What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-
- Realise how important it is to choose your friends wisely
- Figure out how to initially ‘practice’ with your horse
- Not worry about ‘where’ you are in the group
- Keep things slow and steady initially
Most things in life are better when shared with friends. Riding on the trail or hacking out is no different. However, for many riders, the uncertainty of how their horse will respond ‘out in the world’ with other horses can be enough to stop them from experiencing this.
In this episode of the Daily Strides Podcast I want to chat about how you can begin to prepare yourself and your horse for hacking out in company. A few simple ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ will make all the difference when it comes to enjoying your time out of the arena.
Getting out of the arena with a group of friends is often one of the top things on their ‘must do’ lists concerning their riding. We dream about going for leisurely, fun and enjoyable rides with our friends – humans and horses
However, for many riders the reality is filled with more anxiety than anticipation. How will my horse react? How will my horse react to the other horses reactions?
The good news is that, with a couple of simple steps, you can help ensure a positive experience for all involved, so that your ‘social ride’ is all that you dreamed it would be.
Choose Your Friends Wisely
Who you choose to ride out with on those first few rides has the potential to leave a lasting impact on you and your horse for years to come. Choose wisely! This pertains to the horses and the riders.
Look for horse and rider combinations who are confidence, self-assured, relaxed and remain calm under pressure.
Pay attention to how the rider and the horse respond to situations. Respond rather than react. Being on a ride with a group of other equestrians who are just reacting to everything that shows up is no fun and often a recipe for disaster!
Practice in an Enclosed Space Initially
When we think of enclosed spaces, we think of arenas. However when practicing for riding in a group you can also practice in fields and paddocks. I am going to suggest that you begin in an arena if you can at the very beginning.
Get into the arena with your horse and a few others who, again, you have chosen wisely. What your horse needs to learn is that while the other horses are there, he must listen to you – the rider – for instructions.
Often horses, particularly younger horses or OTTBs, will look to the other horses to feel safe and confident. The ‘herd’ instinct. Rather begin training your horse to look to you and to respond to you.
When riding in a group, anything can happen. Being on a horse who will spook or bolt because the horse in front of him did, is no fun. Your horse needs to begin to build confidence in you. Yes, they are aware that the other horses are there and that they are riding in a group. But they are responding to you, the rider and team leader.
Developing his Response to You – Not to the Herd
I suggest working with the other horses in the arena, but doing so in a way that your horse is never dependent on them. Practice riding two or three a breast. You can also ride in a line, single formation. What is important here is that you are all the time changing and he begins to become comfortable with the changes.
From here, practice having the other horses walk, trot and even canter past you while in the arena. Again, your horse must learn to respond – and wait – for you. Don’t allow him to merely follow the herd.
Once you are both happy and confident in the arena, try the same exercises with some grass under his hooves! An enclosed field or paddock works well. Very often horses react differently when they feel grass under their hooves, rather than sand from the arena!
Keep It Simple – and Make Sure It Is A Non-Event
In my experience, this is a rider issue; not a horse issue. When preparing to go out riding in a group, riders can ‘dilly dally’ before they ever get going. Try not to procrastinate about actually setting off on the ride.
‘Hanging around’ leads to jumpy, over excited horses. Talk and plan as you walk – but get walking as soon as you can!
Lay out all of your plans before you begin. Know exactly where you are going, who is going, when you are going etc. Don’t allow ‘fuffing and faffing’ to start a chain of events that, if left unchecked, will lead to unhappy horses and riders.
Where Is He Comfortable While Riding in a Group?
Horses, just like us, have different comfort zones. Some like to lead. Others prefer to follow. A good example of this which often occurs is when a new horse is with the group and he wants to lead. The rider, for whatever reason, is not confident with him being out in front and a battle of wills begins.
Forcing a horse to ride in a position where he is uncomfortable will lead to a frustrated and tense horse. This also leads to a nervous and unhappy rider! Allow the horse to go where he feels comfortable within the group for the first few rides (if it is safe to do so, obviously!)
Wherever your horse is happy, let him stay there for the first few rides. After those initial rides, you can then focus on re-schooling your horse to ride where you want him to ride.
The whole aim of those first few rides with the group should be to settle and socialize your horse to riding in a group. These are ‘his’ rides. Allow him to be where he is comfortable.
If you’re not sure where your horse is most comfortable, I’m going to suggest riding in the middle of the group. Behind a horse who doesn’t mind others riding up his ‘backside’ a little. Also, in front of a horse who won’t run up your horses backside.
Slow & Steady Wins the Day
Once you get going on the ride, there is often a temptation to ‘test things out’ a little. Especially if things are going well. I’m going to strongly suggest that you rein this in for those first few rides!
Try to keep those first few rides as ‘non-events’. They won’t be the sort of rides that will be spoken about in years to come. However, they will be the foundation for those more thrilling rides later.
This, again, comes back as well to choosing your friends wisely. The last thing you want is the horse in front or behind you being egged on into a gallop by a rider who is just overly excited to see an open patch of ground!
The riders who are with you should realise that you need to keep things slow and steady for those first few rides. When both you and your horse are feeling more confident later, then you can all have that thrilling canter across the country. However I advise to makes sure that comes later…
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