Horse "speed" and competitiveness in groups?
Hi! I am posting this in eventing as I am looking to find some really experienced riders to comment on this and figure I can get some good advice. I have a 20+ year old Appy. I've had him for almost 4 years, have taken weekly private lessons the entire time (minus illness and vacation). My teacher is a top level eventer and wonderful trainer. I don't event, but do low level dressage schooling shows, jump low crossrails and jumps, trail ride ALOT usually alone. Horsie is quiet, predictable, easy to handle, sensible and takes care of his rider. He was a H/J lesson horse with his prior owners of 6 years. Prior to that I have ZERO history. He does have a tatoo on his inside lower lip which we have researched extensively, and can find no connection to a racetrack, jockey club or Appy group. I've searched high and low.
On trails he is 99% bombproof. He used to be barn sour when I got him and it took alot to turn that around, but in all honesty, I was a bit green and he was certainly feeding off of my nervousness. I can trailer him to a new place, hop on and have a lovely ride. He is also lovely with just another horse although most of those rides have been W/T only due to my friend's recent injuries (surgery). When I first got him, he ALWAYS wanted to follow. Never wanted to lead. I should also preface he had soundness issues, most likely ulcers and wasn't in his best health or fit as he is now.
In the last 2 years, he has taken to wanting to lead on the trail. Not rudely, but he just loves to walk out in front and he is quietly confident. He is always the "go to" steady eddy horse to take on the trails with friends' horses who may be spooky or green. Yesterday, a riding buddy unexpectedly brought another rider with her and we rode at a park we often ride in. It has beautiful bridle paths with sloping hills. I have W/T/C there often alone. Horsie respects half halts alone and is LOVELY to ride alone.
Yesterday we trotted some hills to start. He was in the front and fine. No issues. Came back to walk when asked. There is one large hill. We trotted it at the start and friend yelled up "let's canter" and I said okay. Horsie cantered but when the 2 mares got closer it turned from canter to gallop (which I was okay with). BUT when horsie saw mare 1 on his right flank, the look in his eye changed drastically and gallop went from fast to SUPER fast....think racetrack fast, and he blew off most of my attempts to slow down. He was super-aware of the other 2 and their locations, and I could see him sideways looking...He was definitely in a zone I hadn't experienced before and at a speed I never experienced. With all my might I was able to slow him down at the top of the hill and veered him slightly left off path into some tall grass. All horses stopped and we took a breather. He was fine rest of the ride (we only walked the rest as we were almost done at that point)
When I felt that speed and strength, I was truly scared. I had never felt him go so fast and all I could think of was he thought we were racing and after yesterday I do firmly believe this horse was raced at one time.
I am sure I did some things to contribute. I am sure I probably went up into 2-point vs sitting his canter to start....hence he went faster. We were at the latter part of the trail ride - perhaps we should save the faster gaits for going away from the trailers more? And after this happened I remembered when I first got him the same thing happening in a field with a friend. She took off at a canter with no warning, started to pass us and he HIGH tailed it and raced off. I was not nearly as strong a rider and it scared me so much I stopped riding in groups back then. I know I should have shut him down when he went from canter to gallop. I believe the other 2 horses were just cantering most of the time but the other issue is they were behind me, and the trail was narrow...two horses side by side would have been tight so we were in a single row until the one started to pass.
I do honestly prefer riding alone or with just one person. But my question is, is this a product of him not being cantered and galloped ENOUGH? Is it just normal to want to "race" another horse in a group? Do I need a stronger bit?? (we are in a french link snaffle) For a 20+ something horse with arthritis, he ran like a 3 year old and it honestly scared me. How do we train through this? I know my trainer will take us out - we have trail-trained together often. Would love any thoughts. I am glad to know I can ride something like that out, but in a flat field with unsure footing it could have been bad, and I want to be able to control him at any speed.
I wanted to try fox hunting/hill topping this fall but think I'll hold off after this, LOL!
(BTW I wear a vest and helmet at all times.)