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"Follower" insecure horse who can now go out alone...Any success stories?

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  • "Follower" insecure horse who can now go out alone...Any success stories?

    Has anyone had a horse that used to be insecure about hitting the trails alone who through training, gained confidence and now trail rides alone well? (either barn sour, stopping and backing up etc...) My guy does really well once we lose sight of the barn but so far, only following a lead horse. Alone, he is much worse. Not dangerous, just insecure. (stops, backs up) He isn't afraid of one thing per se, he just doesn't want to go. I would never venture far out alone but from time to time, hope to work in the fields or do a short trail ride alone.

    I suppose some horses may always need to be "followers", but I would love to hear any success stories (or not?!) Thanks

  • #2
    I fostered a little Arabian mare last year who had never been out alone and was a definite follower. When we decided to compete her in a CTR, she needed conditioning, which meant a lot of time alone on the trail.

    We trailered to the trail, though, rather than trying to leave from a place where all her buddies would call to her. Out of sight and earshot of their herd mates is a great thing for getting a horse on the trail alone.

    My tactic was to ask just enough of her that she was mostly comfortable. And then I pushed at her comfort a little at a time until she could canter with confidence alone. I don't know how many miles or rides that took, but I listened to the horse and read her signals as well as I could. Asking too much too soon can actually slow the process down. The horse needs to learn confidence and trust in the rider. The mare used to try to follow joggers, bicyclists, anything so that she wasn't alone on the trail. Eventually she figured out that nothing bad happened to her when we were out alone.

    She never seemed to enjoy being on the trail alone, though. She'd do it, but she wasn't happy about it. With another horse along, she really seemed to like the trail.
    "Passion without knowledge is a runaway horse."


    • #3
      A friend of mine recently reported success with her Arab, who didn't like to go out alone. She started with 5 minute rides, then 10 minutes, then 15, etc. He slowly gained the confidence to go out for longer rides by himself.

      My older mare is a follower, but rarely goes out alone because I usually ride with my husband, so it's not often an issue. But she will go alone if necessary, though she's spookier and sometimes balks. I saw him once in the distance, dealing with her balking at turning down into a field away from the barn. He didn't have a crop with him. I didn't intervene, as I was curious what would happen. He rode to the corner of the field. She balked. He finally turned her around, circled back, and reapproached the spot. Rinse repeat, no temper, just endless patience. After about 12 repetitions she gave up balking and went on to do the whole mile-long field ride. I might not have used the same strategy, as I feel the turning back is a "win" for the horse, but in this case his persistence paid off. It was kind of funny to watch.


      • #4
        my appy mare used to be the queen of balks if you asked her to go out alone. found out really quick crops did nothing but make her more stubborn. ever sat on a horse for an hour doing nothing but keeping her pointed in the direction you want to go? it seems like FOREVER. she would follow another horse but wouldn't lead or go alone. now i luv going out with just her, she's a joy. AND it makes me really proud when we're with a group that gets stalled at something and i slide up to the front to have her lead the other horses through. the turning a circle thing didn't work either or anything else normal but i accidently discovered that if i had her flex her neck to the left and then right, left and then right she'd get tired of it and would go on. first time i did it so much my arms were tired but after that all i had to do was to tighten one rein. now she just goes.
        love my gal!!
        You know why cowboys don't like Appaloosas?" - Answer: Because to train a horse, you have to be smarter than it is.


        • #5

          I have the opposite problem. My horse is a DREAM alone. I mean an absolute dream. He is also a dream leading but put him behind and he turns into the UUB (ugly, unruly bastard!) And, it embarrasses me to no end. I am always telling everyone he's a dream alone and they're like, "Yeah, right!"

          I think we just need more miles. My gut says he gets so insecure behind that he's going to be left that he jumps around. He is an omega horse, I wonder if that feeds the insecurity.
          Sorry! But that barn smell is my aromatherapy!
          One of our horsey bumper stickers! www.horsehollowpress.com
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          • #6
            I had a horse that it took 2 years for her to go out with 4 other horses surrounding her to prevent a bolt home and it took another 6 months to get her to go out alone, after we had that breakthrough i could ride her anywhere, for many years after that breakthrough I could ride her alone in just a halter at all gaits for hours without a mishap or resistance

            I had to make going out everyday a part of her routine and she could not go home until she was able to lgo forward, there were days when we stood in one spot for hours

            The horse has no idea how far you want to go, so any movement forward is success, it is literally 1 step at a time and quit while you're ahead

            I gave up having a predetermined idea of how far we'd go in my mind but instead was looking for forward, soft and listening to my aids rather than ready to explode and bolt home

            We did the same thing every single day for a couple of years until she got so bored she gave up fighting and decided it was quicker to just go on the damn trailride than fight in one spot for hours. I got so that before her feet stopped moving, I could tell when she was going to get scared and spin and bolt and put her in a leg yeild or half pass to get her moving again, if she didn't want to go forward straight, she went forward on a 3 track, that horse taught me alot.


