Riding in the open: I lost the first battle, do I pursue the war?

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Riding in the open: I lost the first battle, do I pursue the war?

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    10-09-2012, 01:55 PM
Riding in the open: I lost the first battle, do I pursue the war?

Being upfront- this is long.

I'm hoping to give my mare more experience riding out of the arena. She isn't a trail horse, and about 2 years ago (while I was leasing her) another rider tried riding her out on trails once a week, but I'm told that even in a group, she was very hesitant to ride out, and often the rider had to dismount and lead her from the ground as my horse would plant her feet and refuse to go forward.

In the past few months, to cool out after our rides, I've started taking my mare on a little loop outside of the arena- it probably takes 5-10 minutes, we exit the indoor, ride up a little hill around the outdoor arena, about 50 feet down the driveway, around a little pond, along the fenceline of our small pasture, and then park at the door to the barn. At first, she refused going out the door (feet planted), snorted and huffed and bugged her eyes out the entire walk. Of course, this made me nervous and only after I happened to look down and see my white knuckle death grip on the reins did I re-evaluate my contribution to the situation. After I had this realization, I relaxed myself, she started to look longingly at the door, and we even would go on little trots around the property when they're weren't a lot of cars in the driveway.

This all got me feeling a little bold and confident, so last week, I decided to get a little more ambitious. We have a 5ish acre field that is empty once the horses are brought in for the evening feeding. I know other people have ridden out there in the past, so I thought I would go for it. As we were finishing our typical loop (described above), instead of turning right to head back to the barn, I turned left and headed out into the field. Immediately, Isabel tensed up (head shot up, ears pricked, etc.). I was trying as hard as I could to stay calm, knowing how my reaction affects her.

As best I can remember, this is what happened next: we walk about 10 paces along the fence line. I could feel her getting ready to do...something. I was expecting a straight out bolt (and mentally processing how to bail off ). Instead of a bolt, she threw her head violently to the left, while spinning her front shoulders to the right, snaking around so now we're facing 180 degrees in the opposite direction. The only thing I could think to do is circle her in the direction she spun, so we do two or three circles. Then I picked a spot in the distance, and tried to ride towards that. She repeats the shoulder throwing spin move. I repeat circles, then try to ride straight. After a couple of minutes of this, I realize we've essentially gone laterally across the field, but not forward much. I finally get her going forward again and ride to the end of the field. It's a completely open space, so there wasn't really anything I could focus her attention to circle her around, etc. So I was attempting to do big figure 8s and serpentines, but she was basically pulling on the bit with all her might to get pointed back in the direction of the barn. Eventually, I feel like I'm out of things to try, so we do walk back to the barn. I make her halt a few times on the way back, and before we ride out the gate of the pasture, so it's not like she just galloped home. But still, it felt like she ultimately "won" that battle. This all probably happened in the span of 10 minutes, though it felt like eternity up there!!

Here's what I think is making this hard:
1. Riding away from the barn alone at dinner time
2. I'm not confident and was really on her mouth trying to stop her from spinning back toward the barn (reverting back to white knuckle death grip)
3. Being in such a wide open space?

So my question for all of you is, do I attempt this ride again? If so, what do I do differently when she starts in on this spin move?
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    10-09-2012, 02:15 PM
Well, I started getting my mare used to the great outdoors by walking her on a lead line. We started at 100 yards (last November) before a meltdown and worked our way up to several miles. Then I started her with short rides with another horse. At first she wanted to be in the middle with her nose in the front horse's rump, so I started insisting on her letting the gap open, until she was used to riding about 20 yards from the front horse. At that point, she decided she preferred the lead. With time, she has opened it up until we regularly can't see the other horse. I've now started riding her on short rides by herself. We started at about 100 yards before significantly increased tension, and now we're up to about a half mile. I'm only riding her by herself a couple times a week, so progress is slow - but she seems to be starting to enjoy it.

When I started walking her, she literally didn't know to pick her feet up to clear a 3" rock, and got scared at the sight of a 6" deep gulley. There were a lot of times when she would brace, and I would back her up and either dismount and lead her on the ground or have another horse take the lead. I think of it as desensitization. The goal isn't to present her with anything that overwhelms her, but to notice the increased signs of tension, push her into something new far enough for her to get tense, and then back off. Obviously, this wouldn't work so well with a horse that needed fast improvement!

Just my experience with one horse who is still a work in progress. A lot depends on how you are reading your horse's behavior. If it is FEAR, I back off and let her learn it isn't scary. If it is stubbornness, she gets a whack on the butt with a leather strap I have wrapped around my saddle horn for that purpose - although I don't need to whack hard, and it happens about once every 2-3 rides. Maybe less as we progress.

There was one time where she acted like, "You can't make me!" We were near the arena, so I put her on a lunge line and ran her until she was soaked with sweat. I was pissed and I wanted her to understand how pissed I was. Then I led her on a lead line for a 3 mile walk thru the desert. It was dark when we got back. That was 6 months ago, and she hasn't done it again.

YMMV. I'm not a horse trainer. Not at all. I don't teach anyone anything. This is my experience with one mare only.
tinyliny likes this.
    10-09-2012, 02:49 PM
Most horses get a little barn sour. They get to stand around with friends and eat. Whats not to like about that? I'll have to admit that even my horses have a tendency to prefer to be back with the herd. If I ride in the fields ajoining my place, they hear the other horses calling for them. They dog walk away and then want to rush home.

