Exploring new places with your horse is a grand adventure, but can be overwhelming for some horses and riders. It’s easy to prepare at home to ensure you and your horse have a safe and enjoyable ride away from home.
I am a huge fan of hand walking your horse. Hand walking establishes trust and respect, and helps build the relationship bond between you and your horse. The safest position for you to be while hand walking your horse is between your horse’s head and shoulders.
Start in your barn aisle and progress to outside around your facility. If your horse starts to walk faster than you, immediately turn toward her tail (she will slow down during the turn) and complete a 360 degree turn. Repeat until she gets the idea to stay at your pace. Once you and your horse are comfortable hand walking at home, start to venture off the property of your facility. When vehicles approach, turn your horse to face the vehicle and stay to the far side of the road.
Afraid to Leave Home
If your horse is uncomfortable leaving her home (this applies to both hand walking and riding), go a short distance and turn around BEFORE she becomes upset. If this means you take five steps out of the driveway, then that is OK. You will build up your horse’s comfort level one step at a time. Over time you will be able to venture farther and farther away. If necessary, start working with a buddy horse who is comfortable away from home to encourage your horse to venture out too.
Riding with a more experienced horse and rider team will help you and your horse relax, and expose you to tips and suggestions that help you and your horse settle. In a group you can play games, like leap frog where the horse in front goes to the back of the line so each horse learns to be comfortable in all positions of the line.
If you’re riding by yourself and your horse needs encouragement, you can do several things:
Talk to your horse. Tell your horse everything is going to be OK and feel that deep within your core.
As you walk down the trail, focus on your breathing. Count your inhale and count your exhale and see if you can get them to match. Once your breathing is balanced, start to deepen it for a more calming effect. For example, if your initial count was four then expand to six and work your way up to eight or even ten.
Never be afraid to get off your horse. We’ve all been there where our horse is just one big ball of energy waiting to explode. Before the explosion occurs, get off your horse and do some groundwork exercises to get your horse’s focus back on you. Once you and your horse feel relaxed and comfortable, get back on and continue your ride.
If you’re comfortable staying in the saddle, engage your horse’s mind by doing simple tasks she already knows:
- spiraling circles from large to small then back to large again
- serpentine down the path
- transition exercise where you count 10 walk steps and 20 trot steps
- do half passes, side passes, shoulder in/out, haunches in/out as you walk down the path
Just remember a nervous horse needs to move her feet, and confining her by constantly pulling on the reins could cause an explosion.
The more tense you become the more nervous your horse will be. Stay on as loose a rein as possible when working exercises to get your horse’s attention back on you.
Keys to Success
Always remain calm and breathe. This will encourage your horse to relax. Introduce new locations to your horse gradually. Build your horse’s confidence by expanding her comfort zone slowly and consistently. Ask a friend and buddy horse to come along for moral support. With time and patience your horse will look forward to riding away from home.
Kim Baker is a respected equine specialist, standing out in her field because she works with the whole horse (mind, body, & spirit) as an individual, developing customized solutions for horse and rider. Kim offers clinics, workshops and retreats in foundation training, trail training, problem solving, energy healing and more. www.kbnaturalhorsemanship.com