My 16hh Arabian gelding has not been improving on the trail, and seems to be going downhill training wise. He is super nervous and spooky at everything! He will look at something at and then jump to the side, and start a bolt. He also when riding in a group will not go more than 10 ft behind the next horse and then he will rear (sometimes quite high), which is quite scary and dangerous. I use a very soft bit and hold him back mostly with my body language so I don't think the rearing is caused by I have been trying to get his feet moving (doing rollbacks, backing up, side passing) and trying to calm him down and maintain a slower pace. I lunge him for quite a while before a ride, and it calms him down just a little bit, but never really seems to help. He is perfect in the arena, except for an occasional spooking, and even on the cross country course he is A LOT calmer. I feel like he is un-trusting and overly anxious just on the trail. What should I do about him? What are some trail exercises that will calm him down and get him to trust me on the trail? I am typically a confident and happy trail rider, but it is super hard to have a fun ride when I am constantly worrying about him spooking at something. All feedback is appreciated! Thank you, and I am eager to hear what you guys have to say!
anytime a horse gets nervous, that is the perfect time to put it to work. Get his brain back to what you are thinking and want to do instead of what can eat him on the trail. Trees make great training aids, circle them till he wants to act right. He will eventually get the idea.....grow up and act right, or work really hard
If you utilize a tree to turn a hrose around, you are just getting the horse's mind off of the thing it was on. and, the act of bending, in particular of stepping under the body with the hind end, will help to encourage a release of tension in the horse's body. But, to think of it as a punishment will not help a hrose who is afraid.
Better will be to keep him busy, mentally and physically, BEFORE he ever spooks. Keep him really occupied, serpenteeing down the trail, stopping, backing, bending and sidepassing each direction, disengaging his hind and turning around. All kinds of things, and lots more where there's a bend in his body, so he never gets really stiff in one line , (which is a preperation for bolting).
IF he starts to bolt away from something, turn his head toward the object. Don't force him to go up and sniff it, but don't let him turn his back to it and bolt off. you have to catch him quickly if he starts to run off from something, and bring his head around and disengage his hind.
he is not allowed to "dash" by something out of fear. If it's a very light kind of "speed up" to pass something, then see if you can just move with him, without leaning forward and encouraging a bolt. But, if he starts to really scoot past something , then take the INSIDE rein (near the scary thing) and lift up, straight up, and get him bent around to face that thing. if he walks on bent toward it, but at a reasonable walk, that's ok. but NO running off from it.
when you get past the scary thing , that's when you talk soothingly, not before. pet him, tell him how brave he is, give him some more rein and let him stretch out from the reins a bit.
Your confidence , or lack thereof, will totally affect his confidence, and viceversa. I know how hard it is to not be afraid if you ride a spooky horse. keeping him busy will help both of you.
I'd take it back to groundwork and desensitizing him. I personally like Clinton Anderson's Fundamentals dvd's. I rent on giddyupflix.com (like netflix but horsie movies!) I've done this with my Arabian and it's done wonders for his overall behavior.
Read the above written br Cherie, it has all your answers.
Just to add ... his behavior is probably getting worse because you are exhibiting tenseness in your seat because you are so nervous it's about to happen. He's freaking out that you're nervous and then he hears or smells something and decides based on your nerves he has every reason to be wanting to bolt. I've heard that groundwork can help instill confidence in both the rider and the horse together, so I second that idea of using Clinton Anderson.
groundwork helps if the handler knows how to do it right. if not, it just cements the unbalanced relationship of a handler that might be afraid or submissive to a horse.
not saying this is the case for this OP. but folks who think groundwork is the solution to every problem are forgetting that it's the quality of the groundwork that matters, not just doing it.
Cherie's post is excellent for help on building a trail horse's courage. For me, I have not been quite up to putting all of it into play becuase I am not always confident to ride a horse vigorously forward, when I have had a history of said horse stoppng and spinning on a dime when scared, and dumping me 5 times. So, I have not been brave enough to implement her advice.
instead, I utilize what I suggested of not allowing a hrose to spin and leave, and I do work the hrose past anything that scares it. I don't talk to him and try to "talk " him out of his fear, and I try to keep my seat as relaxed as possible, even if the horse is worried. when I feel he is getting worried, I check in with him and give him something to do to keep him busy, and even when he's going along good, I check in with him, but it can be something as small as brushing my boot on his side to see if he'll flip an ear back at me , him saying "I hear ya". It's when your horse stops "hearin' ya" that he'll spook at something.
I feel like I am quite confident while riding him, but I could maybe relax quite a bit more. Yesterday on our ride I was concentrating on where is attention was at and was doing some of Clinton Anderson's techniques to get the horses feet moving. I felt like the ride ended a lot better than it started for sure, probably because he was finally paying attention to me. His ears were turning back at me and he was able to calm down a bit. I think the main problem for most of the ride was that he wasn't "hearing me" and somewhat forgot that I was still riding, even when I was doing role backs, backing him up, spinning him he would do those maneuvers, he would do them in a very fast manner (like he was scared of doing that). I am quite gentle with him as I know he is VERY sensitive to all that I do. I will look more for more information with Clinton Anderson, and if you guys know of any articles by him feel free to share. Thank you all for helping me out!
I'm interested in what preparation he had for trails? Did you take him out & about on line? Did you take him away from/out of his comfort zone for short, low stress periods? Did you work on him seeing you as *trusted* leader?
Sounds like he's 'overfaced', that perhaps you've asked for too much too soon & when horses are seriously frightened, they can't think clearly, so working on his responsiveness when he's in such a reactive state is not helpful. I'd get back to an environment where he's comfortable & develop your leadership in his eyes there first, before doing *minor & short* potentially stressful stuff.
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