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Confident in the ring, timid on the trails?

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  • Confident in the ring, timid on the trails?

    I’m confident riding my horse in the ring, but on the trails I’ve suddenly turned into a timid mess. Despite having had my worst fall and injury in the ring just a year or so ago, I’ve no issues there whatsoever. On the trails I was pretty good last year (always a bit nervous) but this year started off with an awful ride, which we now call in my house, “ The Ride from Hell, Swiftly Followed by the Walk of Shame.” I should have been able to ride out the meltdown my horse had on that ride (he saw something big and scary-I swear last year he wouldn’t have melted down so badly-must be me.)

    Anyway, I’ve put out a call to a professional to help me, so I’m not really looking for advice on how to fix it, but interested in knowing if others have had this issue, and did you suck it up, work past it, or are you happy just to ride in the ring? Thanks!
    Last edited by Taska; Apr. 17, 2009, 02:57 PM. Reason: remove html
    Horses, Art, Frugality + Elegant Communication

  • #2
    I am not a huge "riding out" fan either. I have and do it when I can (b/c my horse enjoys it), but I am definately not as "relaxed" as some folks I know that trail ride often. I think the more you go outside your comfort zone, the better it will become. At my old barn, I had a friend who also didn't like to "ride out" and we worked on it together. We are both accomplished riders so we were kinda embarrassed about it so we would go out trail riding together and talk about how nervous we were the entire time I think it helped though.


    • #3
      yup, self proclaimed trail weenie reporting in.

      I'm getting better- verrrry slowly. It helps to have a horse who hates the ring. LOL.
      My blog: Change of Pace - Retraining a standardbred via dressage


      • #4
        I used to be the same way. Just had to suck it up and go out with friends who loved to trail ride. I also think it helped being on a "contained" path rather than out in an open field. It's a good thing my horse loves it!


        • #5
          I used to be one, and have many friends and acquaintances who never leave the ring. Some of them admit they are afraid to, others just make up excuses (too many bugs, bad footing, too cold, too hot...).

          What cured me was riding a different horse. My first horse scared me on the trails. My second horse was bombproof. She did have other issues - she got fast, she jigged, she wouldn't stand still, but somehow that never scared me the way the spooking of my first horse did.

          Of course, my first horse was only feeding off my nerves. We were our own worst enemies! I still own her - she is my husband's horse now - and I can now ride her out on a long rein, enjoying the scenery, and she rarely spooks at anything!

          In fact today I saw someone else ride a friend's "too spooky" horse out on the trails... and he apparently didn't spook at all, the way he does with his owner. Sometimes it's 90% the horse picking up on the rider's nerves. ETA: do you remember going to the cemetery when you were kids, just to scare each other? And everyone was clutching hands and saying "you first" "no, you first!" I think that's how some horses feel when the rider is nervous.

          I think being able to practice on a steadier, calmer horse can really help build confidence. At least it helped me a ton!


          • #6
            I love my arena - the walls, the roof, everything. I board at a place with (I'm told) amazing trails, but don't go on them exept a couple of "mini" trails. I figured I'm an adult - if I don't want to trail ride, I don't have to. Don't feel bad if you don't trail ride. I agree that any time you're nervous, your horse will pick up on it.
            A proud friend of bar.ka.


            • #7
              I am a scardey cat also! Mine stems from my horse taking off with me down the middle of the road for about 2 to 3 miles chasing another horse who got away from its owner. I finally got circled up in field while a passerby caught the other horse. That has done me in since.

              I had to overcome my fears some by playing polocrosse on a horse who jigged everywhere. We were on ladew polo fields and wide open!

              So I am much happier in a ring but I am trying to overcome them by taking small trail rides with a couple of people who love it! Good luck!


              • #8
                I had gotten timid to the point where my young horse would get about 50 feet from the driveway, and just quit and go home.... and I allowed it. Which is totally out of character. Last fall I set out to cure us both. This spring I have been enjoying hacking down the shoulder of the road, and taking short rides on woods trails. Not bad for a horse never exposed to trail riding, and for not having anyone to ride with. But, it took a lot of soul searching and a concentrated training effort... for both he and I.
                Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans


                • Original Poster

                  Thank you!

