Horse "speed" and competitiveness in groups?
Hi! I am posting this in eventing as I am looking to find some really experienced riders to comment on this and figure I can get some good advice. I have a 20+ year old Appy. I've had him for almost 4 years, have taken weekly private lessons the entire time (minus illness and vacation). My teacher is a top level eventer and wonderful trainer. I don't event, but do low level dressage schooling shows, jump low crossrails and jumps, trail ride ALOT usually alone. Horsie is quiet, predictable, easy to handle, sensible and takes care of his rider. He was a H/J lesson horse with his prior owners of 6 years. Prior to that I have ZERO history. He does have a tatoo on his inside lower lip which we have researched extensively, and can find no connection to a racetrack, jockey club or Appy group. I've searched high and low.
On trails he is 99% bombproof. He used to be barn sour when I got him and it took alot to turn that around, but in all honesty, I was a bit green and he was certainly feeding off of my nervousness. I can trailer him to a new place, hop on and have a lovely ride. He is also lovely with just another horse although most of those rides have been W/T only due to my friend's recent injuries (surgery). When I first got him, he ALWAYS wanted to follow. Never wanted to lead. I should also preface he had soundness issues, most likely ulcers and wasn't in his best health or fit as he is now.
In the last 2 years, he has taken to wanting to lead on the trail. Not rudely, but he just loves to walk out in front and he is quietly confident. He is always the "go to" steady eddy horse to take on the trails with friends' horses who may be spooky or green. Yesterday, a riding buddy unexpectedly brought another rider with her and we rode at a park we often ride in. It has beautiful bridle paths with sloping hills. I have W/T/C there often alone. Horsie respects half halts alone and is LOVELY to ride alone.
Yesterday we trotted some hills to start. He was in the front and fine. No issues. Came back to walk when asked. There is one large hill. We trotted it at the start and friend yelled up "let's canter" and I said okay. Horsie cantered but when the 2 mares got closer it turned from canter to gallop (which I was okay with). BUT when horsie saw mare 1 on his right flank, the look in his eye changed drastically and gallop went from fast to SUPER fast....think racetrack fast, and he blew off most of my attempts to slow down. He was super-aware of the other 2 and their locations, and I could see him sideways looking...He was definitely in a zone I hadn't experienced before and at a speed I never experienced. With all my might I was able to slow him down at the top of the hill and veered him slightly left off path into some tall grass. All horses stopped and we took a breather. He was fine rest of the ride (we only walked the rest as we were almost done at that point)
When I felt that speed and strength, I was truly scared. I had never felt him go so fast and all I could think of was he thought we were racing and after yesterday I do firmly believe this horse was raced at one time.
I am sure I did some things to contribute. I am sure I probably went up into 2-point vs sitting his canter to start....hence he went faster. We were at the latter part of the trail ride - perhaps we should save the faster gaits for going away from the trailers more? And after this happened I remembered when I first got him the same thing happening in a field with a friend. She took off at a canter with no warning, started to pass us and he HIGH tailed it and raced off. I was not nearly as strong a rider and it scared me so much I stopped riding in groups back then. I know I should have shut him down when he went from canter to gallop. I believe the other 2 horses were just cantering most of the time but the other issue is they were behind me, and the trail was narrow...two horses side by side would have been tight so we were in a single row until the one started to pass.
I do honestly prefer riding alone or with just one person. But my question is, is this a product of him not being cantered and galloped ENOUGH? Is it just normal to want to "race" another horse in a group? Do I need a stronger bit?? (we are in a french link snaffle) For a 20+ something horse with arthritis, he ran like a 3 year old and it honestly scared me. How do we train through this? I know my trainer will take us out - we have trail-trained together often. Would love any thoughts. I am glad to know I can ride something like that out, but in a flat field with unsure footing it could have been bad, and I want to be able to control him at any speed.
I wanted to try fox hunting/hill topping this fall but think I'll hold off after this, LOL!
(BTW I wear a vest and helmet at all times.)
I think part of it was you were going back to the trailer (think; home) and while you may have, for the most part, broken his barn sour habits there is always that desire to be back where they feel safe. I know plenty of horses that want to race each other when you're in a group, but to be quite honest you have to MAKE them listen to you when they start to ignore you. Do a one rein stop, turn them into a circle, do SOMETHING to make them take one second and go "Huh? WHat?" then use that opportunity to make them stop and listen. I honestly don't care what you do to make him listen to you, because a horse that just ignores you is dangerous to itself, to its rider, and to anyone else riding nearby.
I don't think it's a matter of not being galloped enough. He should listen to your cues whether he's feeling his oats or not. It might have been as simple as your body position as you said. He might have just been doing what he thinks you told him to do. If you've ever been at a show and seen a rider get into trouble with an out of control horse, you'll hear a few dozen trainers all yell "sit back!!" Might be all you needed was to sit deep and tall and half halt him back to you. Maybe work with him in a large ring or field practicing the different gears of the all too fun 3 beat gait. Once you've got a good idea of what seat you need to achieve which results, then take it back of the trail with the mares. If your friends will help you, really mix things up, changing gaits very frequently (every 8 strides or so) so your horse has to listen for what's next.
My OTTB turns into a racing lunatic whenever it's under 20 degrees I've found that the secret to getting him back to me when he starts to get strong is usually as simple as relaxing the reins a bit and saying "eeeaaassy". Your bit is fine. This is a training issue. Good luck!
Thank you everyone. All very good points. He knows a ORS and knows it well. I should have shut him down immediately when he switched from canter to gallop - he knows it from the canter as well BTW. I am certain I went up into 2-point and was probably not even sitting when he got fast. Also, this particular hill is "the hill" at the park. When you reach the top it is a clear view to the trailers. You have the choice of going straight to the trailers (down hill and across the big parking field) OR down hill and turning left to ride the other half of the park trail. It's a big loop. This hill I would say is the turning point where he knows sometimes we head back, and sometimes we ride more. So I would say he knew we were pointed back "home".
Even though he is not barn sour anymore, he will really walk out on the way home. Never changes gait but boy does he walk with a purpose going back home.
I rode him in the arena yesterday for a bit - it a large one, not fenced in one of his pastures. He was fine at all gaits. No raciness. We will train half-halts at the canter alot - his fields are great to work in - they are big but fenced, and I will work with him alone first and then with my trainer or one other horse to start.
A few years ago I would have truly panicked and probably fell (or jumped off)!!, or been reluctant to even ride. I've come a long way and he is really a good boy. We'll train through it! Thx!
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