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Am I giving up too soon? re: making a trail horse into a ring horse

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  • Am I giving up too soon? re: making a trail horse into a ring horse

    Hello everyone,

    I tend to read here more than I post so I'm sorry for asking a question but I'm at a loss here.

    I have several years experience with horses but I'm not close to being a seasoned rider. I've been taking lessons at a barn on what the BO calls her go to horse. Previously she said this horse did ranch work and was a trail horse. I've ridden him on trails and he is fantastic.
    I started riding him in the ring about 6 months ago. I've been looking for a good advanced beginner type ring horse. To the BO's knowledge this horse hadn't done ring work before. She's only had him a couple of years as a trail horse. So it was kind of an experiment.

    He's done well for months. I was leasing him and getting ready to buy him. Then all of a sudden, he started acting up really bad in lessons. Head tossing, small bucks, fighting the bit. It seems that when I was riding once a week he was fine. As soon as I started leasing and riding 3-4 times a week, that's when he shut down.

    Now I'm not so sure about him. My trainer absolutely insists that he can be a good ring horse. She said I need some training tricks to use on him like when he's acting up to get down and start lunging him. She insists that just about any horse can be a ring horse and he definitely can.

    She no doubt knows more than me, but I'm feeling like some horses just don't like the ring. And why make them? He's a good solid trail horse, so why change that? We tried to make him a ring horse but he doesn't like it. I'm fine moving on to another horse. But for some reason she's taking my apprehension as fear and she insists with work he can be a ring horse.

    So what do you all think? I love this horse and I'd love nothing more than for him to be my ring horse. She is saying that even the best ring horse will test the rider and that is all he's doing now is testing me. She says I will run into this problem with any horse down the road. I can see that but still.....aren't there some horses that just hate the ring?
    I don't know what to do. I'm just glad this happened now and not right after I bought him.
    Last edited by RhythmDivine; Jun. 12, 2013, 03:32 PM. Reason: fixed word

  • #2
    Personally, I never ride a horse solely in an arena. Its a real quick way to make a horse sour.

    All of my horses, from green beans, to seasoned show horses got out of the arena and out for a hack AT LEAST once a week.

    Some horses can manage doing nothing but circles in an arena, but most can not.

    Do you do any trail riding with him any more?
    APPSOLUTE CHOCKLATE - Photo by Kathy Colman


    • #3
      IMO, never force a trail horse to be a ring horse. I really despise when people take a horse that is a fantastic trail horse and try to make it into a ring horse, they usually end up sour and dangerous. If you aren't trail riding him anymore, get him back on the trails. Let him do what he loves, then take him back into the ring to see if his attitude has improved.

      If not, don't force him to be a ring horse, accept the horse that he is or move on.
      come what may

      Rest in peace great mare, 1987-2013


      • Original Poster

        Appsolute, I have ridden him on the trail a couple of times in the last few months. I had been almost exclusively a trail rider and last year I decided I wanted to get back into the ring and learn more of the foundations of riding. I was trail riding and didn't know any of the basics besides walk, trot and some canter.

        I would love to have a ring horse that I can take out on the trails, just for a change of pace or a cool down. But if a horse has to be one or the other, at this point I want a horse for the ring.

        SAcres, that's what I'm thinking. Plus this guy is 15 years old. If he was younger I'd agree with my trainer. I think being a trainer, it's her nature to want to fix something rather than leave it. I can appreciate that. But I don't want a horse that just puts his head down and listens to me meanwhile, hating every second of his life. This guy is happy on the trails. In the ring he has either a dead or angry look in his eye. It's depressing.

        I wish he had started these antics 6 months ago. I would have known right away he wasn't a horse for the ring. He was so good for my weekly lesson. It all went downhill when I started leasing and riding him more. Now my trainer wants to get him back to what he was before.

        I would love a horse that can go from ring to trail. Do the ring 3-4 times a week and trail ride 1-3 times a month depending on weather. That sounds perfect actually.


        • #5
          Originally posted by RhythmDivine View Post
          Appsolute, I have ridden him on the trail a couple of times in the last few months.
          That's not very often at all (to a trail horse having 90% of his rides be in the ring) . I was thinking he needs to hit the trail more like a couple of times a week, at least as warm up/cool down for a couple of your rides, but ideally a longer, solely trail ride once a week too. IMO.

          When you were taking a lesson on him once a week, what other work was he getting? What other work is he getting now that you are riding him three times a week?

          Has anything changed like saddle fit or the bit? Does your instructor get on him and does he act up for her too?


          • #6
            You aren't "giving up".

