Liz asked: Why is my horse refusing to go forwards when she gets tired of being out on a trail ride on her own? She even starts backing up which can be quite dangerous and she normally doesn’t do this. What can I do to stop her doing this?
Firstly, if we look at this situation from the horse’s point of view she is not really wanting to leave her herd of buddies, especially after she has been with them for such a long time and maybe you haven’t ridden her in a while. There’s not a lot of incentive for her to want to go with you in preference to staying with her herd and in her comfort zone, so there are several things you can do to cause her to feel more comfortable and happier to leave with you.
Secondly, if you haven’t ridden her in a while (a week ago or a month ago is much the same) then you need to re-establish the relationship of trust and alpha status between you.
By playing the Seven Games at home as you’re saddling up and tasking her with some new challenges like more active and different squeeze games interspersed with lots of friendly game you are establishing the trust and your alpha status again. Remember to give her some time to ‘soak’ after achieving a new task and just be comfortable being with you.
Once you’re on her back, it would pay to check basics like lateral flexion, indirect rein and impulsion. If you can’t safely walk, trot and canter and stop from all these gaits then it’s probably not a good time to head off on a trail ride.
If all is going well here, then when you start to head out, play a game of “oops, I forgot something” and after getting a little way down the road, turn around and ride back to her comfort zone then head off again. If you can do this before she chooses to get tired of going or upset about leaving her friends, you are rewarding her for being brave about leaving with you.
You could even do this a few of times and before you know it, your horse is probably going to think “when are we going to go somewhere?”
So, you’re out on the ride and all goes well until she decides to stop and back up – what can you do?
There are a couple of options, firstly, you could get off to stay safe but so that she doesn’t see this as rewarding her for her choice, you would need to play some fairly active games with her on line. Maybe backing her up more than she wants to, squeeze game as you’re moving along the trail or sideways on the trail in the direction you wanted to go.
Alternatively, if you’re a confident rider and know you have a good indirect rein, us it as soon as she chooses to back up and ignores your requests to go forward. You can even use your savvy string to stimulate zone 4 a little so you get a snappy response. Then use your phases to ask her forward again, going to phase 4 (the string touching behind the saddle) if you need to.
Continue to do this sequence of indirect then asking to go (make sure you have a strong forwards focus), until she finds that its easier to go forwards than backwards.
Most importantly, don’t give up until you achieve forwards, then reward her by relaxing and enjoying the ride.
If she still needs more incentive to keep her going on the trail, you could take her around the trail on line one day and hide some small sealed containers of treats at various intervals, perhaps just before places she’s wanted to stop at, so that when you ride around, you can stop and reward her for going so far with you.
This would be an enlarged game of point to point so it may even pay to get her used to the idea at home before venturing out. If you practice riding to various places in your pasture with a strong focus to find a treat for her, she’ll pretty soon think that following your focus is a great idea.