            • #7
              Originally posted by pines4equines View Post
              I have the opposite problem. My horse is a DREAM alone. I mean an absolute dream. He is also a dream leading but put him behind and he turns into the UUB (ugly, unruly bastard!) And, it embarrasses me to no end. I am always telling everyone he's a dream alone and they're like, "Yeah, right!"

              I think we just need more miles. My gut says he gets so insecure behind that he's going to be left that he jumps around. He is an omega horse, I wonder if that feeds the insecurity.
              got one like that, too. a friend and i started working with him with her trotting off, stopping the instant he started his little fit and then trotting back. we got him to a point that she could be maybe fifty ft. ahead before he's start cracking but then life got in the way and we haven't been able to get together for a long time. expect we'll have to start at the beginning again. I believe your horse is perfect alone or leading cause my boy is, too. it's not fun is it? guess that's why i ride the appy mare mostly.
              You know why cowboys don't like Appaloosas?" - Answer: Because to train a horse, you have to be smarter than it is.


              • Original Poster

                Thanks - the replies are all very interesting! I know we need more exposure outside of the ring, and more respect under saddle, but I do suspect genuine, natural insecurity. I am finally learning to relax more when it happens. Today, we just flexed side to side and then stood - no circles or yielding HQ...I just let him rest and relax vs. getting all hyped up. We tried several more times and eventually he went forward. He's an appy too and also older (18) and very set in his ways. We'll keep working as I am determined but I know not to push him as he gets more and more upset. It's a fine line between respect and pushing him over what he is mentally capable of at this point if that makes sense. That's what I struggle with.


                • #9
                  My mare used to be like that. Well actually I used to be terrified after a bad fall-just didn't realize I was scared. It took a while-a few months of just planting her nose on the lead horse's butt. My problem then was she was insecure and when she started to act up, I became quite insecure too. But in time, I started to catch myself and work on myself and relax. Then on trails for short stretches, my mare would lead. If one of us found it too much, I let my friend lead again. Sometimes I might have lead for 2min of a 3 hr trail ride and at that time, it was a big accomplishment.

                  Slowly I started leading more -the problem with mine was that she was off the track Arab and extremely quick so it took me some time to match her quick reflexes and actully stop her, especially after the bad fall on her. Once I got comfortable, I started taking her alone on trails that we both knew and kept at walk. In the beginning was all hyper and tensed and spooked at everything and she fought like crazy when we saw another horse on thetrail and wanted to follow the other horse. The key to me was figuring out where my comfort zone was and the comfort zone of my mare was and learning to push just a little-a horse can panic and so can a human and the worst is when both panic!! Just a little at a time and push a little at a time for both of you.
                  Now we ride alone all over-all gaits and both of us are fine. It took a while though. Now it is odd-everyone seems to think that my mare is dead broke and want to come out with us. But when you are riding with others, you have to match their pace etc.. so my mare actually likes going out alone. Alone, it is just us, so we do what we want, sometimes I may be watching the scenery and do just a one mile ride or if I come across grass let her graze or we may do a pretty fast ten or fifteen mile ride so it depends on what we are in the mood for. But with others, you have to stick to a plan and stuff-I like both-but she is beginning to enjoy being alone more(I would never have imagined it ).
                  So yes it is possible-just give yourself time....


                  • #10
                    My arab who has only been on the trail on and off for a year, will separate easy, but will react to many more things on the trail, than if he is with another horse. Today, he hadn't been ridden for 3 weeks, for example, just out the back gate, he balked at going forward cause someone had put crushed gravel into a former mud hole (which he never had trouble with). I pushed him forward, his blood pressure zoomed, he backed into a bad spot, cut his just healed leg a little, and tried to bolt home. I know when he's like this to just get off, put him on the lead line, make him pass, do circles, back up thru the scary spots. I just didn't listen to my inner voice. We go on further down the trail. The spot where we cross the street (sometimes has horse eating garbage cans out), now has the road torn up for construction. He didn't like the gravel and dust. However, I was off him here, so I could work him on the line and maybe he'll be better tomarrow.

                    I am learning that this horse doesn't need exercise daily, he needs desensitizing daily.

                    He's better when we trailer somewhere than on the home trails.
                    There is no snooze button on a cat that wants breakfast.