            This horse is 15 years old. What he is, is a fabulous, trustworthy trail horse. You have recognized that he's miserable, which is a damn sight more savvy than his owner(your trainer) has. She wants your money and apparently doesn't give a damn about this good old guy.

            Find a place with reliable school horses that has a good instructor to teach you the basics, so you can enjoy and improve your riding.

            I won't say you can't change a 15 yr old horse into something else. But largely, they are what they are and forcing him to do something that obviously bores him into misbehaving isn't the way to go. Think about it, to him, it's like the difference between being on recess at school and having to sit thru class with the most boring teacher on the planet, doing the same thing over and over and over again. Add to that the fact that the instructor might be teaching other lessons on the horse (yep, it happens) and it's no small wonder he's checking out and saying "oh Hell no". Except instead of being used to being in "school" since he was a young horse, he's now a grown man with a good job, who never had to go to school, cause he's smart and works hard, but now, his new boss makes him go back to the third grade. Sure he can do the work, but he'll resent it. Big time.

            Is there any reason you can't take lessons on another horse in the ring and then ride this guy on the trails?

            Good luck to you, hope it all works out.


            • #7
              Behavior changes are a warning sign that the horse is unhappy. it could be a physical issue, a tack issue or a boredom issue. What bit does he have in his mouth? Do you use a martingale or a tie down? Check him over and make sure he isn't in pain first.

              Barring a physical or tack issue, I have always warmed a horse up by trail riding and ended the ride in the arena. It sure keeps them from being barnsour during a trial ride, LOL! If you can get his ratio of trail time to arena time up to 50:50, he'll probably do just fine. No horse enjoys drilling. Are you repeating things over and over? In fact, some of the more brilliant horses need very little practice in the arena. If you love this horse, you can make it work. Change the routine, change the drills, challenge him and keep him fresh. When I feel my horse getting heavy and bored, I ask for new things. Ask your trainer to teach you something different. Even something completely outside your discipline. It really helps keep a horse fresh. Why not try also some trail obstacles in the arena, since that's his specialty?
              “Pray, hope, and don't worry.”

              St. Padre Pio


              • #8
                Since you don't own the horse, you're not giving up. You're continuing to look for a more suitable horse.
                Visit my Spoonflower shop


                • Original Poster

                  Thank you all for your answers!

                  To answer some questions:

                  This horse does mostly trail rides by other people. He's one of my trainer's go-to horses. So he does a trail ride just about every day from late spring until fall. She had only used him a couple of times as a lesson horse for the ring. I loved him so much on the trail, then I rode him in the ring and he was great. I didn't think he would be a good ring horse so I was surprised he was so good for the first few months.

                  Now he's still going out on trail each day with someone, just not me. I'm the only one who rides him in the ring. The place I ride is a mish-mosh type of barn. Mostly pleasure riders, some western, some english, mostly trail, some ring. So it's not much of a specialty barn. Don't know if that matters or not.

                  I love obstacles in the ring and the horse does respond better when we are doing cones or poles. It just still comes down to the fact that I don't see him as a happy ring horse. My trainer just laughs and thinks I'm too worried about his feelings and that no horse likes their job, etc. But in my gut, I just feel like I'd be selfish making this horse do any ring work at all. I think the most he does is tolerate short bursts of the ring, that's it.

                  I was thinking of just riding him when I go out on trails and finding another horse for the ring. That is really what I'm leaning toward. Then eventually I'd like to get my ring horse where we can go blow off steam and do a trail. But I'm thinking it might be easier to get a ring horse and get him used to short, fun trails than turning a trail horse into a ring horse.

                  But my trainer just insists that any horse will act up in the ring and that no matter what other horse I buy, 6 months from now he'll be testing me just like this horse. I can handle a horse testing me. Been there done that. But I really don't feel like this horse is testing me. I feel like he just hates what he is doing. Sigh.
                  I'm sure my trainer isn't happy about being so close to selling a horse only to have the seller back out. I'm sure that sucks. But I told her that I do want to keep leasing him and I will buy another horse hopefully soon.


