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Help for someone who is chicken sh@* on trails

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  • littlebaypony
    Lots of very good tips have been shared so I just have one idea. You are concerned about getting dumped and losing your horse; not a foolish concern. Purchase or borrow a tracking collar (fox hunters use them on their hounds, I think lots of other hunters use them too) and buckle it to you saddle. That way, if you and your horse part ways you can track your horse. My first time riding at a foxhunt the huntsman attached a collar to my saddle because we don’t have formal flights, it was a new fixture for me and they didn’t want to have to worry about me getting lost. It really helped!

    Leave a comment:

  • Larksong
    I got to thinking... what first gave me real confidence on the trail actually came from time spent in the round pen with my horse. We had a load of fun learning to cue off one another — with the added benefit of my horse learning to stick with me outside the arena as well as inside. I thought one of our horses might be the only one who’d be likely to jet after a fall, but just today a client tested his new safety vest by forgetting to do the final tightening of his girth—and when the saddle flipped and he fell off, his horse spooked about two steps sideways and froze until we got the saddle right side up. So even he sticks with the rider in a crisis.

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  • MzCarol
    Originally posted by Torre View Post
    Hi guys,
    Would love some advice here from anyone who truly feels comfortable on the trails.

    I've been in an arena my whole life, and have only gone out hacking a handful of times. I have access to a trail system straight out of the back of my barn, and definitely recognize all the mental and conditioning benefits hacking out gives.

    I am an experienced rider, but for whatever reason, being out in the open on a horse gives me anxiety, and I would love to get over that. Relaxing trail ride is plain and simple not in my dictionary.

    If anything happens in the arena, the horse is contained, but way out on the trails, what happens if you get dumped? That is my major concern. The environment/ wildlife encounters are completely out of your control, and plain and simple sometimes sh%^ just happens. Can you train for this so your horse doesn't disappear into the sunset after an unplanned dismount? Losing a horse is probably my biggest fear.

    Any tips for people like me who feel very vulnerable outside of the arena?

    Second question:

    What is your process regarding taking a horse out on their first trail ride? Granted they are well trained and relaxed in the arena. Go alone? With a buddy? Contact? On the buckle?

    Forgive my trail amateur questions, I have zero exposure. And yes, trail green in both horse and rider isn't an ideal match, but I am very confident in my understanding of training and riding abilities. Just stuck in the Hunter arena for too long, and trying to broaden my horizons.

    I feel you, completely. Here's what I did in several different cases.....

    1. Ayah - purchased as a weanling. Of course I couldn't ride her for a few years so we spent a lot of time with groundwork, desensitization work and hand walking/ponying on the trails. By the time she was ridden she already has so much exposure that her head was sound and taking her out with her buddy gave her that added security.

    2. Chevy - purchased when he was 5. Incredibly smart and a game player. I'm a rider that doesn't like getting on horses I don't know well. I'm not as daring as I used to be lol Chevy had plenty of trail exposure but his manners on trail sucked. When I got him I took him lots and lots of hand walking trails and taught him those manners. I built up his confidence just by being fair and consistent. Plenty of desensitization, too. When we got back on the trails he was stellar.

    3. Enzo - OTTB going to be 4 in April. He's never seen a trail so we start from the beginning. We're working on our bond over the winter now so that when spring comes he knows I am a good person to have around (he already follows me like a dog lol) We work on desensitization and come spring we'll hit the trails - my hubby on his horse and me hand walking Enzo. By the end of summer I'll be on Enzo and we'll be enjoying the trails together.

    I don't feel the need to rush my horses - each learns their own way and I work 'with' that to accomplish my goals. I have no problem hand walking an hour trail - it's good exercise for us both lol When you go from a stall-bound/arena-bound atmosphere to nature it's mind blowing for them - sensory overload and everything is scary. Take it slow and make the rides short. You always want a positive experience based mostly within their comfort zone. If all you do the first time is unload the horse and let it simply look around and listen and the horse doesn't panic it's a win/win. The next time you do a little more. Have FUN with it. The smarter you can make your horse, the more fun both of you will have.

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  • quietann
    What everyone else has said! I'd never ridden solo on the trail when I returned to riding after a 25 year break. The first time I did, it was on a horse who was rock solid by himself. My mare was ... not so comfortable solo, and in spite of being basically a permanent advanced beginner rider, I trained her to go out on her own by taking things very slowly. As in a couple of years gradually extending how far we went. In retrospect, hand walking her on the trails would have helped a lot. But that process showed me that I *could* solve problems even if I never got past Training Level dressage.

    (ETA: expect a long post sometime soon as the mare has become much more herdbound again, for unknown reasons.)

    I highly recommend singing to keep you calm! "The Ants Go Marching ... " is a good one for a swingy walk.

