weekend. My horse got to gallop which is his favorite thing! I usually go solo with him becasue most people just want to have fun out there. I take him to school cross country.
                    I took my cleints TB out with a group, including my friend on his 5 year old Freisian, Dutch. Dutch is a born leader and AWESOME trail horse. Stupid TB acting up? Whatever. Crowding into my tail, fine. Squish him becasue the bush is moving and your horse crabbing away from it? All good! Other horses going to nip out of excitement? That's cool becasue it means I have company. He is a real saint. Once in a while he will be unsure (like kids playing paintball in the woods) Then he will check and see what the other horses are doing. If they don't mind, well all is good.

                    Trail riding is so much fun. Be smart and carry your cell. Take along a rope halter and lead in case you have to dismount and lead the horse.
                    "I am a sand dancer... just here for the jumps!" - Schrammo


                    • Original Poster

                      Yay, I am loving this advice and stories from you guys. My instructor loves loves LOVES the arena, because of course for her, advanced dressage rider that she is, it is all about 'riding the horse every step' which is really an amazing, consuming experience if you can really do that. I am only beginning to get glimpses since I am such a novice, but really, when you are communicating that intensively with such a glorious beast, it is a wonderful, even mind-altering experience, even if you are in the boring old arena!

                      Nevertheless I have talked her into going out with me, with an aim towards my horse and I getting comfy on the trail, so we will start out by just poking around the barn (there are no real 'trails' to speak of). We are also talking about going out for a few days doing a summer camp type thing with another boarder or two, which she used to do all the time with the kids. We are more of a ladies' barn these days, not tons of kids and teens like the old days. So I have a little help getting started, but am still a bit apprehensive. Like Quietann said, I am probably the bigger chicken of the two of us, me and my mare! She is the kind who will pretend to be spooky about something when I am leading her around outside so that she can get a mouth full of grass while I am trying to figure out what the problem is!

                      I am also glad to hear that some greenies are quiet on the trail right from the get go. The horses, I mean... LOL.

                      ETA: totally cute picture, yes I can see who's the one spooking LOL. Looks just like me on Najah .


                      • #12
                        We always finish up each training session with a walk down the road. I too was the "spookier" of us. My mare could care less for the most part (except when the emu acorss the road popped out of nowhere....

                        I would set a goal (ride to first mail box, ride to next driveway, etc.) and just stay within my comfort zone. Each additional step beyond my set goal was a really big deal for me...... Now, I actually trust myself and my mare enough to just ride her on the buckle! I let her pretty much set the course (with a few adjustments by me), but I have no problem turning around when I feel uncomfortable or a little scared (loose dogs really bother me!).....

                        Go as far or as short as you want. Small steps and have fun!
                        We do not have an overpopulation of dogs, we have an under population of responsible dog owners!!!


                        • #13
                          My retirement plan is that when I run out of money I'll take my overly sensitive, reactive, spooky, silly warmblood out on a trail ride. It will save my son from having to visit me in a retirement home.


                          • #14
                            As a novice rider, I've found that taking my mare out on the trails at our barn has increased her confidence in me and my confidence in myself as a rider. I started small, going with some very calm horses for about 10-15 minutes. I went with several different horses, several different times. No problem. She is happy to follow a horse.

                            I then tried doing that exact path with just me and her. If she starts to spook, I will leg yield her, do turns on the forehand, etc - any kind of work that I kind think of. I do wear spurs and carry a whip when it is just me and her, since if she starts to spook these things are super helpful for getting her to listen to me. I like to keep a little feel of her mouth, so I can get her back more easily if she does spook. If we reach an impasse where I cannot get her forward, I will hop off and lead her a little bit (she likes a lead horse and I am acceptable for this, apparently) and then get back on.

                            The first time we went out, she did get light on the front end in a few spots, and I kicked her forward and it was fine. Each time we went out, it got easier, and we worked up to 45 minutes alone (still on my barn's property) with trotting and cantering where the footing is nice.

                            I also take her on some barn organized trail rides off the property and she does great there (like I said, she is happy plodding along behind the lead horse - sometimes 1/4 of a mile behind ...)

                            Trail riding is a skill like any other discipline and the change of scenery/easier ride makes my mare so happy!
                            My blog: Journeys in Riding


                            • #15
                              I would set up some simple, spooky things in the arena or around the property so you have some idea of what her reactions will be. You can throw a horse blanket over a chair, put a tape recording of a dog barking, a fan blowing, trash cans, tarps, kids bouncy balls in a box, a million things. Set up a few things that you have easy access to, then go about your ride as if they aren't there. (If you're anticipating something, it's not a true test). Does she remain responsive, no reaction, big reaction, curious, but still listening? If she spooks, but remains under control and relys on you, I'd say you're good to go out. I wouldn't go out alone the first time and for me, I like trail rides to be break time from the work.
                              Do not toy with the dragon, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup!


