Help with behavior on forest trails

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Help with behavior on forest trails

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    04-21-2014, 11:35 AM
Help with behavior on forest trails

Sorry for a long post...

Most of my horse experience has been taught in an arena. I have had very little opportunity in my life to get outside the arena, wander trails, get out in big open spaces, etc. I am now in a position where I have that opportunity-however, I am finding my instincts/reactions that I thought were correct are not adequate in a new environment. My horse has primarily been ridden and handled in arenas and the barn, and similarly, I'm finding that she is not nearly as responsive to me outside of these familiar surroundings.

Here's what happened this weekend- we recently received permission from the land owner next to where I board to ride on his sugaring trails. I decided to start by taking my horse to walk the trails with me on the ground, using a halter and lead (regular leather halter). My plan was to use this as a chance to expose her to the unfamiliar setting on the ground first before riding out on the trail. Going away from the barn went great- we had to walk the length of a 2ish acre pasture where all her "friends" were out grazing, and she walked away from them just fine- obedient, calm, etc. We entered the wooded trail, and while she was alert and a little more "up" than typically, she listened well, led right at my shoulder, walked up to a stream and then walked in, played with the water curiously, nibbled some grass (when allowed), etc. All in all, well behaved and doing what was asked. I was feeling like this outing was going to be a huge success!

My problem came when another person from the barn rode out through the trail too. Looking back, my mistake was not being prepared for someone to be riding out there. THe wooded trail was fairly narrow- only wide enough for a horse and person on the ground, not really wide enough that two people could ride side-by-side. So, as I saw the rider approaching, I walked with my mare to a clearing so there would be room for the rider to pass us. That's when things (predictably?) went bad. The rider passed us, turned, and headed back to the barn.

My previously obedient horse became pushy and anxious. I tried backing her, and she responded by barging into me and moving forward, almost bolting after the other horse. I tried yielding her hindquarters, but this just sent her into a frantic spin around and around me. I managed to move back into the cleared area and did the best I could to use my 6-foot lead rope to "lunge" her around me and keep her moving until I decided she could stop, but it didn't really calm her down and get her listening. I kept working like this out in the woods for maybe 10-15 minutes, and she was a little more respectful, but not great. On the walk back out of the woods, she would not lead at my shoulder, and was essentially trotting ahead and barging into me with her shoulder, pushing me off the trail. When we walked past the field with the rest of the herd (which she walked passed no problem as we went away from the barn), she became frantic again (the whole herd came cantering up to the fence). I again tried backing/yielding hindquarters, but again had a problem with a very narrow trail along an electric fenceline. I got her listening to me a bit, but not great.

Would love to hear what others would have done differently. Next time, I will plan ahead to do this kind of work without other horses around (I need to work on basic obedience with just me before other horses are in the mix). But, I felt really limited in my options given I was on a narrow forest trail without a lot of room to maneuver. I would love to hear how others would approach it.
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    04-21-2014, 11:50 AM
Green Broke
What breed is your horse? What is her temperament like? Is she a hot head and very energetic or more on the lazy side?
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    04-21-2014, 11:51 AM
Super Moderator
You did well to hang on by the sound of things!

First I would not have taken her out on a flat halter and rope. I would certainly had a long rope on her and probably a control halter.
It doesn't sound like there was a lot more you could have done.

When horses mess around and know better then I am not avery nice person. I would have really got after her, arm waving in her face and if necessary a whack across her nose with the end of the rope. If she was still being ansty then chances are I would have tied her high to a tree and left her there for a couple of hours.
    04-21-2014, 11:52 AM
Originally Posted by usandpets    
What breed is your horse? What is her temperament like? Is she a hot head and very energetic or more on the lazy side?
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She's a Morgan mare. She's 20 years old but still has "get up and go" and can be a fun, forward ride in the arena. She's not lazy but she's not hot headed. Generally a nice horse to be around.
    04-21-2014, 11:55 AM
Originally Posted by Foxhunter    
First I would not have taken her out on a flat halter and rope. I would certainly had a long rope on her and probably a control halter.
It doesn't sound like there was a lot more you could have done.
Yep, I thought about this too. I've actually never had a rope halter on her, but was thinking I might appreciate having a little extra control.

I did end up grabbing a pine stick to use as a makeshift crop and gave her a couple of whacks across the chest when she wanted to run over me. That backed her off some and seemed to get her mind working again!
    04-21-2014, 03:08 PM
Yep. Rope halter and longer lead.

Don't spend too much time spinning her around you in the clearing. If you want to do lunge work for attention and respect, and there is room, get her changing directions frequently.

As soon as she is at all capable of following you, walk forward. Give her something to follow, which will make her feel better. But, you should have the skill well developed of backing her up off of you WHILE leading, while you are facing forward, too. In fact, you should spend some time working on your leading skills all around. Work on getting her to lead well by having her stay behind you and off to the side. Never let her pass your leading hand.

Check out Julie Goodnight's videos on leading.

Wear shoes that will protect your feet well. Carry a dressage whip.

You can even bring along a few treats so that once your mare is calm and following you, you can put one on the ground out in front of her, direct her toward it, and by her putting her head down, it helps to induce calming.
    04-21-2014, 03:18 PM
You did well to put an ok ending on something that could have been disastrous. My mare used to be I couldn't get her 20 feet from the property without a blowing up fit. What changed it was a lot of ground work, earning and establishing respect in my new position as lead mare. Then one day, I could just take her out. It happened seemingly out of nowhere. Anytime she got nervous I could just talk her down and walk on. This was on busy neighborhood streets with inconsiderate people.

Start your ground work at the barn. Do a refresher for both you and mare. Then continue ground work out in pastures, then trails, more leading ground work than lunge. I'm sure you will both come out of this fine =)

And yes, a rope halter is much more effective than a regular halter. Carrying a dressage whip is also good.
ellen hays likes this.
    04-21-2014, 04:29 PM
Green Broke
You have to remember that since she has mostly, if not always, worked in the arena, outside is new and scary.

Horses do like routine and want to feel safe. If she has only been in the arena, that is what she is used to and where she feels comfortable. Horses are safe in numbers so she wants to be with other horses.

However, it isn't wrong to expose them new things. Horses don't think or reason like us. We know that nothing is going to happen but horses don't. You just have to take time to expand her safety zone and trust in you.

The reason I asked about her breed and temperament, making a hot headed horse to work more when they are nervous can fire them up more. Those you need to slow down to get them thinking again.
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Emma2003 likes this.
    04-21-2014, 04:40 PM
Yes, you did great, but it could have been disastrous, especially since you were alone. I would recommend taking her out with someone or even borrowing a horse and ponying her until she is more comfortable. I also have (where there is room) used either the lunging, but frequent direction changes as suggested OR if I mounted and my horse is not paying attention-do tight figure 8's around trees, or spiral in and out again… keep their attention on YOU. That is the key. I also would start going on shorter walks AFTER your arena work-as her cool down. Good luck!
FlyGap and horseluvr2524 like this.
    04-21-2014, 04:46 PM
I agree with not letting it escalate into a tugging crazy horse war. Overall you did good, kudos!

Every time she surges home, drive her away from it. "Ok, you wanna go home, nope, ten more steps away, stop and chill. Then let's see if you act like a lady?" Get her thinking and her mind on you.

If she simply won't listen take her home and work her butt off. Then go back out. No change? Do it again. She'll get the picture.

I agree with Franknbeans, start out with it as a reward after hard work. Not taking her out fresh. A good walking buddy is great advice too, be careful!
Even the best horse can become dangerous in a new scary situation.
stevenson likes this.

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