Rather than fight it, I load my horses up in the trailer and take them some place away from the property, where I can ride them and they don't know where home is, they don't see their herd mates running up and down the fence line, don't hear their buddies calling. They get to focus on me and what I'm asking them to do. Once the horse has learned to do what I ask, Then I can ride at home and not worry about being barn sour.

You may not have the ability to trailer off property. Each of us has to choose what battles to fight. You might find it easier for a ride or two, to get a buddy to ride along on the trails and you follow, Your horse will become more comfortable with the surroundings, so that when you go out alone, it is not such a battle. Evaluate what resources you have and make the best use of them.
Northernstar likes this.
    10-09-2012, 03:16 PM
Green Broke
Just a suggestion to help with the bolting....

I'm of the opinion a barefooted horse in uneven rocky terrain is less likely to spook as they have to watch the trail and being somewhat "tender-footed" makes them concentrate more on the trail and less on the bugger-man horse eater.

Maybe try taking the shoes off and ride barefoot.....find a narrow rocky trail and ride, ride, ride.
bsms likes this.
    10-09-2012, 03:18 PM
Question about leading her out through the field vs. riding-since she is turned out there all day, I know she isn't scared of it. She just doesn't want to work out there, right? If that's the case, what do I accomplish by leading her out there dismounted? Not being snarky, just trying to understand what reaction I should be expecting from to do this effectively, so that it might ultimately translate to undersaddle. I totally understand why this can help in a new environment.

Painted Horse- right now trailering out isn't an option, but in the next few weeks, the boarding stable is going to be cutting a couple of miles of new trails in the woods around the pasture. I am hopeful that I will be able to round up a few other riders so I won't have to ride alone.
boots likes this.
    10-09-2012, 03:21 PM
Originally Posted by gunslinger    
Just a suggestion to help with the bolting....

I'm of the opinion a barefooted horse in uneven rocky terrain is less likely to spook as they have to watch the trail and being somewhat "tender-footed" makes them concentrate more on the trail and less on the bugger-man horse eater.

Maybe try taking the shoes off and ride barefoot.....find a narrow rocky trail and ride, ride, ride.
Interesting. She's barefoot, but we were in a wide open field vs. on a truetrail. Her mind was definitely not on what was in front of her- it was on getting back to the barn. Most of our current "trail riding" options are really riding through open farmer's fields. I've never been on her on a narrow path- but will hopefully have access to some fresh cut trails in the near future.
    10-09-2012, 03:30 PM
Do this in steps. Take her out on a long leadline and walk around "inspecting" the place. Stop and go and turn around and turn around, and do all kinds of manuevers to keep her occupied following you. Mount up and just sit there. Get off. Walk some more. Mount up, move a bit, get off move around. All casual like.

Next time, take her out and lunge her a bit out there. Mount up , walk around, get off, quit.

Mix it up like this.

When you first start trying to ride her away from the barn, walk her out, then turn around and go back, then back out, then back to barn. Try to time the turn for home thing before she is so uptight that she "blows". So, you turn back on your terms, not hers.
You don't have to conquer this like it's an allor nothing battle.
    10-09-2012, 05:01 PM
Originally Posted by egrogan    
Question about leading her out through the field vs. riding-since she is turned out there all day, I know she isn't scared of it. She just doesn't want to work out there, right? If that's the case, what do I accomplish by leading her out there dismounted? ...
I was about to say that if it isn't a fear issue, then leading her wouldn't help. But as I try to teach my mare that she can leave her 'herd' of 3 and go out alone, I started with leading her away. And yes, she got a bit freaky at times, but it was easier for me to handle that from the ground.

But I'm told some horses just need to have it ridden out. I don't know because my mare is a very honest horse. If she balks or pulls her head way up and starts prancing, it is almost always fear. That is where I can only offer the little that I know, and admit your problem may be different. Happily, there are a lot of experienced people here that can provide a broader view...
    10-09-2012, 09:58 PM
Green Broke
I would pick a day you have a lot of time and the weather is nice. Start out working her on the longe in the area. Work her hard enough she is sweaty and looking forward to stopping. Walk her out (in hand) to the pasture and take note of the first place she starts looking tense (this may only be 3 feet from the gate). Stop and let her graze/relax--as long as she is looking away from the barn. As soon as she starts the spinning crap, go straight back to the arena and WORK her. After she is sweaty, again go back to the pasture.

Basically she needs to learn that arena=work and pasture=relax. It may take you several rounds with going back and forth, but she will figure it out. Eventually you should be able to increase the distance you get from the barn as she learns outside is a good thing (though to start with, I would be happy with her to just be content to graze 3 feet from the gate). Eventually you can do the same under saddle until she figures out being outside is a good thing.
egrogan, boots and MapleAir like this.
    10-09-2012, 11:05 PM
I would try to find a confident trail horse/rider to go out with you. She'll be less likely to bolt back to the barn if she is following another horse. Not to say it couldn't happen, but it would certainly help. I would get her trail riding good with another horse for company at least a few times before I would take her out alone.

She is probably genuinely scared. I know my Fox Trotter, although I take her out alone often, is much more calm and relaxed with another horse. When alone I have to keep on top of things more and she is less secure and more likely to spook. With another horse she's like "thank goodness we have someone with us, now I can relax."
Northernstar likes this.

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