Starting to work with my mare for a competitive trail
So I've been working with my horse for about a month now, teaching her groundwork, and getting to know each other. When I bought her, the man sold her to me saying she had been on the trail quite a few times and was very solid, and not spooky at all.
Well I don't know if it is because of me, the new location, or both, but she is very nervous on the trail for me. I haven't been on any serious trail rides yet, because it has been hunting season, but I have been riding her all over the property to expose her to different terrain and obstacles.
The first time I took her cantering through the pasture, she spooked at a pile of poop in the grass...seriously. :-|
So I went on this little "trail" more like a gravel driveway through a tunnel of trees, right outside the property, and since she's spent all 9 years of her life in a place with no dogs, the dogs scare her often. One dog (I think he enjoys scaring horses) popped out of the woods once and she almost bolted.
Today I decided to take her on the trail again (alone) to see how she would do without another horse/rider with us. We made it down the street and she was fine but as soon as we turned into the tree tunnel, she was clearly nervous. I know sometimes when the horse gets nervous, I get nervous too, so I tried to think of my breathing and heart rate, and I was actively trying to stay completely calm and collected. She went forward, although she was very distracted by everything, especially the whistling of the wind. At one point, we came to an opening where there is a little pasture I thought would be nice to walk through. She got so spooked that I thought she was going to rear on me. She turned to bolt and I kept her going in circles, but she was also moving sideways in her circles. I would turn her a few times until she seemed to calm a little, and then I tried to get her to move forward towards whatever she was looking at (a tree probably). We never made it that far because she was being so frantic that I felt it was dangerous, and I was on the property completely alone. After I made her stand still for a few seconds we turned back, but I made sure she stayed at a nice slow walk.
I decided to try going down the actual road, and set a landmark for where I wanted to end up. She did much better in the open, although she did zigzag and seemed very distracted. I would periodically turn her in tight circles, disengaging her hindquarters, but she still never had any ears on me the whole time. We made it to our marker, and on the way back home she walked straighter.
The reason I bought her is for fun, but I really really want to do a competitive trail this year. I have about 4-5 months before theres a ride near me. Is that enough time to prepare her?
Does anyone have any tips for working through the spook-bolt cycle? I know that with each ride, we gain experience. I'm determined to make her stop spooking, but any advice or tips would be great.
I do a lot of desensitizing with the lead rope and rubbing her all over. In the beginning she would flinch from quick movements around her head, so I've been trying to incorporate a few jerky/fast movements around her face often. I moved the carrot stick around her head, and even rubbed her face with it eventually. I do these things regularly.
I want a solid trail horse, and she has the potential. She has a good head on her shoulders, is very willing to learn new things, and she learns quickly. The first ride we ever went on off the property, she got spooked by a pig farm. When we passed it on the way back, she did fine. I know she has the capability to get over these things, I'm just looking for advice.
Thanks to all who answer!
Seems like a combination of things.
First, the guy who sold her may not have been completely truthful. Kind of obvious, but thought I'd put it out there.
That aside, the combination of factors, new place, new person who she barely knows let alone respects and trusts, and new sights and sounds and smells, maybe a different diet.
I think I would treat her as totally green to trails at least until she proves otherwise. She may settle down in a few weeks and be the trail horse you were told she was. Or she may not. Work on ground work, get her respect, let her know that you are the leader and if you say something is ok, its ok and she can trust you. That will take time. If possible, try to ride out with an experienced trail horse at least for a little while and then work up to riding out along for long distances.
I just hate to do the same things over and over because we both get bored. so that's why I like to mix it up with a little riding and groundwork.
We'll see how things go tomorrow.
Ground work is excellent, I follow Clinton Anderson's methods......8 yrs. ago I got my mare who was 3 with 30 days of riding on her......she was scared of everything! I did ground work with her for a couple months in the round pen, gained her trust and I gained my trust in her, did alot of desensitizing with her, now we trail ride all over the place. Have been for a few years now and my grandkids ride her (in outdoor arena only) by theirselves, ride her double or triple LOL and I couldn't ask for a better horse. I don't regret taking the time with my mare to make her into the horse she is today....
Also work with a small tarp, getting her to walk over it, rubbing her with it and then covering her with it........I did that with my mare and I could take a towel and cover her eyes with it, she would stand and wait nicely.......
This is very timely for me too! Thanks for the posts DixieKate and Thunderspark because now I know what I'll be doing with my mare once the sun comes up here :~)
I just wanted to give an update of how Lakota is doing. I'm so happy with how everything has been going. Since this post I've been doing groundwork with her every day. It has been a really connecting experience because when I bought her, she had never had any groundwork done before. It was perfect because it gave me a chance to learn how she learns new stuff, how willing she is to listen and learn, and how she tries. It also has given her a chance to learn how I ask for things.
I followed my book step by step and in 3 days I got her to go from nervous about the handy stick string being swung over her body, to standing very quietly. In 2 days I got her to go from cantering in a circle and bucking and pulling back on me while gently hitting the ground with the whip, to standing very quietly and still as I was doing the same thing.
I taught her how to yield her hindquarters and swing them all the way around to give me two eyes. I taught her how to flex her head, yield her forequarters, and drop her head to poll pressure.
Yesterday I did a lot of ground work with her, alternating being tied and being worked with between each activity so she had time to reflect. By the end of the day, she had her head down low, her ears showed me she was listening, she was following me, and I felt a shift in energy overall. It was that moment that she acknowledged that I was the leader, and it was like she was telling me that she was ready to be my horse.
Today my friend (a very very experienced horsewoman) and I decided to take the horses on a little ride through some woody roads. I tacked her up and she was very respectful for me from the beginning. She dropped her head for me before I held up the halter, and when I held it up, she stuck her nose into it and kept her head low. I reiterated the ground work we did yesterday, and she did perfectly, like she'd been doing it forever.
Then we hit the road! I tried to make sure I was always maintaining her attention. She kept her ears on me most of the time, but if she put them up or looked away, I would do a circle or move her feet in another way. We practiced going up and down steep hills, and over and through ditches. We encountered a pack of loose, loud dogs, and she did very well. She only spooked once at the dreaded invisible horse killer, but she did as I asked when I made her walk back and forth calmly past the spot she was nervous about. On the way back home she walked past it like it was nothin'! We even conquered the dreaded......puddle.
Overall, today was a day that showed me she is trusting me more than she ever has before, and I really feel connected to her. I feel like the more groundwork I do with her, and the more rides we go on, the more she'll learn to trust me, and the more connected we'll become.
Tomorrow the plan is to teach her how to be sent out or lunged, and to back up.
I'm so excited about everything, and I feel really hopeful!
The real challenge is going to be the dreaded flag/plastic bag on a stick. :lol:
So happy to hear of you and your mare's progress DixieKate! She is a lovely girl. I hope you have another great day with your groundwork and riding too! My mare and I had some good moments in our groundwork yesterday. She is 4 and has had very little professional training so I realize it is imperative that I go through groundwork with her. I too want to just get on and ride but Clinton Anderson's advice warns against that for a very good reason. His instruction is so helpful and I'm looking forward to getting back out there today :~)
Wow...it sounds like you are making progress, that's for sure! I love success stories.
You are on the right trail!!!! : )
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