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Teaching my OTTB to be a trail horse. . .help

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  • Teaching my OTTB to be a trail horse. . .help

    Hi. I recently moved my OTTB to a facility that has beautiful trails. My horse has only known the track and then the arena. He seems to get tense when I venture out of the outdoor arena and into the trails. I can feel his body tense and his ears are straight up and he's looking at everything.

    He's not really a spooky horse, but on our first trail ride he was very jumpy and even startled at a rock. He then went by it without a problem after I let him look at it. I took him into an area that was an open field and he felt like he was going to take off so I turned him around into the more narrow path. We walked the rest of the way without incident.

    I took him on two short trail rides after that and he was looking around and felt tense, but no spooks or startles.

    I want this to be fun for him. I want this to be a break from arena work. Am I doing the right thing by taking him on short little trips until he gets used to the trails? Will he get used to the trails? What's the best way to get him used to the open areas and narrow trails? Any advice is appreciated. Thanks so much!

  • #2
    Were you in company? Having a reliable, experienced horse along for company helps immeasurably. If necessary, you could even arrange to have him 'ponied' on the trails.

    Suggest you warm up in the arena to get him focused, and then go out in safe, reliable company.

    And don't forget to breathe and relax up there!
    Don't wrassle with a hog. You just get dirty, and the hog likes it.

    Collecting Thoroughbreds - tales of a re-rider and some TBs


    • Original Poster

      Oh yeah, I forgot to add, on our first somewhat longer trail ride, he was with his pasture mate. His pasture mate is a 24 year old, been-there-done-that type of horse, but my horse is more dominant. The older horse would tense if my horse was tense over something so that didn't seem to help. I don't really have anyone else to ride with other than my friend who owns the pasture mate.

      The other little short trips were alone.


      • #4
        It sounds like in a few short tries, he already improved a bit! My four year old, whom I adopted two months ago, has been super on the trails! He tolerated baby carriages, bikes, runners, etc without incident! He does get reeeeally forward though, and is learning how to act appropriately while feeling so exhilerated. He also is learning that it is not a big thing. I think that is the key with your guy. Being out of the arena (his safe place), is a whole new world, so he is really unsure of himself! Give him time and have fun!


        • #5
          Get a solid pal, and keep taking him out!

          This helped my horse become an ace trail horse--as opposed to, say, an aced trail horse! A calm companion should help ease your horse into the transition, and it might take quite a bit of time before he feels fully relaxed out on his own. I noticed with my OTTB that he did much better on his own (eventually) if I took him on the trails he was most familiar with. Trying to take him somewhere brand new with no companion was a recipe for anxiety.

          You might also find that your horse likes to follow rather than lead in company, and that might give him confidence over time, too.

          Yes, he probably will get over his "trail nerves" in time. Mine did, and I know plenty of people with OTTB trail horses, so mine must not be some miraciulous exception! I think getting him out regularly is the key, and I also agree that some warm-up time in a ring before taking him outside will help get him relaxed. He'll probably come to regard the trails as a welcome change from ringwork eventually, too!

          But it's also good to remember that what's he's seen at the track isn't what he'll see on the trails. My horse is brilliant and steady about passing traffic when we're on a country road, but, like yours, at first he spooked at rocks, deer, mailboxes, rabbits, etc. Again, time and exposure make the difference--and that calm, experienced companion.


          • #6
            Just be patient. The first several times my OTTB went out on trails was with his barn mate. And his barn mate wasn't exactly the most quiet horse out on trails. Mine WOULD NOT go thru water without a battle and was definitely tense.

            His barn mate had a series of lameness and other physical issues so I couldn't consistently rely on him for companionship out on trails so I finally just sucked it up and started to go out on my own.

            The first few times I did this were sketchy at best. One time, Justin saw something that I did not (still don't know what it is he saw) and he took off like a maniac the other direction. I could not believe I stuck to the tack on that one and the event had me shaken for quite a bit.

            Finally, one day, I told myself that I did this blindly and regularly (bareback and w/o a helmet) as a 12 y.o. so, dammit, I was going! We went out again and the more I did it, the better my horse got. He turned into a damn good trail horse.

            One thing that really helped him with water crossings was to follow a large group. We went hilltopping (hunting) once and also did a large trail ride with a group and that gave him the confidence he needed to do creek crossings on his own.

            He got so good out on trails in a fairly short time -- he would carefully pick his way thru trappy tree forks of fallen trees -- deer would spring up next to him and he wouldn't even flinch -- he was so awesome and I SO miss that. It got to the point where I rarely went out with company and he went on the buckle.

