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UPDATE POST #22: Horse doesn't like to hack out on the trails alone

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  • UPDATE POST #22: Horse doesn't like to hack out on the trails alone

    I ride a horse (10 yr old, 17.3 hand Perch/TB gelding) who is much better hacking out on the trails with others than alone. By himself he is often spooky, hesitant, and hops around and/or becomes resistant to the aids. In a group, this behavior diminishes considerably as well as in the ring.

    The problem is, if I wait to ride with others, I'm limited to only once a week at best, and the ring is small (20m x 40m) and grass, so use is limited.

    Because of his behavior I don't particularly enjoy going out alone (I fell off once due to a bad spook I wasn't prepared for and often spend most the time just getting him to move out and not balk or jig) so I currently do it infrequently.

    It doesn't "scare me" per se and if it did I wouldn't go out at all because I know being nervous would only make him more reactive. But hacking is supposed to be relaxing and fun, and right now its far from it

    However, if I thought doing it more often would get him to improve I would give it a shot. I've only been riding him for about 8 months and before this he was ridden even less frequently.

    So, is this something I can fix/improve? Any suggestions?

    TIA!
    Last edited by wcporter; Apr. 8, 2012, 08:15 PM.
    Barn rat for life

  • #2
    Most horses are worse alone than in a group, at least initially. Most horses can get over it. Its generally just a question of going anyway and riding out the shenanigans.

    Comment


    • #3
      I feel your pain. I have a 17h flighty TB who flat out refuses to go out alone. Actually today, just taking him in the ring away from his friends involved rearing and "leaping."

      Granted, this was our first ride in a month or two. But I generally like to take him on hand walks (with the chain and gloves) and make it enjoyable when he is relaxed. Then I take him out under saddle...a bit further every ride. It's still not pretty, but a crop helps tremendously.

      If I ever get nervous, I hop off and we do a hand walk. I don't want him to "win" by getting back to his buddies when he acts up.
      Charlie Brown (1994 bay TB X gelding)
      White Star (2004 grey TB gelding)

      Mystical Moment, 1977-2010.

      Comment


      • #4
        The once a week part is tough. I had a horse that was terribly barn-sour. The best advice I received was to find a time I could ride several days in a row, and commit to riding each day...a bit further each day.

        A few things you could try - but first and foremost, I would make sure you tell someone (or text someone) before and after your ride...in case you fall....for your safety.

        The first thing I would be doing is hand-walking him...tons of it - and making sure YOU are relaxed. Lots of stopping, "good boy's", deep breaths...when he relaxes (exhales, lowers head, etc) he gets lots of pats and rewards...bring carrots or treats and make sure the "end point" of your walk (or ride) is rewarded.

        Then take him further each time. End on a good note. Be very aware of your body language. One analogy that works very good for me when I am nervous is "sit on him like a 400 pound drunk cowboy". This helps me relax, sit deep, sit back and not clench! My wonderful teacher shared this with me and it works.

        SING if you are nervous. And finally, if it gives you more security, use a neck strap (or saddle strap) in case he spooks...OR a western saddle.

        I think if you take your time, have a plan and make sure you are relaxed, it's definitely worth a try...but once a week at best might make it harder. Several days in a row will help show him that "hey...this isn't so bad!". Good luck!

        Comment


        • #5
          If you really want to take the time to "fix" him, I think the shaping (training) plans on this site are good guides to what it takes to really teach a horse how to have confidence in himself and the environment.

          There is nothing quick fix or carrot stick magic here. These are straightforward, logical, step by step plans that may well take several months or more to accomplish. You can use any type of training you want to, either traditional (pressure/release) or positive reinforcement, but the trainer (and I, for that matter) would recommend positive reinforcement.

          Hart is a trainer in the UK. I've read his book on clicker training and I like his no-nonsense approach.