                    • #11

                      I swear, the best thing I have learned re: balking on the trail is how to be faster and more confident at mounting from the ground. :-) I'm learning that instead of arguing with her about something, we're all happier if I just get off and lead her over the horrifying 3-foot long, very solid, perfectly straightforward -- except for the five bears, six mountain lions, and 300 snakes that COULD BE hiding beneath it -- bridge. If I argue with her from her back, she starts feeling closer to the edge. If I just get off and lead her, I get licking, chewing, nose on my shoulder, and a general "oooh, thanks Mom!" attitude. Sometimes. Sometimes I get llama-headed "OHHHH, I don't quite believe you that this 2-inch-deep puddle is safe!!!!" but being calmly and quietly authoritative seems to do the trick. Then she's much better the next time she has to do a bridge or water crossing. So far. :-)


                      • #12
                        I like the idea of going out with others and swapping leading and following. My guy LOVES to lead hates to follow and would jig around. I would start leading the ride then 30 mins in I would swap and someone else leads.

                        We do this swap throughout the conditioning ride so all 3-4 horses learn to lead and follow politely.

                        If you horse is really nervous ask her to lead for a few minutes, then following then rinse and repeat.
                        I have horse to sell to you. Horse good for riding. Can pull cart. Horse good size. Eats carrots and apples. Likes attention. Move head to music. No like opera! You like you buy.


                        • #13
                          My mare used to be a total nervous wreck on trail, alone OR with a group.

                          I started trail riding 5 days a week, had my mom (who is more confident than me) ride her quite a bit on the trails as well, and had her go out with ONLY quiet, experienced trail horses.

                          Over time, I didn't need my mom to hop on for me anymore, I didn't need to put in all the hours every day, and I could go out with other horses that weren't totally quiet on trail. I STILL won't go out with crazies, but that's just because it's not fun for ME, I don't think my mare would care that much.

                          Now we go out alone most of the time, as there's not a whole lot of people at my barn that I really would want to go out with. I feel safer by myself, especially since the "trails" are all on the property of the barn. She's confident, happy, and I'm glad I have a horse I can take out by herself and not get worried.
                          Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!


                          • #14

                            I've tried retraining older balky horses and am currently bringing along some green broke fillies. I doubt your horse is "naturally insecure" but is doing this because he has experience with getting away with it. He's trying to get outa doing it IMHO. He might not be respecting your desire to go forward and that's not OK. Watch his ears. Horses that are CHOOSING to balk or act up frequently pin their ears just before or during it. Scared horses ears are forward, hyperventilating, tense. If your horse is calm? I'm betting he's challenging you and you need to be firm and consistent. Don't let him get away with it. End on what you want. Push him some. Some horses need a lot of pushing. It's much different with older horses. Young ones ARE genuinely insecure and reluctant to go for an adventure. They learn quickly but can't learn that balking, spinning/spooking will get them out of it. Just because a horse acts up; doesn't mean he's scared. Young horses you can think that but an 18 yo? I doubt it!!

                            Personally I think it's the 3 P's = positive, persistant, presence
                            Do it over & over again. Lots of miles and experience and it will decrease & cease in most cases. Old horses can take a year or never. Young horses can take months. Regular, repetive riding is needed here to accomplish this training goal. Yes, you have to TRAIN a trailriding horse just as hard as any other discipline!!


                            • #15
                              HAy again

                              Wateryglen: You are absolutely right and I came to that conclusion yesterday that my UB (uber bastard, where are the umlauts when you need them) is pitching a hissy fit. He wants to lead and if we put him in the back, he has a temper trantrum.

                              Yesterday, I rode him like he was pitching a tantrum and it came out better in the end. I will do the same from here on out...

                              PS: Even though I call him the UB, I love him desperately...
                              Sorry! But that barn smell is my aromatherapy!
                              One of our horsey bumper stickers! www.horsehollowpress.com
                              Add Very Funny Horse Bumper Stickers on facebook


                              • #16
                                Oh yeah, I bought 2 "ring horses" who were fine in the ring with other horses or on off days by themselves, then after a year I moved to another barn where no one rode their horses except in the little round pen. The ring was out on grass, but there were 50 acres of woods with a driveway and trails made by deer.
                                My ottb mare went right out and was fine, except when we would return to the barn and the other horses would run around, causing her to get excited.
                                MY WB was afraid of stumps. (Big bears?)And this place had lots of fallen trees broken off at the stumps. We would go a little further every day, shying sideways, and finally we were able to go thru the woods. And he learned that stumps would not attack him. This is a horse who is not afraid of deer, alligators, wild hogs, dump trucks, gunfire, etc.
                                He is however, still afraid of squirrels and frogs.
                                So go a little further out each day and in a few months you can ride out alone.
                                Oh, it helps to sing as I was holding my breath when we would get near the stumps. So someone suggested I breathe, and to do this I sang. Relaxed me and the horse.