                  • #10
                    I was thinking of just riding him when I go out on trails and finding another horse for the ring. That is really what I'm leaning toward. Then eventually I'd like to get my ring horse where we can go blow off steam and do a trail. But I'm thinking it might be easier to get a ring horse and get him used to short, fun trails than turning a trail horse into a ring horse.
                    THAT, definitely. And shame on your trainer when the horse is trying so clearly to tell you that he is not happy working in a ring, at least not full time. It is possible to have a horse that enjoys a mix of trail and ring work but this doesn't sound like the guy for that... and there's not a thing in the world wrong with that. Again, shame on your trainer!
                    It's just grass and water till it hits the ground.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by RhythmDivine View Post
                      But my trainer just insists that any horse will act up in the ring and that no matter what other horse I buy, 6 months from now he'll be testing me just like this horse. I can handle a horse testing me. Been there done that. But I really don't feel like this horse is testing me. I feel like he just hates what he is doing. Sigh.
                      I bought a horse like that once - still have him, he's 30 now. He was bought by my instructor at the time as a school horse, but I used to call him the Lord of the Ringsour. When he'd had enough of going around in circles, he'd drop behind the bit and *poof* rider had no more control. When he got tired of ferrying kiddies over crossrails, he'd drop his shoulder and deposit kiddie on the ground.

                      Unlike you, I wanted a trail horse, not a ring horse. So I bought him. He was phenomenal. Four-wheelers, farm machinery, whatever. He had no fear. I had an ill-tempered Rottweiler climb up his sides once, trying to get to me, and he never turned a hair.

                      But he never got any better in the ring.

                      Now, I have a horse who enjoys both. Sure he tests sometimes, but he likes what he's doing. He's just being a horse, making sure the more fit mammal is in charge. There's a big difference, and it sounds like you recognize the difference. Stick to your guns.
                      I'm not ignoring the rules. I'm interpreting the rules. Tamal, The Great British Baking Show


                      • Original Poster


                        Has anything changed like saddle fit or the bit? Does your instructor get on him and does he act up for her too?
                        Saddle fit is good. I even bought a comfort girth with fleece and a cooling saddle pad. We use the softest bit. It's a snaffle training bit. I don't think it's the tack. That would be an easy fix.

                        And yes he was acting up for my trainer and another girl there who helps train. Of course since they are more experienced riders, they can get him under control faster.
                        He goes nuts when he gets near the gate, like he's saying "Get me the F out of here!"

                        I mean, how do you know if a horse is just testing you and being stubborn vs he just hates what he's doing? He was good for so many months and that's why trainer keeps going back to him testing me now. But I truly believe that he was good all those months because he only had me riding him in a once a week lesson. I think it's the frequency of my riding in the ring that changed him. But the thing is, how do you argue with someone who has over 20 years experience? I can see how it would be annoying for a trainer to have an advanced beginner rider trying to tell them they are wrong. I don't want to sound like a know it all.
                        It sucks.


                        • #13
                          also, he's older and probably being asked to do more than just go out on a trail ride a few times a week. He's now being asked to do that, plus ride with you in the ring 3-4 times a week. It might just be hard on him, physically.

                          However I agree if you're looking for a ring horse, then move on from this one. There are plenty of horses out there who enjoy doing the jobs we ask them to do.


                          • #14
                            Sounds like the trainer is right in that the horse is "testing" you. BUT you are right that the horse is not suitable for you as a ring horse. You want a horse to enjoy. Obviously you are not enjoying spending your riding time continually trying to pass his tests. Some horses are more likely to challenge a rider and this one is doing that in this situation. Makes you wonder if he was soured by ring work early in his life. I think you can just tell the owner that you feel this horse doesn't suit you and you will continue looking. She will likely argue, but it is your choice!


                            • #15
                              I think most people on here have said this, but it is easier to find a ring horse and take him on trails than to turn a trail horse into a ring horse. He clearly hates it or he's in pain. And who wouldn't hate it? The analogy about sending a hard-working adult back to 3rd grade is pretty accurate, IMHO.

                              A horse that is used to ring work on a regular basis is not going to have the same level of frustration. Even then, I would recommend getting out of the ring as much as possible. Warm up, cool down, trail rides, anything. Often.

                              Sadly, I don't think your trainer is as considerate of this guy as you are. Or she's really pretty oblivious!
                              Born under a rock and owned by beasts!


                              • #16
                                I have a students horse that I ride, and He is awful if he is ridden in the ring all the time. I break his training up to include the trails, Luckily she has a lot of land and I can either start out 15 minutes in the ring, and then off on the trail for a while, Then back for some ring work, It in not enclosed but still a big sand ring.
                                TRy to take him out as a reward after you work him in the ring.


                                • #17
                                  There are horses that are great on both trail and in the ring. Look for one that completely suits your needs.

                                  Your trainer wants to sell you this horse and is using a bit of psychological intimidation to accomplish the goal that best suits her.

                                  Do not buy a horse that is not exactly what you want. There are plenty of good horses available.

                                  This horse is a great trail horse and it is unfair to him to force him into a discipline he does not enjoy.


