How to get a horse used to the trails? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 21 Old 05-03-2009, 11:52 PM Thread Starter
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How to get a horse used to the trails?

My 5-year-old draft and 10-year-old Thoroughbred are nervous on the trails.
They both tend to jig and they spook at things like lawn mowers and plastic bags blowing in the wind. They don't get out of control, they're just really tense.

What do I do when they spook? Just get them to walk past the scary object? And do they just need experience and exposure to get over their nervousness? Also, I have no idea if Norman (the draft) is ok around traffic. How do I introduce cars? The road we ride by isn't real busy, but the cars come by fast and narrow(no courtesy at all. Jerks). I'm dreading riding him by the road, but it has to happen sooner or later. Any advice? Thanks!

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post #2 of 21 Old 05-04-2009, 12:59 AM
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Ride, ride, ride. :]

When my horses spook on trails, I turn their head away from the spooky thing, and put my outside leg on so they keep travelling in the direction I want. basically, they learn that if they keep their attention onme and do as I ask, the scary thing won't get them! lol.

But mainly it is simply getting out and doing it. The more things they see and (shock horror) actually survive, the quieter they will become.

Are their any quieter roads you could try Norman on?

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post #3 of 21 Old 05-04-2009, 02:52 AM
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I like to let mine walk up to the scary thing, sniff it, look at it, talk to it if they have to, do whatever they need to do to get over it. I agree wild spot though, that if you keep their attention on you, they will notice scary things less. It may also help to do some desensitizing. Rub them all over with your hands, then a riding crop, then a plastic bag, and so and so on.

Another trick I use when it comes to crossing things in trails (water, ditches, anything that's not completely flat ground) is when we get to something like that, and the horse balks, turn them around and ask them to trot or lope the other way. Then turn them back around and walk up to the obstacle again. If they balk again, immediately turn around and trot or lope away. Pretty soon they'll see that doing what you ask is WAY less work than refusing. You can substitute circling for loping away, just so long as it is more work than simply walking across the obstacle.

As for traffic, you can use your own car. I don't know where you keep your horses, but if there's a paddock near a road, you can drive your car up and down the road by the paddock your horse is in, or if there's not a road, you can turn your car on and let your horse walk up to it, sniff, look at, talk to, whatever. It may help when it comes time to ride near traffic. Just do it's not COMPLETELY foreign, you know?

Hope that helps. :]
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post #4 of 21 Old 05-04-2009, 07:36 AM
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Yes...ride, ride, ride. We ride our mares through everything from trails, woods, and country roads to suburban neighborhoods and the grocery store. When riding through parking lots and on road, people often ask me how you get a green 4 yr old like our filly, to the point of our seasoned, bomb proof, 14 yr old...the answer is 10 years of experience and a thousand miles of riding.

If you know someone with a seasoned trail horse, ride with them. A good, calm lead horse will 'teach' your horses faster than any trainer can. I often use our seasoned mare to pony our young ones when I'm alone.

For traffic, first of all, be *very* careful. There are a *lot* of jerks out there. If you can, start with low traffic roads that have a lot of space on the side of the road so your horse doesn't feel trapped, and you have the option to go away from the road instead of into it. To start, when you see a car coming, stop, let your horse watch it go by, then continue, and be aware that they may react differently to cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc depending on their sound, speed, and color. Be extra careful if you cross narrow bridges on the road that has traffic...not only can a horse feel trapped on a bridge, but they have a very different sound and feel.

Make sure you recognize when your horse is reaching it's 'tension limit'. You don't want to get into a fight with a scared'll both lose. When you need to, switch to doing something different, pick a different path, go back, etc. As long as you do this so that the horse thinks it was your idea (and not giving in), you won't be reinforcing a behavior you don't want.

Lastly, realize that are hundreds of 'horse monsters' in the real world for your horse to see and experience that tax their instincts, but with practice and patience, you will be tremendously rewarded with a horse that you can ride anywhere.