            Go here to see pix of him navigating water (pictures taken from between his little ears) -- scroll down to April 20. http://www.anyplacefarm.com/April%202007.htm

            "If you have the time, spend it. If you have a hand, lend it. If you have the money, give it. If you have a heart, share it." by me


            • #7
              You need to find a babysitter or two --- a couple of confident trail horses who've been there, done that, nothing phases them including a silly OTTB. If you can find one of the benevolent ones who will let your horse stick his nose up his butt, all the better. Keep the rides low key, walking along, la-de-dah, and your horse will soon relax and learn to enjoy it. Heck, if he could deal with all of the commotion at the track, he can learn to deal with whatever he comes across on a trail ride!



              • #8
                And if you don't have the advantage of going out with other people often, for what it is worth, my guy only had help a handful of times and he came around and ended up being a better trail horse than his way more seasoned buddy.

                "If you have the time, spend it. If you have a hand, lend it. If you have the money, give it. If you have a heart, share it." by me


                • #9
                  Make sure that you are staying as relaxed as possible, too. I will sing and talk to my horses if they get tense while out on trail by themselves. Seems to help. (ok, not as much as when they can tuck in behind the old grey mare...)


                  • #10
                    Anyplace, I love your 'ears' pictures.
                    Don't wrassle with a hog. You just get dirty, and the hog likes it.

                    Collecting Thoroughbreds - tales of a re-rider and some TBs


                    • #11
                      Sounds like the horse I started leasing a few months ago. He was well-behaved but super tense the whole time we were out on trails. Pretty much we just kept doing it, taking careful note of which places he was better or worse with. On days he seemed extra tense, I'd take him somewhere less scary. He's pretty much fine now, if not yet enthusiastic if he's alone (he *loves* it when he has a friend along).

                      I think as long as you stay calm and encouraging they pick up on it. Don't look out for things you think will freak him out, he will sense that and then freak. Always be prepared for spooking, but don't expect it, if that makes sense.

                      Oh, and I don't know what other people do, but I tend to point out things like deer and rabbits if I think he will be startled. Once he knows what they are he isn't frightened, so if I see one I think he hasn't yet noticed I'll try to get him to see it so it doesn't pop out. Though it is kinda funny to see him do a big jump and then try to pretend nothing happened when he realized it's just a deer


                      • #12
                        A trail buddy certainly helps, but if you don't have one handy, try hand-walking your horse a couple of times. Often times, I'll start an OTTB off by walking with them on the trail, sometimes also with my dogs (to get them used to them). Horses will generally lead without getting panicked and I a few reassuring pats go a long way.

                        After I've hand walked a couple of times, I generally start riding them but will get off them and hand walk past scary stuff. It's easier than getting in a fight about something and reinforces that trail rides are fun. Usually this phase doesn't last long. My current OTTB is a blast to trail ride and is now great out alone.

                        As for following a buddy? It depends on how successful your horse was at the track . The OTTB I have now was a very competitive race horse and he vastly prefers to go first! My last one was a middle of the pack runner and she was quite happy to follow.
                        Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
                        EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.


                        • #13
                          I've trained several OTTB's for trail riding. My tactic is to take them out and only let them walk until they can do a ride in a reasonably relaxed state. If your horse is merely tense, that's not too bad. It's important for you to stay relaxed and have a "been there done that" attitude.

                          Personally, I like to take my OTTB's out alone when first training them for the trail. I did it out of necessity at first, and now I think it is a good way to get them self-reliant out there instead of always needing a buddy. I usually start them on the trail bitless, too, but that's just me.

                          If you are relaxed and breathing, your horse will eventually cue into you. You can sing if it will help to relax both of you (I sing Christmas carols to my horses when they get tense). Be prepared for him to spook at anything "natural" and completely overlook the stuff that other types of horses find scarey. It's kinda the fun part of riding an OTTB. Take your time training him to cross water. That was a biggie for all of my OTTB's. Usually, once they get a foot into the water, they relax. But one of mine actually got more scared after he touched the water the first time. I don't know if he'd ever seen a stream before, and it scared him. I had to work him up to wider and noisier crossings. Even the sound of the stream bothered him at first. Now I have trouble getting him OUT of the streams!

                          Keep us posted, and maybe we can help with specific things. You'll know when your horse switches from being nervous to being jittery from wanting to go. Once he's comfortable, he'll probably want to try some speed. It's what they're bred for. When you get to that point, sit back and enjoy the ride!
                          "Passion without knowledge is a runaway horse."


