Desensitizing My New Belgian trail mount.
Hey guys. I purchased a new Belgian mare under the impression that she was a seasoned trail horse. She is excellent under saddle..she knows her cues, she rides off the seat, she knows the words walk,trot,canter, she neck reins, backs up, ponies...you couldn't ask for a better riding horse. But she is the spookiest horse I have ever ridden! :-( I don't think she was a seasoned trail horse at all...she jumps at a leaf blowing on the ground! I have to get her desensitized to all of the things experienced on the trail...dogs, bags, tarps, creeks, etc, before I take her out. We have been walking her through our round pen while a tarp and some plastic bags blow in the wind around her. She was super jumpy the first few times but has settled down a bit. Can anyone give me some more ideas on how to get her familiar with the trail experience before getting her out on actual trails? Normally I would just jump on and go and use the trail to teach her, but she is the jumpiest horse I have ever been on...worse than our 3 year old QH. She doesn't just jump in place...she bolts off to the side and kicks up her heels. And that was at the horse-eating leaf that blew by! :?
I have been in the SAME boat since I bought my second paint gelding in Nov of this past year. He jumped at everything! And would bolt (my biggest pet peeve for a trail horse!). Anyway :) I could get going on my own little story. But this is what I have done so far with my gelding and he has been doing wonderfully! And last week I actually took him for a short ride down the driveway and a bit on the road.
I have access to alot of stuff, I dont know if your if thats your situation or not but you can always substitute things out for what you have available to you.
1. a barrel, walking by it, circling it, touching it (could simulate a rock/boulder on the trail or any other larger obstacle)
2. a trail class type bridge. It would be easy to make if you dont have access to one and a really good thing I think for any horse to know ( a bridge out on a trail or a change in the footing)
3. Cones are always a good thing to just walk by and get used to
4. Tarps (sounds like you have started that). What I have done with the tarp is first get them to walk over it and be comfortable leading them, then I have moved to walking them over it in saddle, now with that gelding I am working on him letting it be attached to the saddle and flow behind him as we walks on lead.
5. Cars always seem to be a big thing too, walk her around cars while they are parked.
just some ideas, if i think of other good ones i will add them
Thanks for your ideas! We have started building a small bridge to set up in the pasture for her to get used to. I do need to work with her on the tarp some more..like walking her over it and getting her to pull it. Should be loads of fun! :-P
Keep us all updated! Good luck!
For the most part, I'd say just ride!! :) I've started a few trail horses, and I've come to find out that the trail is just about the best learning area. Always allow your horse to stop and sniff when she spooks. Keep her pointed in the direction of the object at all times. Don't necessarily make her go up to it the first time, but allow her to do so if she seems interested. Be prepared for a spook at all times, and you should be able to keep her from bolting. Take things slowly at first, but once she learns to trust you, she'll be a lot less jumpy. :) Good luck!!
Also, try to make sure that her experiences with "scary things" don't end up being truly scary. In other words, if she's afraid of dogs, try to expose her to ones that might bark, but won't come too close or nip at her for now. You don't want to reinforce her fears.
I too agree with putting a lot of miles on. Experience is key! Just take trails that if she does spook it doesn't put either of you in too much danger. (I know spooking is always dangerous but I just mean not riding by barbed wired fences or on cliffs and such:wink:). It is awesome too however that you are working with her off the trail as well! That's still experience!
Just a thought, for the leaves maybe try taking her where there a bunch of leaves (maybe even rake some into an area) and have her walk through them. Then have her stand bye the pile and have something (a stick, rope, whip) and jiggle it in the leaves to make them crackle and move just a little. Eventually as she gets use to it you can intensify how loud and crazy you are making the leaves move.
It sounded more like she was afraid of something just moving around her on the trail though. So I'd also try maybe rolling a soccer ball size around her? You know start it off far away and as she becomes more comfortable move in a little closer as you see fit. Then maybe you could even change sizes of the balls to like a tennis ball, base ball something of the sort.
Also just holding a rope and walking around her while dragging it. Of course you wouldn't want it attached to her, or to the point she could get tangled in it, but it's some kind of movement! Maybe eventually letting it swing very lightly around her legs just so she could feel something touching them.
Haha sorry this is getting long, ideas just keep popping into my head. I like tossing things around my horses too. Like picking up a handfull of pine needles and tossing them into the air above us letting them rain down. Tossing a rag over their back so they can see stuff falling around them. I don't know, you know what she needs work with and these are just suggestions!
Everyone has wonderful advice! I love this forum! Just remember, baby steps and lots of praise for showing intrest!:D
If you have access to an experienced trail horse, it is always good to pony her - or let her follow the good horse on the trail. Horses really feed off of each other - so a calm, confident partner is very helpful.
Does she have a one-rein stop? I had a gelding that was really quick to bolt if something scared him - and lots of things did, at first! I just consistently did a one-rein stop - and if there was a safe place, I would yield his hind-quarters several times around. Then we would ride off quietly. He decided after a few times that he would rather spook in place than have to work that hard.
Good luck with her!
I hate to say it but I have always found that no matter how good and desensitized a horse is at it's home all bets are off out in the real world. Don't make the mistake of thinking that your horse has become wonderfully quiet in a round pen with a tarp and then get caught with your pants down out on a ride when he is as spooky as all hell again.
I agree with the other posts, the only thing that gets real world experience - is real world esperience. Also WesternLifestyle has great advice on the one rein stop and yielding hind quarters, they are great ways to distract and refocus a spooky horse. Ride out slowly to start with, don't put yourself under any distance pressure ie going on a two mile trail ride. 500 metres down the road may be ample to initially expose your horse to the real world. Just take your time but always make your horse face up to what scares him.
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