                  All of your replies are making me feel a whole bunch better. I'm going to (try) to stop beating myself up over this, and just ride and take things day by day.
                  Horses, Art, Frugality + Elegant Communication


                  • #10
                    This is totally me as well. I know where my fear comes from--my old OTTB who was generally fine in the ring but would take off on trails (I think he had racing flashbacks) and was VERY VERY strong.

                    My current horse is also fine in an arena but gets jiggy and will do the occasional mini-rear and spin when on the trail alone. He's safe--I've never fallen off him--but I get scared anyway! The problem is I have my horses at home and I don't have an arena--only trails.

                    My plan is to get a new horse. No, seriously. I want something that's like 15 hands and dead broke. I want to ride something super quiet to get my confidence back. My husband loves my horse and doesn't get nervous riding him, so Beamer will become his horse. Good plan, right?


                    • #11
                      I'm an avid trail rider and hit the trails a least a few times a week for several hours at a clip and always ride alone. I couldn't stand being limited to the ring only...

                      When I got my mare, I wasn't too confident with her as she was new to me, but was a trail horse with her previous owners.

                      I just went out a bit further everyday until I felt that I could trust her. Even if it was 20 foot increments, it was progress. I found singing to her also helped, as she was still learning to trust me.

                      We also did lots and lots of desensitizing in the ring. Dragging ground poles, garbage cans under her belly, tarps (over and under her). Plus walking in hand on the trails also helped. I dragged branches behind her, tossed rocks into the woods behind her.

                      Now she is my rock. I can take her anywhere alone and not much fazes her.

                      Good luck - Hopefully the professional can be of help to you. Trails are such a nice bonding experience between horse and rider.
                      MnToBe Twinkle Star: "Twinkie"

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


                      • #12
                        I am the same way. In the arena I totally concentrate on riding and riding only but once out of the arena I then start noticing all the things my horse could spook at, most of the time he doesn't but if he does he probably feels me getting tense and thinks something is up. It bugs me a lot but sometimes I just try to push myself to do it. I can even lack confidence just walking around the stables, which he has done plenty of times. I know the spots he might get a little looky at under saddle so I avoid those areas. My mom is a trail rider so sometimes we attempt to go on trail but it usually turns into a frustrating ordeal because I will get all worked up about something. Luckily my horse doesn't mind ring work as long as I switch it up and go in different arenas every now and then and work on different things he's happy.
                        Owned by an Oldenburg


                        • #13
                          I am more confident in a ring. I feel as if I have more control and the horse will not run off out of control. Now I do know that it could have to do with the fact that when I first rode a horse the horse ran all the way back to the barn and I was not able to stop him. To compound the problem my head scarf got caught in the branch of a tree while he was running back to the barn (luckily it got ripped off without me gettin hurt). I have never been able to erase this from my memory.
                          At my age I prefer to feel safe (and not build myself up to a nervous wreck) and will only occasionally venture out on a trail. A young girl where I use to board had no problem jumping (3 ft.) and also retraining OTTB but would never venture out on a trail.
                          That is what makes horses so great, there is something to do with them that will please mostly all of us.


                          • #14
                            Me too

                            I had a horrific fall/injury while hacking out at home a year and a half ago (shattered a vertebrae in my back). I started taking lessons almost a year ago at a place with a really nice indoor. I have my own barn at home but no arena. About four or five months ago, I took in an older QH on a free lease, thinking at least I could ride a little in my fenced barnyard in between lessons. It hasn't worked out, the footing there is crappy and I don't feel secure... so the horse is going back to his owner today. I've only been on him a handful of times.

                            I've decided to hold off on getting another horse until I get my arena in at home, for this very reason. (I have an old retired horse and a pony, neither of which I can ride.)

                            I feel *much* more secure in the indoor. I'm actually dreading spring because my trainer may decide to do a few lessons in the outdoor. It's pretty sad that even an outdoor is scary to me now.

                            I do sort of feel like a weenie but honestly think I'm doing good just to be riding again, period. Like HunterMom said, who cares, if you're an adult and you don't want to trail ride, don't trail ride. Riding is supposed to be fun, after all. I have no aspirations to hack out/trail ride again, staying in the ring is fine with me.


                            • #15
                              I love the trails, camping and the outdoors and couldn't find a better way to do it than the back of a horse.

