So I've been working with my horse for about a month now, teaching her groundwork, and getting to know each other. When I bought her, the man sold her to me saying she had been on the trail quite a few times and was very solid, and not spooky at all.
Well I don't know if it is because of me, the new location, or both, but she is very nervous on the trail for me. I haven't been on any serious trail rides yet, because it has been hunting season, but I have been riding her all over the property to expose her to different terrain and obstacles.
The first time I took her cantering through the pasture, she spooked at a pile of poop in the grass...seriously.
So I went on this little "trail" more like a gravel driveway through a tunnel of trees, right outside the property, and since she's spent all 9 years of her life in a place with no dogs, the dogs scare her often. One dog (I think he enjoys scaring horses) popped out of the woods once and she almost bolted.
Today I decided to take her on the trail again (alone) to see how she would do without another horse/rider with us. We made it down the street and she was fine but as soon as we turned into the tree tunnel, she was clearly nervous. I know sometimes when the horse gets nervous, I get nervous too, so I tried to think of my breathing and heart rate, and I was actively trying to stay completely calm and collected. She went forward, although she was very distracted by everything, especially the whistling of the wind. At one point, we came to an opening where there is a little pasture I thought would be nice to walk through. She got so spooked that I thought she was going to rear on me. She turned to bolt and I kept her going in circles, but she was also moving sideways in her circles. I would turn her a few times until she seemed to calm a little, and then I tried to get her to move forward towards whatever she was looking at (a tree probably). We never made it that far because she was being so frantic that I felt it was dangerous, and I was on the property completely alone. After I made her stand still for a few seconds we turned back, but I made sure she stayed at a nice slow walk.
I decided to try going down the actual road, and set a landmark for where I wanted to end up. She did much better in the open, although she did zigzag and seemed very distracted. I would periodically turn her in tight circles, disengaging her hindquarters, but she still never had any ears on me the whole time. We made it to our marker, and on the way back home she walked straighter.
The reason I bought her is for fun, but I really really want to do a competitive trail this year. I have about 4-5 months before theres a ride near me. Is that enough time to prepare her?
Does anyone have any tips for working through the spook-bolt cycle? I know that with each ride, we gain experience. I'm determined to make her stop spooking, but any advice or tips would be great.
I do a lot of desensitizing with the lead rope and rubbing her all over. In the beginning she would flinch from quick movements around her head, so I've been trying to incorporate a few jerky/fast movements around her face often. I moved the carrot stick around her head, and even rubbed her face with it eventually. I do these things regularly.
I want a solid trail horse, and she has the potential. She has a good head on her shoulders, is very willing to learn new things, and she learns quickly. The first ride we ever went on off the property, she got spooked by a pig farm. When we passed it on the way back, she did fine. I know she has the capability to get over these things, I'm just looking for advice.
Thanks to all who answer!