Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Where To, Ma'am?: First Trail Ride on a Green Horse

The first ride outside the round corral always feels a bit like climbing into a taxi in a foreign city.

Sure, the cabbie's job is to take me safely wherever I direct him...but will he? What if I bungle my conversational Spanish and wind up outside a flophouse in the red light district? Suppose the driver disregards my instructions, drives recklessly, even overpowers me?

We've all heard stories...

And yet, the time must come. I prefer to take the taxi ride as early as possible in a horse's under saddle work; that is, as soon as the horse can walk in a straight line and respond to basic cues. Handled correctly, early trail riding builds confidence for both horse and rider, and it keeps a bright horse from souring during repetitive ring work.

So is was that, after about ten rides on Consolation and many handwalks across the country- side, I quashed my doubts and hit the road. You can see in these photos that I had to actively use all four corners (both hands, both legs) to keep her moving away from home. Once around the bend, she settled into such a brisk walk that I had to consciously loosten my hips to roll along with her.

Our 3 mile trek took us along low-traffic roads that I knew to be relatively free of distractions like loose dogs and Fanged Trash Cans of Death. Still, there was plenty for a green horse to look at: bubbling irrigation channels, vats of fertilizer, loose chickens pecking at a pile of last year's potatoes sprouting in the ditch.

I rode about half the distance, dis- mounting as necessary to recapture Consolation's wandering will or let a truck rumble past. Some people will disagree with this technique, believing it means the rider is a coward or the horse is controlling the situation. However, I find that striking a balance between pushing the horse to try something new (carrying a rider past new sights) and returning to the familiar (being led or ground-driven) keeps both parties' emotional levels lower and prevents accidents.

Ideally, my horse will never realize that she can overpower me. If I can avoid that first bolt or refusal, I will. So, if I feel Consolation bunching up with tension or excitement, I'll dismount before the levy breaks, maybe do a bit of lateral bending, lead her until she's calm again, then get back on. Gradually, over the course of many rides, the need for frequent dismounts will diminish and disappear.

This method isn't foolproof, of course. On Consolation's taxi ride, I got try a few strides of her canter (very nice!) when an unmanned piece of farm equipment buzzed to life behind us. As I'd been sensing a lack of control throughout the ride -- that strong-willed mare again -- I was pleased that Consolation "came back" to me quickly.

All the same, I returned home having realized a need to further Consolation's respect for my direction from the saddle. After all, it's the horse, not me, who ought to be asking, "Where to?"


Related Posts

Breaking Free: Training the Herdbound Horse

Thinking it Through: Training Horses as Individuals

Connecting the Dots: Breakthroughs in Horse Training

Moving Out: Increasing Speed and Confidence on the Trail


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Mrs. Mom said...

Fantastic! Great philosiphy (know I spelled that wrong- not enough coffeee) there too. Looks like it works like a charm for you and your horses.

Keep on keeping on there! Looks like oyu are really covering some ground with the critters now that the weather is behaving for you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the picture. She's lovely!! And thanks for the training details. It really is so much more helpful to have it laid out in sequential real life doses the way you do!

Anonymous said...

I love how your idea of making it a good experience for the horse also almost guarantees that the horse will not discover its potential for doing the wrong thing.

Anonymous said...

Well, please pass on my congratulations to M'lady. My SM mare, Tia and I are at the early stages of our endurance career, and I'm curious to see how M'lady develops in her trail training as she seems to have a similar personality to mine. I'm finding the partnership is ripening over time.

Anonymous said...

hey fellow endurance rider :)... i feel that way sometimes riding Gazi since he's "been there done that".. but we're new to each other

trot on friend, trot on
gp in montana