          Often we simply expect too much of our horses, without giving them the background they need to cope with it. Horses vary a lot in their reactivity, but all of them can learn how to face novel situations or things that scared them (like riding out alone) if we take the time to go slowly enough to teach them.

          Most of the time we just hope they figure it out themselves, which is essentially what you would be doing if you just ride him out alone more. Some will, some won't. You're the smart side of the equation, but you need a plan.
          Ring the bells that still can ring
          Forget your perfect offering
          There is a crack in everything
          That's how the light gets in.

          Comment


          • #6
            Your horse does not trust/respect your leadership.

            Group size isn't important. If this horse had one horse with him he respected/trusted, you wouldn't be having this problem.

            You need to become the authority figure he respects/trusts.

            How you do that, is your path to figure out, but that is the root of your problem.
            ******************************
            www.trying2event.blogspot.com
            www.facebook.com/UltimateStormLARigsby

            Comment

            • Original Poster

              #7
              Thanks everyone, for your input.

              I am "able" to ride more than once a week. My problem is that if I want to wait to ride out on the trails with a group, it can only happen once a week, at best.

              The trust/respect issue is certainly, in fact, an issue. He is definitely a "wary" horse, and I have been working to gain his trust and respect for the past several months. Its getting better for sure, but clearly still shows itself on the trail when we're alone.

              I also get the impression that he has spent most of his life "getting his way," as he feels its totally acceptable to dive down for grass whenever he feels like it while leading, mounting and unmounting, etc. He's a big boy and I'm sure that has played a part in his past interactions with others.

              I don't tolerate any of it and see improvements but he's definitely NOT a fast learner.

              I will keep at the trail riding alone in hopes it improves and I always bring my cell/let someone know I'm going out.
              Barn rat for life

              Comment


              • #8
                The respect thing is key. Don't put up with ANY crap, ever. He will only trust you to be the alpha if you don't take any s%^t from him. It is not a matter of "reassuring" him.

                I totally agree with hand walking, keeping at riding out on trails, going further every time. And especially singing! Helps calm human and horse.
                What's wrong with you?? Your cheese done slid off its cracker?!?!

                Comment


                • #9
                  Try going out on the trail for a while, and then coming back the same trail. If you have done that, you can already answer this question, but if not you can answer after you do so. Does he spook the same coming back as he does going out? If he does not spook coming back, he is probably trying to fool you. I have a OTTB that does this on occasion. They do this so they can get you to not want to ride them. Or not go on the trail with them, or whatever they don't want you to do with them. I have worked through that issue with him, and he is fine by him self. But when I go with other horses he still spooks when he is in front, but fine when he is behind another horse. Who knows what that is about. They are clever animals, and that is why I enjoy them.

                  Comment

                  • Original Poster

                    #10
                    I think the biggest obstacle for me (whether its real or imagined) is that he is not my horse. I ride him and groom him and am pretty much the only one who does and the woman who owns him has told me many times she'd be happy to let me have him. But right now, due to finances, I just cant. Hopefully next year.

                    And I am grateful she lets me ride him and "pretend" he's mine. But since he's not mine, I definitely feel restrained from otherwise having a CTJ meeting with him now and again.

                    He absolutely needs one, and if his behavior were dangerous (rearing, bucking, bolting, trying to trample, nip, etc), and not just bratty (trying to eat grass while leading, acting up on trail rides, and ignoring aids) I would have let him have it regardless. I never sacrifice my safety with horses.

                    What I need to do is just sit down with his owner (she is very reasonable and easy to talk to, which I really appreciate!) and just let her know that I am going to start really enforcing xyz, but need her approval/on board/aware, so tha if she happens to look out her window and see me catching holly hell on Mr A**hole for trying to dive for grass, she'll know what's going on.

                    My guess is, as Neigh-Neigh noted, trail behavior wont improve until the ground work does.

                    Does that sound accurate?

