Common Trail Riding Problems: Solutions to Refusals, Rushing Home and Other Undesirable Behaviors: Part 2
By Bob Jeffreys & Suzanne Sheppard
Last month we discussed water crossing in the first installment of our three part series on solutions to common trail riding problems. We’ll now move on to the horse that “jigs” all the way home as soon as we turn in that direction. Why do you suppose he’s so anxious to get back? Let’s analyze the situation. Out on the trail your horse has to carry you, the saddle and other trail items. He must listen to your requests and walk, trot and canter when and where you want, as long as you want. He must calmly deal with ditches, bicycles, joggers, deer, bear, hunters, etc. But now you’ve turned toward home and thoughts of what happen there include being dismounted, untacked, perhaps a good roll, a nice bath, maybe some treats, and then grazing with his paddock mates. You’d probably try to get back just as quickly too if faced with these choices!
If you want to break this cycle you’ll need to change part of the equation. Every once in awhile dismount out on the trail and let your horse enjoy some down time. The when he picks up speed on the way home, if you feel safe, don’t fight it; let him go. In fact, you may even encourage him to go faster. When you arrive at the barn, head straight for the arena and work for at least an hour or so. Refine that trot, execute clean canter departures in a specific lead, develop a more balance stop, a lighter back up, more collection, improve your lateral work, etc. Do some really good training while you work on this other problem and you’ll not only cure his desire to rush home, but you’ll have a more responsive horse as well. Three or four sessions should have him wondering if he really wants to come back at all! In this way, by changing his associations of what goes on when out on the trail (fun!), and what happens back at home (hard work when he rushes),you’ve made his idea become the same as your idea. It’s all about working smarter, not harder!
The same principal works on the barn sour horse that won’t leave the property. Just work him right there. But get him moving, teaching all those skills you want to teach. As you are trotting figure eights, start drifting away from the barn on one half of the figure and then back toward the barn on the other half. Keep enlarging the figure eight so that you’re gradually getting farther away. You might even let him stop and rest away from the barn, but work harder and faster near the barn. This same approach could be used with one horse remaining in the paddock while you work the other.
Finally, here’s a cooperative exercise for horses that will only go out with their buddy alongside. Get you horse’s buddy’s rider to help out. Tack up and mount both horses, riding side by side in the arena or another safe area with plenty of room. Once the horses are walking together each rider should turn and circle away from the other, one to the left and one to the right. Keep the size of the circles about ten feet, and then meet up and go straight, side by side for a few strides. What you’re doing here is resolving separation anxiety by practicing leaving and coming back together. Continue the exercise in ever-increasing circles, showing the horses that while they are, in fact separating, it is not forever. Repeat at the trot and then the canter.
The next step is to have one horse remain standing still while the other walks forward about ten or fifteen feet away. Halt that horse, and then let the other walkup to him. The key here is to walk calmly. Once this is easy, have the other horse trot off while your horse stands, and then ask him to walk up to his buddy. Then try it at the canter. Be sure that your horse can do this calmly at each gait before you ask him to tolerate being left by his buddy out on the trail, where it is far more challenging. As always, good preparation helps your horse succeed, and avoids testing him to failure.
In the last of our three part series we’ll talk about spooky horses, horses that kick, won’t stop, or get really excited. Until then ride safe!
© Bob Jeffreys 3/09. Bob Jeffreys and Suzanne Sheppard travel nationwide teaching people how to bring out the best in their horses.