Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: southern Arizona
Everything Darrin said!
A relaxed look around by my horse doesn't bother me - or her. But if her head snaps that way, or stays that way...I pull it back. Usually with a lecture, and enough fussing on the reins to convey that I'm the one looking and her job is to mind the trail. Otherwise, she starts worrying. And those worries will lead to trouble. I'm happy with her pointing things out to me, since it could be a snake, a loose dog approaching, etc. But then I want her to get back to watching the trail while I figure out what to do.
Some form of a head down cue helps. Being able to turn the horse is also important. I'm not a horse trainer or anything, so take it FWIW, but if my mare is getting tense, then I need to be ready to snatch her face. Give her a chance to set her neck in stone, and turning is a problem. I will also be a rough as needed to turn her face. My job is to be a gentle as possible with the bit. She gets to set what is "as possible". I'll tear her head off, if need be, because being gentle with her may end up in a bolt that could break her leg or kill me. We currently are using a Waterford bit. I don't see where it gives me any more control than a plain snaffle, but she seems comfortable with it. I prefer slack in the reins, but she gets to decide if things are going to get ugly. If they do, they get ugly fast because a pre-spook turns into a full-bore spook pretty darn fast, and the latter could kill both of us.
Also - something that REALLY helped me was leading my horse on walks before we ever started riding in the desert. At first, she would melt down after 100 yards - before we even got to the desert. We eventually worked up to walking 2-3 miles. Only then did I start riding her, and then with another horse. It took me 11 months to get up to solo trips, and we're still working on that. Prior to my walking her in the desert, she had never been outside the arena or corral. She didn't know to pick her feet up over a stone, and would panic because a palo verde tree had shed its flowers. Those walks built some confidence in her, and gave me a chance to work with her fears without being as vulnerable to injury. I'm 54 and started riding at 50, and MY bones don't mend fast either!
"Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing...well, ignore it mostly."