                    Again, thanks for letting me think this one out and offering advice. I do like this horse and want to be able to enjoy him even more than I already do.
                    Barn rat for life

                    Comment

                    • Original Poster

                      #11
                      Originally posted by Attack View Post
                      Does he spook the same coming back as he does going out? If he does not spook coming back, he is probably trying to fool you.
                      I think this is a good 75% of it
                      Barn rat for life

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Sounds like we are all mostly in agreement! Horse needs to learn to respect you, and then paying attention and obeying on the trail will follow. I am sure there are some truly “spooky” horses out there, but I have NEVER come across one that couldn’t be corrected by consistent handling.

                        I would start with the ground work, be sure you have a chain or a rope halter to let him know YOU MEAN IT! If he has been getting away with sins at first it will be a surprise, but be CONSISTANT do not give an inch!! EVER with a horse like this. Demand that he listens and obeys, and reward him when he does, but do not let him have “his way”.

                        I also like taking them on hand walks out on the same trails that I will be riding. Gives you time to work on ground manners, and gets him out on the trails with you.. following you, and listening to you.

                        Long story short YES a horse like this can become a nice quiet trail horse, but it will take some work. You have to let him know no more BS, we are marching down the trail! Eventually he will learn that resistance will create a fight, compliance will get a reward. Do reward him and let him know when he is responding correctly, and be sure to let him know the moment he starts to step wrong.

                        Good luck!
                        APPSOLUTE CHOCKLATE - Photo by Kathy Colman

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I have one mare that I have tried ALL of these approaches with for 6 years or so and nothing works. When we get to a certain point, she's a fire breathing dragon. I'm always alone and that doesn't help. This mare is EXCELLENT on the ground and very good in the arena.

                          My other horses are fine going away but it's the rush home that makes me insane. They walk like slugs AWAY from the farm, then work themselves into a sweat on the way home. I don't know how to cure it either. I've gotten off and walked home (this makes them so happy....grrrrr) and I've circled back over and over into a lather. One mare is new so I've only done it once but I've done it for 3 years with another. For her it never changes, Again, I'm always alone so they are just hurrying to get home.....so frustrating.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by hundredacres View Post
                            My other horses are fine going away but it's the rush home that makes me insane. They walk like slugs AWAY from the farm, then work themselves into a sweat on the way home. I don't know how to cure it either. I've gotten off and walked home (this makes them so happy....grrrrr) and I've circled back over and over into a lather. One mare is new so I've only done it once but I've done it for 3 years with another. For her it never changes, Again, I'm always alone so they are just hurrying to get home.....so frustrating.
                            Do you always get off right when you get home? Try going for a short ride and then working HARD in the arena when you get back. They might not be so excited to go home if they think the trails are the place where they get to take it easy
                            RIP Victor... I'll miss you, you big galumph.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by BigHorseLittleHorse View Post
                              Do you always get off right when you get home? Try going for a short ride and then working HARD in the arena when you get back. They might not be so excited to go home if they think the trails are the place where they get to take it easy
                              That sounds like it will work!
                              . Something else I thought of was taking short trip around the property, let them hurry toward home but go right past the barn and back on on again for the same short tour of the property. Psyche them out over and over until they finally give up any hope that we'll stop at the barn. Think it will work?



                              OP...sorry to hijack!

                              Comment

                              • Original Poster

                                #16
                                Originally posted by hundredacres View Post


                                OP...sorry to hijack!
                                No need to apologize - I am lurking and learning!
                                Barn rat for life

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by wcporter View Post
                                  Thanks everyone, for your input.

                                  I am "able" to ride more than once a week. My problem is that if I want to wait to ride out on the trails with a group, it can only happen once a week, at best.

                                  The trust/respect issue is certainly, in fact, an issue. He is definitely a "wary" horse, and I have been working to gain his trust and respect for the past several months. Its getting better for sure, but clearly still shows itself on the trail when we're alone.