                          • #14
                            Sounds like your OTTB has the potential to be a great trail horse. The ones I cannot handle are the ones who really act a fool when they spook. My OTTB (now 14) just kind of plants all 4 feet out to the side when he spooks.. very easy to deal with. He was very "looky" too when we first went out. Big farm equipment, cars, noisy trucks, bikes, blowing tarps, etc were no problem. He saw them on the track. Other homey type stuff was much scarier, like old tires, ducks in a pond, etc. He'd plant his feet, take a good look, maybe a snort, then would walk past. Each time he got better. Your guy sounds like he has the makings of a great trail horse. Just keep exposing him. Take him on the same trails over and over until he's relaxed, then move on and expose him to other stuff. He'll learn. OTTBs are very, VERY smart. If they were able to survive the race track, they have a mental toughness that will help them with anything they do. You're on the right track.. just keep showing him as much as you can without getting flustered about it. If you stay calm, your OTTB will learn to stay calm.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by johnnysauntie View Post
                              Anyplace, I love your 'ears' pictures.
                              Awww...thank you. Me too. I hate to hijack this thread by saying this but today is the day I'm having to put him down. Long story that I won't go into but yes, those pictures are treasures to me now.

                              "If you have the time, spend it. If you have a hand, lend it. If you have the money, give it. If you have a heart, share it." by me


                              • #16
                                I'd say you're doing the right thing now. Take everything in baby steps.
                                Go out maybe 50 ft or to your horse's comfort level (until you feel him tense up) Make him stand for a few seconds, then you give him the okay to turn around and head back home. Don't let him turn and head back on his own.

                                Everyday go out a few more feet. This may take a while to accomplish, but better to build a solid foundation, than to push it and ruin both of yours confidence.

                                Good luck, trail riding is so much fun and I think in time your horse will appreciate the break from the arena.

                                P.S. Just in case, do you know how to do an emergency stop? Pulley stop? Since he is a new guy to the trails, you never know....
                                MnToBe Twinkle Star: "Twinkie"

                                Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!


                                • #17
                                  Bogie wrote:

                                  <<As for following a buddy? It depends on how successful your horse was at the track . The OTTB I have now was a very competitive race horse and he vastly prefers to go first! My last one was a middle of the pack runner and she was quite happy to follow.>>

                                  This doesn't always hold true! My OTTB was a confirmed front-runner who won 25 times or thereabouts, and his trainer told me he was nearly impossible to rate. He will lead on a trail, but in general he much, much prefers to follow. He's not much of a puller, either--go figure. I guess you never can tell!


                                  • #18
                                    My own OTTB is doing fantastic on trails, after a slightly rocky beginning. The first few times last fall were somewhat unnerving, exposing the fact that he wasn't 100% confident in me. He was very reactive to other horses and what they were doing, so having another horse along could be a liability. He saw a little twitch in the butt of an old TB who was just thinking about cantering and thought the race was on... Then after a couple of months of ground work and dressage, he went out on his own without a problem. Other horses okay too. Lead or follow, not an issue. I had just been premature in taking him out.

                                    There is nothing automatic or easy about trail riding, especially for horses used to a stabled environment. It may be that the best way to improve him on the trail is to ride in the arena and continue to do short little trips. Don't put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation until you feel he is with you mentally, even if he is nervous.

                                    When you feel comfortable letting him loose a little on the trail, maybe up a nice big hill, it will be a fantastic feeling worth waiting for. But I would agree with the "just walk" approach to begin with.

                                    Good luck, and you can see from the responses that there are tons of OTTB's out there on the trail.
                                    Publisher, http://www.endurance-101.com
                                    Blog: http://blog.seattlepi.com/horsebytes/


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by baythoroughbred View Post
                                      Hi. I recently moved my OTTB to a facility that has beautiful trails. My horse has only known the track and then the arena. He seems to get tense when I venture out of the outdoor arena and into the trails. I can feel his body tense and his ears are straight up and he's looking at everything.

                                      He's not really a spooky horse, but on our first trail ride he was very jumpy and even startled at a rock.
                                      Well, maybe he secretly wants to be an Arab <g>. My 14 yr. old Arab STILL spooks at rocks and odd-shaped trees...they seem to really concern her. FAR more than the freight train 30 cars long (with the engineer blowing the whistle like mad) or a logging truck passing us 15 feet away. Go figure.

                                      I don't know that much about trail training, but I DO know alot about TBs -- was on the track for years.

                                      You might try ponying him off an experienced trail horse -- you can pony him with you on him or not (race horses are ponied both ways). A race horse will almost automatically relax more when he's ponied.

                                      Sounds like he's doing great so far -- really, TBs are exposed to SO many things they can be very adaptable.

                                      Now, if I could just convince the Ay-RAB that the broken mailbox at the end of the lane is NOT going to eat her we'd be just fine....


                                      • #20
                                        My OTTB used to be a great trail horse because that's mostly what she did before I bought her. We could go out on our own or with others with no problems.
                                        This year, we only went on a handful of rides and she was not so good. She "powerwalked" most of the way and got more foamed up than when we work in an arena. All she wanted to do was gallop... and not stop.
                                        Fortunately, she doesn't spook easily though. If I ignore possible spooks, she doesn't notice them either.