                              • #16
                                I love to trail ride and found that it is really good for my horses to get used to footing that is not perfect like in an arena. When I go back to the arena, it seems so easy and they have better balance.

                                I generally go as a break from schooling in the arena. Of course if the horse is fresh, then we'll work on something, but if he is good then it's meant to be a nice relaxing ride where I am not always asking something of him.

                                99.5% of the time I ride alone and go out on the trails alone. My late gelding was not good when I first started taking him out. This was the result of being a pampered show horse out west and he had no idea how to balance himself on uneven terrain. He'd buck going down a tiny slope. I just kept taking him out little by little and he came to like the trails. I also took carrots with me when riding him and would stop for no reason and reward him with a carrot while out in the big scary world, to reinforce this is FUN.

                                If you don't have anyone to go with at first, you can always hand walk for a little bit and see how the horse does, then hop on it she is good.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by redhorse5 View Post
                                  My retirement plan is that when I run out of money I'll take my overly sensitive, reactive, spooky, silly warmblood out on a trail ride. It will save my son from having to visit me in a retirement home.

                                  I find a hot, reactive horse is the one I want in the ring with me.. but that doesn't tend to translate well onto a trail.

                                  Best of luck, if your horse isn't always so "up", you've gotten some good advice.
                                  "The ability to write a check for attire should not be confused with expertise. Proficiency doesn't arrive shrink-wrapped from UPS and placed on your doorstep."


                                  • #18
                                    Absolutely agree that groups are the key! Very few horses could be expected to go out alone, especially on the first time! It sounds like you are nervous about the idea too, so trying it alone is a recipe for disaster.

                                    Also, I wouldn't start with a full fledged trail ride. We are just getting warm and dry enough to ride outside here, and we start by just riding around the property. Go around the barn a few times. Ride up and down the driveway if it's safe. Most of our horses, even the ones who do trail ride alone, are more up and nervous the first few trail rides of spring. We'll go through puddles, go through mud, walk through snowbanks, deal with any "I'm scared!" issues near home, and branch out.

                                    I see trail riding as a break and bonding time. It should be relaxing and fun. I will school some movements - doing lateral work up and down a driveway is a lot of fun, and also a good way to work with a spooky horse. I know if Pi gets uppity that I can use my aids and dressage work to distract him and make him relax, so that helps. I also struggled with "letting him go" for a long time, until I KNEW I had brakes, because he has so much power and speed that he even scared the resident fearless teenager the first time she ran him!

                                    I'm one of those who has "ridden since I was two" LOL ... but I had only casual trail riding experience up to about 3.5 years ago. The terror and nerves can still be there. First time I take out a new horse ... it's a bit nerve wracking. Or my 16.2hh QH - he's an emotional mess in the spring - I know I'm going to be dealing with anxiety and blowups and tantrums. Takes a bit of talking myself into getting on his back - and a whip or two LOL (yes, I've carried a whip in each hand on him!) But it's like any other training thing - it just takes time and patience and not asking too much. So next time after your lesson, if it's possible, cool out by walking around outside instead of in the arena. See how that goes.
                                    If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.
                                    ~ Maya Angelou


                                    • #19
                                      I picked up Clint Anderson's DVD on trail riding and it really helps - I've only viewed the first of the 3 disk set so far and applied his suggestions. It worked VERY well!!! And I have an OTTB that, a year ago, wouldn't let me ride him around the outside of the barn I'm also waiting on an order for some Ex-Stress to help him relax while we're out trail riding.


                                      • #20
                                        All good advice you've gotten here. My method for teaching a "newbie" about trails is as other have said: go out with a nice, quiet horse (although I'm not a fan of "groups", just one quiet horse is ideal, I think). Also, I like to start out by riding first and then heading out to the trails for my "cool out". My horses quickly learn that the trail ride part is "easy", the arena work "hard". My event horse (and OTTB) is one who now tries to head out to the trails every time I get on!

                                        The barn where I board is ideal for gradually working into outside work. Our outdoor arena has no fence and there is a LONG dirt driveway, several hayfields to go around, and some wooded trails. I can start out riding in the arena, then head out into the fields. Newbies are usually ok because they are not going TOO far from the pastures and they can still see their buddies in the distance.

                                        As an example, tonight, I rode my 3 year old in the outdoor arena (W/T/C) and then headed down the long driveway (alone) as our cool out. She was a gem and seemed to enjoy the walk out thoroughly (and it was a heck of a lot easier than what she had to do in the arena). We had a lovely walk and got to see the geese starting to gather by the pond in the middle hayfield. You just don't get to enjoy that when you are in the arena!