                                  I also get the impression that he has spent most of his life "getting his way," as he feels its totally acceptable to dive down for grass whenever he feels like it while leading, mounting and unmounting, etc. He's a big boy and I'm sure that has played a part in his past interactions with others.

                                  I don't tolerate any of it and see improvements but he's definitely NOT a fast learner.

                                  I will keep at the trail riding alone in hopes it improves and I always bring my cell/let someone know I'm going out.
                                  That is a LOT of horse to have on your hands if he acts snorty and silly. I bet you are getting a little unsure about your ability to handle him if he truly escalates his shenanigans.

                                  My best suggestion is to establish compliance, respect, and manners at the barn/arena first. It should be solid and he should respect you at all times. Then he can go outside and you'll have the greater feeling of 'knock that off, doofus' if he wants to go home. If you aren't his trusted, respected, benevolent dictator at home, you cannot magically become her when he's scared and worried about being out alone.

                                  Best wishes.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    I have trained several horses to be good trail horses and they've all become quite good at going out on their own.

                                    Like others have mentioned, I often start by hand walking them, especially if they have never been out on trails before.

                                    Next, I start riding them out. If they get too agitated or concerned, I get off and walk them for awhile and then get back on. Sometimes that means a lot of dismounting and remounting but that's good practice for them, too.

                                    Sometimes horses start to anticipate the return trip to keenly. For horse that jig or get agitated, I choose a day where I have plenty of time. If they act up, I turn them around and ride back out on the trail. If I'm more pressed for time, I make them walk in shoulder in or half pass and let them jig (staying like that) until they figure out it takes more work. Sure you can ride them past the barn or ride them again at the barn to teach them that work doesn't end when you get back but then you have to put up with a crappy ride home!

                                    I always try to reward them with walking on a loose rein and staying relaxed. I also reward good behaviors with treats (like standing still) and will carry alfalfa pellets and such in my pocket.

                                    Mostly it's a "rinse and repeat" kind of thing that takes time and patience.

                                    As others have said, it boils down to having the horse trust you as a leader and that takes time.
                                    Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
                                    EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by hundredacres View Post
                                      That sounds like it will work!
                                      . Something else I thought of was taking short trip around the property, let them hurry toward home but go right past the barn and back on on again for the same short tour of the property. Psyche them out over and over until they finally give up any hope that we'll stop at the barn. Think it will work?



                                      OP...sorry to hijack!
                                      Yep, I do this too. We go out on the trails and if I think he's anticipating going home too much (usually you can tell because he'll start marching toward home when we start heading back whereas he was just sort of ambling on the way out), we'll walk back and then keep on walking around the farm. Or go in the ring and do some work. Stuff like that so it isn't always, "go out on the trails, come back, immediately dismount and put him away".
                                      The Trials and Jubilations of a Twenty-Something Re-rider
                                      Happy owner of Kieran the mostly-white-very-large-not-pony.

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        I would agree that it will take time and patience and a firm, consistent attitude.

                                        My current mare is the first one I own that is still not comfortable going out on the trails solo. She now is fine on our little hack loop (15 mn through fields and woods) but on the longer loop, there is a 50/50 chance that she will be a wreck, especially if her barn buddies start calling her. She'll jig/canter in place and work herself up to a sweaty mess. Not ideal for a cool-down hack!

                                        I have tried the going further every time, the getting off and working on halting/backing up etc. in hand, which works fine.

                                        I have done the getting back to the ring and working her, which she doesn't mind at all, as she enjoys working in the ring!

                                        I know she could be much better on the trails if I REALLY took the time to train her, but since I don't really see a need...

                                        It's just so weird to me to have a horse that is SO insecure alone in the woods. (she's much better in open fields). My previous Ottb was just the opposite, she LOVED to go exploring alone on the trails. And I bought both at the track and they had no previous trail riding experience. But I mostly trail ride in company these days, so I don't really mind.
                                        Ottbs - The finish line is only the beginning!

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