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post #5 of 21 Old 05-04-2009, 07:39 AM
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As bad as I hate to say it, I disagree with LeahKathleen up to a point. Arena desensitizing is great but it only does so much. There is almost always a learning experience to be had on the trail. Whenever my horses spook at something, I circle them until they stop moving and then turn them until they are looking at the big scary thing. I just give them a minute and slowly urge them closer and closer until they sniff it. Most of the time, they will immediately relax and walk away as if it was never there. If they won't get that close and keep dodging away, you might try walking them away, getting off, and leading them back to the scary thing. If they trust you, they will get comfort from you and not be as scared. If they don't trust you, I would not attempt this because they could easily spook and get loose. The only thing that will really get them calm on the trail is hundreds of trail miles and exposure to every strange thing you can find. As for getting used to the cars, do you have someone with a proven calm trail mount that could go with you? If you do, you may try going out for a ride with them and keep the calm horse between yours and the road. By seeing the other horse stay calm, it will help to teach them that cars are really not that scary. I wish you good luck and I hope I helped.

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post #6 of 21 Old 05-04-2009, 02:43 PM
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There is nothing more valuable than a nice, calm, seasoned trail horse to go with you! I'm in the process of training my horse to handle trails. He's come a long way in the last three years. He used to be terrified of water, bridges, trails in general and would jig and spook the whole way. It was scary and frusterating and made trail riding miserable. One of my problems was I was using a harsh bit because I thought that would be what I needed to control him. I'd have him in a harsh bit, he'd still spook, take off, and I'd move up to a harsher bit, which just made the situation worse. It's just been repitition, going out as much as I could with my older, bombproof cutting horse. I realized that a certain bit would not solve my problem and now ride him in an eggbutt snaffle. He's gotten to a point where we can now go out with other seasoned trail horses and he'll be okay for the most part. He still gets very tense at times, especially if the other horses get nervous, and there is no way I can go out alone yet, but that's what we're working towards. Just ride, ride, ride, you'll get there eventually!

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post #7 of 21 Old 05-04-2009, 02:44 PM
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Whatever they spook at, make them do circels around it and start out with big circles then go smaller and smaller, and i like to make them work a little during the circle, i like to trot then stop turn and go the other way and just keep doing this till you get as close as you can then stop and let them sniff it and what not and let them rest there.

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post #8 of 21 Old 05-04-2009, 06:26 PM
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I gotta say, while it may work for some horses, I personally disagree with the 'let them look at it' school of thought, unless it is something major.

In my opinion, stopping and letting them look at scary objects teaches them that if they are scared, stop and look. I ould rather my horse learnt that if there is something scary, keep his attention on me and I will get him past safely...

That's why I will turn their head away and use my leg to keep their body travelling the same direction. Their attention is taken away from the horse eating monster, on to me, and before they know it they are past said monster and they are ok.

Plus, there are things that you DON'T want your horse to stop and sniff, like snakes!

I'm sure the other way works for a lot fo people and their horses, but I just find I want a different response on the trail than stop and look. So far, it's worked for me.

Just another opinion :]

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post #9 of 21 Old 05-04-2009, 07:33 PM
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I agree there are some things you want to urge them past. But as everyone said in order for them to get to that point it takes as many miles as you can put on them. My mare used to be scared of cattle, at first I let her see what the were and that they weren't going to eat her. Now if we pass some, I do urge her on without the "lets make you face your fear" lesson.
To the OP, don't be afraid to ask someone to help you. We have been out in parks with kids on bikes. I nicely ask the kids to help me teach my horse and do a couple of ride bys. Kids are almost always willing to help and they are the ones who are always doing something to scare your horse. Have them walk up fast shouting "what a pretty horse, can I pet her?"
We ride in a city park where there is camping. Tents flapping in the wind used to be a major issue. We asked a couple if we could do some lessons around their tent. Anyway, you get the idea. Just expose them to as much as you can.
Our mares will still do a little jump when something jumps out in front of them, but there isn't much that can stop them in their tracks anymore.
Horses are naturally curious. Once they figure out its not a horse eating cyclopod, they will want to give it a sniff.

Heres a video I posted awhile back. Notice Tony is kicking the blind with his foot, and Fras is not concerned. She didn't get that confident overnight. It takes time. Fras and the scary deer blind

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Last edited by Vidaloco; 05-04-2009 at 07:42 PM.
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post #10 of 21 Old 05-04-2009, 07:48 PM
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I definately agree about the many miles, it really is in the end the only way your horse will become a good trail horse. By riding the trails :]

I've been on a traffic island while a bus drove past my ponies nose, taken him through a drive through, etc...

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