                              It just takes time and practice. I learnt English, spent years riding the ring , rode other horses and leased and then bought my mare. I found out trails is what I like best. But like you I had a bad fall and was injured . My mare is also one of those that needs a rider. Not bad-she just needs you there -just being there. Being a somewhat dominant Arab , she is very quick and likes to challenge. I just had to find the right balance between being assertive and being flexible. I love her -she is a fun ride.

                              But what helped me most was a trail buddy. I was lucky to find one. The rider was bombproof and so was the mare. So we just did a few butt to tail rides a few times. I then mustered up the courage to ride up ahead a few times. I was able to gauge my arousal levels-fear. My mare would throw a tantrum and I would just freeze up in fear. It took us a while-first I had to work on myself. get over my fear, my excuses, my paranoia, my anger and rage. Once I had a better grip on myself, I could work on the horse. It doesn't mean you shove your emotions aside-on the contrary you allow full expression to your emotions-let them flow through you without taking you over and making you function from a primal level. Horses are not the only ones that shut off from panic/fear and function from that primal mode-humans can too and do.

                              If you are comfortable in yourself, it is much easier dealing with the horse.I don't buy the theory that it is never the horse's fault. Sometimes it is. But with a buddy who knows what they are doing, you can push your limits and slowly get a feeling for what your limits are and what the horse's is. You can play with that and have the backup of another horse and human. It takes time-most of it is you-well at least it was for me. I could ride before-but all this stuff, getting over my fear, kinda taught me more about myself and the horses..

                              Trail is fun-I just love it and multi-day camping trips are great-just the people you meet from all over and all walks of life and it is just fun..


                              • #16
                                Hacking out is one of my favorite ways to unwind after a good workout in the arena with my gelding. And I've done multi-day trail rides on him and had a blast.

                                But the mare I'm riding now is not so keen on roughing it. My instructor rides her once a week for me. When she took her outside the first time, she was surprised when my nice quiet little horse turned into a swivel-headed idiot. So it's not me. It's the horse.

                                I still take her out for a little spin, but I follow John Lyons' advice and "ride where we can, not where we can't" to build up her confidence-- mostly open areas where she's more relaxed. Even then, if she's wired in the least, I have to stay relaxed and keep my cheeks draped on her like two 50# bags of rice. I also ask her to keep her head centered between her shoulders by squeezing one rein or the other-- sort of a "time to check in, dear, you're not alone." That keeps her from spooking, but she's still very "aware," if you know what I mean.

                                If I can find someone to go with, we venture out into the woods. But even then, I have to ride every step. She's just a looky loo.
                                "... if you think i'm MAD, today, of all days,
                                the best day in ten years,
                                you are SORELY MISTAKEN, MY LITTLE ANCHOVY."


                                • #17
                                  Not comfortable, but have done it. And now that I think about it I did have fun. Took my Arab (racing horse lines, loves to gallop "for the fun of it") out then, I would dismount and walk him like a dog whenever I got nervous. And I did have a good time with him.
                                  However, its decades later, and in a rural area WITH BEARS, so when he pricks his ears and dances around me at the end of the drive, well I believe him. I don't take him past the driveway. His "brother" also has gotten extremely herd-bound to him and starts screaming when he gets out of sight, so taking him out alone isn't possible right now.


                                  • #18
                                    I like trail rides, but I was nervous when I first started too. Its so different not having walls and just open space...anything could happen really. However, it did help a lot riding with others who were very experienced and also riding a bombproof trail horse.

                                    The one thing that was really hard for me was getting out of the zone where I have always had a task to do with the horse. Out on the trail you're supposed to relax and have fun. Hard to get out of that mindset!


                                    • #19
                                      I personally like trail riding but the TB I'm training has different ideas, especially if there are cows around! The TB's owner gets really nervous on trails, which amps the horse up even more, and he ends up flipping out and bolting home. Because I'm ok with looky, nervy horses on the trail and it doesn't bother me, he settles down and usually doesn't act too stupid(with only occassional spooks here and there if birds fly out of bushes in front of us or something). If you're nervous about trail riding, see if you can borrow a dead broke trail horse so your nerves won't make the horse anxious too.


                                      • #20
                                        I love trail riding IF I'm on the right horse. My steady-eddie Pony is the only one I'm really comfortable on right now. I trust the old guy completely. My other horses? On the right day, maybe, but not the wrong one, lol.

                                        I used to ride one of my horses out all the time, but then I let him have my number. And he's the kind who will definitely use it every chance he gets! We're working on it.