    Maybe see if you can find a rock solid horse to take a few trail rides on before you start with your horse. And ride with a buddy.... so I am thinking, if you have a friend with a "husband horse" start there.

    How is your horse riding outside the arena just around your barn (if that is possible)? I've boarded at several barns where the standard cool-down after an arena ride was to just ride around the property for a few minutes. With a horse that isn't super fresh when you first get on, you could do that before the ride, too.

    Leave a comment:

  • wildlifer
    I usually ride with a bell (always during rifle season) - it flushes wildlife sooner so deer don't leap out under our nose & it also helps prevent me getting shot. I just get a bear bell from a camping supplier & snap it on somewhere it will swing.

    I also recommend training all horses to be used to mounting & dismount from both sides. You never know how much maneuvering space you will have out there.

    Definitely attach phone to you, NOT the horse. And I always strap mine to my calf, never where it might cause hip or spine injuries.

    Talking or singing to your horse is an excellent way to keep breathing. And definitely go out with a calm veteran in the beginning. If your horse has no trail experience, I'd also see if you could have someone pony him out riderless. I do this to get horse used to things like tripping on sticks with noisy leaves - some don't care, but if they do, they can jump around at the end of the rope & then get over it while I sit there & laugh at them.

    Leave a comment:

  • clanter
    out on the trails, what happens if you get dumped?
    if horse is not taught to ground tie most likely it will just trot home, but first will look at you on the ground with an expression Hey, It was not MY fault you fell off.... that is what one of horses did

    Leave a comment:

  • tabula rashah
    Where are you located OP? If you're anywhere near me, I'd be glad to go out with you. If you're nervous, find a steady eddy you can ride for a few times and get the "feel" of it.
    I don't think there's any more risk in riding in a ring vrs riding on the trail. All of my injuries have pretty much happened in the ring. And as far as a horse taking off, some will/ some won't .
    Honestly I don't think there's a magic formula either- mitigate risk, plan ahead and then go enjoy yourself. Every time we involve ourselves with a horse, we are taking a risk. You try to make that risk minimal, but, in the end, you either accept it or you don't.

    Leave a comment:

  • 2roanranch
    Hello. Avid trail rider here. Definitely go out with someone that has the BTDT trail horse. For years I was
    the one with that horse. I’ve helped many nervous riders enjoy the trails.

    Realize that most horses do enjoy a change of scenery
    from arena work. U may be pleasantly surprised how much your horse will enjoy trail rides It’s natural for you to be nervous but you’re horse will definitely pick up on it so don’t mount up and head out until u are confident. The worst part is finding out how your horse reacts to something unexpected. Will he spook in place, spook with legs splayed or turn and burn? Once u get the first reaction behind u then u will truly relax

    when I am on a new horse I tell my friends if they hear me start singing “I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Weiner” I’m attempting to relax. U cannot sing and be nervous at same time. Especially a silly song

    Don’t overthink it just enjoy the view. !

    happy trails

    Leave a comment:

  • QHEndurance
    Going to echo the advise to hand walk the horse down the trail so you both have a chance to see the environment and deal with any scary "monsters" safely from the ground, go with a buddy to give both you and your horse confidence, and always let someone know where your going and when to expect you back.

    The new piece of advise I have is to sing. Yep, sing. Out loud. Song choice doesn't matter. Voice quality doesn't matter. Singing has lots of benefits including 1) forces you to breath steadily and deeply 2) tells your horse your not worried because of the calm breathing and the sound of your voice 3) relaxes your body, seriously you can't really sing with your bottom all puckered and 4) makes you be heard to other trail users and wildlife. Sounds crazy but it works.

    Leave a comment:

  • thoroughbred21
    Originally posted by NotGrandPrixYet View Post
    I am a big proponent of hand walking a prescribed trail a few times first. Then when you go, never go alone. Always go with someone you know for certain has a very calm trail horse, and absolutely agrees to a walk only. don’t ride out with someone whom you don’t know well. If you have Apple products, wear an internet-enabled apple watch (detects and reports a fall) in case you fall, and put your phone on a saddle bag (with “find my iPhone” enabled).

    Keep it to a walk the first mounted time, no matter how tempted you are to try a faster pace. ALWAYS walk on the way back, it’s a good cool out. This is why you ride with someone you know, because I’ve seen other riders take off on a “walk only” ride, even though they agreed otherwise.
    This is great advice. With both of you walking on the ground, you can de-mystify the trail for you both.

    Also, it is perfectly OK to walk out mounted for a ways, then turn around and go home - always at a sedate pace. You don't need to equate success with miles and miles. Do what's fun for you both, then pack it in.

    Leave a comment:

  • candyappy
    Originally posted by jeano View Post
    In fact a really nice steep looong hill is an excellent thing to canter up with a horse that's a mite too fresh😇.
    Except that with a steep hill you run the risk of leg injury. As a teens we loved to canter up hills. My horse was young and fit but did get a bow doing that. So it can happen.

