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.