                                • #17
                                  LOL... I'm remembering a long ride... my daughter was on a well-broke QH who for some unfathomable reason decided he didn't feel like walking anymore... he wanted to trot... everyone else (20+ riders) was walking ... so she turned him 180 degrees and made him walk backward with the 3 or 4 horses in her immediate group. after a few minutes she turned him in the same direction as the other horses and he got it... he behaved the rest of the 4 hour ride.


                                  • #18
                                    My step-mom and step-sister used to trail ride together a lot. My step-sister's horse, Mickey, would be out front until they were about to enter dark woods or go around a corner. Then he would stop and wait for Buzz to walk around and scout out any dangers....

                                    She did work with him and encourage him to be brave - it was a weird thing because he used to event so you would think trails wouldn't bother him that much.

                                    She did start to get him to stay out in front, but then she went to college and someone leased him and rode out with my step-mom twice a week. She allowed him to get away with this behavior and he fell backward in training. Oh well, such is life.


                                    • #19
                                      only when the rider's confidence and planning is greater than the horse's.

                                      I have a TWH who's a doll by himself, go anywhere, but with out as much fire as he shows when in company. Now he's come a lonnng way..but he's a turkey about being in the back/worried about getting left. He's bottom of the herd and it's very much OMG I Will Die mode. Circles helped him some but only if they are very structured circles...ok let's do a 20M circle, now a turn on the forehand and another and walk on good and now let's do another...etc...yesterday he reverted hard to his old ways- hopping, wanting to rear, jerking his head to the ground (to get slack), bolt, etc..I got him whoa'd dismounted, and had to decide whether to kill him with my bare hands ( I was furious, honestly, he's come SO far and this was SO far backwards I could have cried.) or deal with it. I sent my DH home on his horse, just go...and worked him in hand...he blew me off at first but patient, persistent requests for a shoulder in, a proper one or three, in a sandy lane between cotton fields...worked. I got his brain back. I remounted, and only got one more bolt attempt...one rein circle mid flight in that first stride...whoa. Walked off...only took another 50 feet or so of riding a bend, massaging the inside rein with a stable outside rein, breathing deep and soft, soft eyes, pretending all was well...

                                      we flat walked the entire mile home on slack.

                                      He gets to live.

                                      but you can see- I HAD to realllly ride him, be in the moment, ride him and do what we could. We couldn't walk quietly? Ok let's try shoulder in, let's try whoa and drop your head to the ground. good. Again? Good boy.
                                      repeat til you can ride them anywhere. They will revert. They will test. It's not their nature to be the bold leader. Become a leader they can and do respect and you'll get somewhere.


                                      • #20
                                        I haven't read the entire thread so hopefully I'm not just repeating what everyone else has done. When I bought my Arab, years ago, the old owner told me they had done some competitive trail with her husband and his horse, so I knew he'd been on the trails quite a bit, but she didn't mention and I didn't ask if he'd gone out alone much. Turns out, he hadn't. The first year I owned him, we went out with company and that was fine. Once in a while I'd pony my old mare along with, and ride one halfway and then switch and ride the other home. That worked pretty well. The next year, we boarded at a different place and it didn't work very well to take the mare along, so we tried to tough it out. It was ugly. He'd be great going away from home but as soon as you turned around, he'd be nuts - 17 hands of dancing, prancing 14.2 Arab. I gave up on that pretty quickly, which was probably a good thing because I wasn't as good of a rider as I thought I was. Fast forward 2 years. I"m going nuts because the only times we could ride out of sight of home were in company, which I rarely had. We moved to another barn, much bigger, with a LOT of trail riders. The first few months we rode in company, got used to the trails and being out in the open again. Then I had some time off from school where I had time to ride but rarely had anyone to ride with, and decided to suck it up and solve the problem. We would walk, or later trot, away from home. Before we got too far away, we'd turn around. If he accelerated or acted stupid, we'd head back out again. Ride away, turn around, continue toward home as long as he was good, head back out if he was naughty. We started in December, riding in company when we had it and doing a training session if we were alone, and by the end of the following summer I had a horse who could canter toward home politely. Now, years later, he still prefers company but I can take him out by myself, daydream and watch the clouds and go pretty much anywhere, and he's safe and trustworthy. Not sure I'd put him in the trailer alone and go to the state park by ourselves, but on our local trails he's 100% confident. It took patience, perseverence, and some guts.