    For the OP Just start out puttering around the barn area while mounted after your arena work. After every ride just venture out a bit farther as you both become accustomed to the lack of a fence around you.

    Most horses return home if you part company, just be sure someone knows exactly where you were planning to ride.

    Leave a comment:

  • RedHorses
    I see what SuzyQNutter is saying -

    WHEN you're ready to try a canter doing so going up a slope (it doesn't have to be steep) will help your horse stay more on his hindend so he will be less likely to speed up, fall on his forehand and be harder to slow down again.

    She's not saying canter up every hill.

    Leave a comment:

  • Larksong
    Great advice from many here. I’ve been helping people become trail riders for years. A few guidelines: 1) “deadly slow” means plan on a really relaxed outing—just walking. Let that stride be loose and relaxed. Use the ride to look at the scenery or socialize. Talk with a buddy of you can get someone equally mellow to lead the way the first few times, chat with people on the trail, let kids pet the horse and give them treats to offer, ask bikers to let your horse approach and smell the bike. Let the point of the ride be everything except focusing on riding itself. 2) act brave. Your horse looks to you for courage and also believes things are scary if you do. If you are anxious your herd-animal horse assumes there must be a cougar around. Let your horse know you are taking care of him or her by being authoritative, not by cooing and gushing. A hearty “good job” pat when the horse survives a scary stump or scary bike is better than “soothing” reassurances that have the unexpected result of putting one’s horse on alert. 3) breathe and laugh and don’t worry about unexpected adventures. Adventures are fun! 4) Let your horse have fun. Let him or her take breaks and eat fresh grass while you gaze at around or chat with another rider. My experience is that horses have way more fun out on the trail than they do grinding away in an arena. Think of the difference between a hike and a treadmill. Plus, horses are generally much less focused on you when out on the trail—you have a chance to ride a horse in a relaxed, undemanding, joyful fashion that allows them to experience you as a fun-buddy rather than a taskmaster. 5) Back to “deadly slow”: by going slowly at first you’ll find yourself galloping your hills in no time. And then it’s time to try your first LD endurance ride 😁

    Leave a comment:

  • jeano
    In fact a really nice steep looong hill is an excellent thing to canter up with a horse that's a mite too fresh😇.

    Leave a comment:

  • SuzieQNutter
    Originally posted by goodhors View Post
    I have seen too many accidents happen, to ever encourage cantering uphill! Often horse starts bucking, speeds up to get out of control, then bucking. They can easily trip at speed, lunging uphill, going down, flinging rider aside.

    No real reason to canter uphill! Not a test of horsemanship or a show of more skilled riding to any onlookers.

    MUCH safer to keep control, walking (building muscle!) uphill or very slow trot. Horse has more feet on the ground each stride, should one foot slip or stumble. Same thing going thru water, slower is safer, especially if water is deep, because it impedes leg movement.
    A forward horse does not buck a buck that usually dislodges a rider up a hill. Going downhill is a different story.Same with trot. It is safer uphill than down hill. If you are going to do it. If you are not going to do it, walk is safer. That doesn't mean that every trail rider that goes out never goes out of a walk.

    Leave a comment:

  • jeano
    Old trail rider here, now with old horses who prefer to mosey. Back in the day, both were more prone to cut up.

    I've been dumped a couple (well, more than a couple) times out on a trail. Had precisely one horse leave me and head for the neighbor's herd one time. She dropped and rolled to get me off. Every other time the horse has stopped and given me that puzzled look that says How did you get down there?

    In my experience, a horse you can catch in its paddock is a horse you can catch out in the woods. So Whoa, Stand, and C'mere are handy commands. Treats as well as the phone are good to have on your person.

    Split vs loop reins, I dunno which is best. Horse can step on either and break either when it does so. I use both, but usually have a rein extender (aka beatin' strap) attached to the closed reins, mostly to reinforce an urgent request to get out of traffic or avoid other hazards, and a homemade booma to prevent losing the split reins.

    Another nice option to avoid losing a horse is a variation on the mecate "get down" rope. Either use a mecate rein set up on your snaffle or leave the halter and lead rope on the horse, and have the free rope or lead rope tucked in your waistband or belt. You get down on purpose or come off by accident and you have that rope ready to grab.

    I don't have the luxury of consistent riding buddies. If I didn't ride alone I'd have only ridden about 50 times in the past decade instead of at least a thousand times. Somehow I've managed to not get killed, lose a horse, get a horse or myself seriously hurt on the solo rides, and it's not due to my having nerves of steel, exceptional skills, or saintly horses. You just have to ride the spooks and work through the issues as they arise.