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by Macimage View Post
                                    This horse is a great trail horse and it is unfair to him to force him into a discipline he does not enjoy.
                                    Exactly this. Heck, I hate ring work for more than just a little while. I much prefer to warm up for a bit in the ring (<10 minutes and only if needed) then take a spin around the hay field or up and down the driveway where we both have something to look at.

                                    I have a very talented ASB mare, well trained and 5-gaited. I acquired her when she was older- about 13 IIRC. She's an absolute blast to ride at home, and almost anybody who's not afraid of a big motor can ride her. I thought it would be fun to show her. Nope. She HATES horse shows and turns into damn-near a pro ride- balking, rearing and just acting incorrigible. When I could keep her together, she'd win. I took her to maybe half a dozen shows before I decided she wasn't going to change her attitude. Maybe something happened to her in the past- I don't know her history. In any case she wasn't going to do what I wanted, and it would be unfair to make her. She had a very nice baby for me and is now a pasture rat with another old mare, and she's happy. Showing is not her thing and I'm not going to make her do it.

                                    I have another mare that absolutely LOVES to show and is absolutely miserable when turned out, so she gets to live in a stall and be treated like a show horse. If this mare were to be drilled and ridden in a ring constantly, I think even she would become sour. Different strokes...


                                    • Original Poster

                                      Kate Kat I didn’t think of that. Maybe it is a lot on him physically which I’m sure makes the work he hates even worse.

                                      Paint Misbehaven….I’m dying at Lord of the Ringsour! Lol. Great name! Your horse sounds amazing on the trails. That’s how this guy is. I know people over use the term Grandma safe or Bombproof but really if I was going to put my 67 year old non-horsey mom on a trail horse, this would be the guy.

                                      MsM that is a good point that it’s a little of both. Yes the horse is testing me, but it still doesn’t negate the fact that he hates what he does. It was really hard admitting that to myself. I feel so bonded to him.

                                      Ako I so agree. You’re right (and the other poster) saying that it’s like going back to 3rd grade. I never thought of that either. I thought he just didn’t like the ring. I didn’t think of it as being so boring for him. I think because there are so many horses on the farm, my trainer just doesn’t know this guy like I do. She might know horses, but I’ve worked closely with this horse for the past 6 months and really, really close for the past month. I think she just doesn’t know him like I do. Plus like I said, I think she is thinking like a trainer with the “fix it” mentality and doesn’t want to think of horse feelings because that’s getting too Horse Whisper-y for her. But I do think there is a time and place to consider a horse’s feelings.

                                      Sannois- do you take your horse out alone on the trail? There is a short trail around the farm that I would absolutely love to do alone. I wouldn’t do the long trails by myself but this one would be more of a short hack around the fields that would be great. The only bad thing about this horse is that he will NOT ride alone. Even the experienced people won’t ride him out alone. He does best with at least 1 horse but you can see he’s better with 2 or more. Then he’s solid. Just unflappable. But alone he kind of freaks out. So if I want a light trail ride after my lesson I’d need my trainer to saddle up as well. I know she won’t do that. She’d say, “He’s fine! Don’t let him tell you what he wants.” Or something like that.
                                      But with this guy, I don't think any amount of trails will make him like the ring. I think he's just not a ring horse. I can accept that now. I just need my trainer to see it.

                                      Macimage, I so agree. I needed that confirmation here with unbiased folks.

                                      Shakytails, your ASB is this guy. He’s becoming unrecognizable to me, like an out of control horse.

                                      Thanks all for your help. I really needed to read it here. I know what I need to do.


                                      • #20
                                        Some horses do have a preference for where they work. Many are content to never venture from the arena and go round and round. Others want to hit the trail. It sounds like this horse is not the one for you as a more beginner rider. If he won't go out alone then he really isn't unflappable. My Tb mare started life as a show hunter, but my trainer did some light trail riding with her as well. (bought her as a yearling). I have worked alot with this horse and done tons of different clinics and am proud to say that my horse will do most anything I want her to. We have done hunter shows, hunter paces, fox hunting, judged trail rides, parades, camping, team penning, low level dressage and musical freestyle dressage, low level combined tests(dressage and stadium). She will ride out by herself with my dog running all around her or go out with a larger group and not get wild. My current schedule of riding her is 2-3 trail rides a week with a barn buddy. Usually one ride is where we trailer off somewhere to ride 5+ miles of trails, the other two are from the farm, crossing roads and riding thru woods and fields. The rest of the time I ride in the ring working on my equitation and keeping the mare tuned up for shows. My horse is happy no matter what we do, but I highly suspect that she is happy with her life because she is never bored.