    FWIW, old fat arthritic me only gets off a horse out on the trail to pee and only then if there's a rustic mounting block available. My horses will stand like statues next to just about anything so I can get back on. When my gelding and I were getting acquainted that meant a half hour training session persuading him that the steps of an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere Would Not Eat Him. He's been really good ever since. Gets a cookie EVERY time he stands to be mounted. Don't leave home without horse cookies.

    Leave a comment:

  • goodhors
    I have seen too many accidents happen, to ever encourage cantering uphill! Often horse starts bucking, speeds up to get out of control, then bucking. They can easily trip at speed, lunging uphill, going down, flinging rider aside.

    No real reason to canter uphill! Not a test of horsemanship or a show of more skilled riding to any onlookers.

    MUCH safer to keep control, walking (building muscle!) uphill or very slow trot. Horse has more feet on the ground each stride, should one foot slip or stumble. Same thing going thru water, slower is safer, especially if water is deep, because it impedes leg movement.

    Leave a comment:

  • SuzieQNutter
    I think my comment was taken the wrong way I did not mean canter up every hill. I did not mean canter on the first rides. I meant when you finally canter, uphill is safer than downhill. Or you can always try the Man From Snowy River trick but I don't know anyone who has! Shudder!

    Leave a comment:

  • RiderInTheRain
    I foxhunt, but in my previous location (I moved recently) also took lessons at a barn where most riders very rode outside the arena unless it was a formal schooling day on a manicured course, so there was some overlap in my two groups of riding friends (people who both took lessons in the arena and also trail rode regularly), but not much. A few of my arena riding friends did express interest in taking their horses trail riding, but they were nervous to do so.

    I have a couple of very good trail horses, especially my husband's mare, who has an excellent "follow the butt ahead" mode if her rider is nervous or otherwise not doing much active riding or decision making, so I typically offered friends the option to ride one of my horses for the first ride or two. A couple of them took me up on this offer and said that it was very confidence building to know that whatever they saw that concerned them was something the horse had already navigated before, likely many times.

    When we switched to taking their horse, we picked our trails carefully. The best trails were ones without big ditches or trappy creek crossings, but that still had some winding through the woods, hills, etc. because it gives the green horse something to think about that isn't too overwhelming. I rode a calm horse who didn't mind if the greenie got following a bit close, and in most cases, I would ride in front at first. However, there were a few cases, where the green horse was less worried in front, so I rode behind at whatever distance seemed to reduce the green horse's anxiety. We mostly walked, but sometimes a little trot was helpful.

    As far as rein length, generally I suggested that if the horse was calm and confident, a loose rein or light contact would be the way to go. You can always shorten the reins if needed, but I think it is important to let them know that strolling along in a relaxed way is the right idea

    One friend of mine who is new to trail riding always wears her safety vest and leaves a rope halter (with lead rope tied around her horse's neck or I can wrap it up and clip to the D rings on my saddle) on her horse as both of these things give her more confidence.

    Definitely be up front with your trail buddy about exactly how slowly you would like to be going. I don't at all mind helping green horses or riders on the trail but I'd like to know ahead of time so I can be well prepared, from picking the right trail horse to wearing the right clothes as I will dress quite differently for a walk ride at 35 degrees than a ride to do trot/canter sets at the same temp. I also appreciated when friends would ask me "Do you have any slower/easier rides planned in the next few weeks that I might be able to tag along on?" because I sometimes found that describing generally what I planned to do gave them more information about whether they would be comfortable on a certain ride or not than just an open ended suggestion from either of us that we go trail riding.

    Leave a comment:

  • MsM
    BTDT. Kinda back there again with a new horse and no trail access for a while...

    Previous horse was nervous and had been raced on trails. After establishing obedience in the ring, I followed much of the advice already given. Did a small "cool out" loop with a boarder riding a calm QH after a good workout in the ring. Continued to do that loop alone since companions were limited and the loop was short enough to be walkable. Before too long my horse relaxed and viewed it as something pleasant and stopped jigging and fussing. (Yeah, I did notice that previous rider must have always galloped up hill as he really expected it!)

    Once my horse and I were calm on our known loop I added in a little trotting and allowed him to calm himself afterward. He did get into a gallop once (darn hills!) but it was reassuring that I could regain control. Eventually we were both comfortable and went on longer walk/trot rides with reasonably calm horses and then alone. In our New England woods, many of the trail sections were walk/trot only! It was probably a year before I was comfortable with cantering with another horse on the trail - we actually cantered alone before. He turned into a reliable trail horse and I never did come off him on the trail in spite of some scares and spooks! (Good thing as it was pre - cell phone days and I went a good distance out!)

    New horse has little experience outside a ring and I am old and breakable now. Fortunately he is sensible by nature. Unfortunately he is also athletic! I have walked around the stable grounds a bit. Plan to get to the little trail access we have in the Spring or Summer following the small loop plan. For both of our comfort!

    Leave a comment: