By horse trainer Doris Eraldi
This is the season for horse shows, parades and trail rides. If your have a new horse or a horse that is not used to traveling to new places, a little time and fore-thought can make those first trips safe and pleasant, while also building the skills needed to be a well-behaved mount in any situation.
Horses are most comfortable in familiar surroundings. It's their nature. Wild horses will develop a routine, returning to a well-known watering hole at the same time every day, for instance, because they feel safest if they can recognize the area. If anything is out of place or different, it's a warning that a predator may be lurking about. When we take our horse to a new fairground or trail we increase his wariness and anxiety. He doesn't know what should be there, and what shouldn't. It takes time and patience, and sometimes lots of hauling, to teach a horse to relax in these stressful situations.
Keep in mind that as the "herd leader," our horses look to us humans for reassurance. If the rider is nervous or frightened, the horse is likely to be too. Set up your first few times away from home to lessen the stress on everyone by choosing a safe, calm place such as a friend's arena. The presence of experienced horses and horsemen can be a good example for your young horse, and you can get help if needed. Adding the excitement and tension of a competition to the first trips might be more than the colt or his rider can handle. Once the horse accepts being in new places, you can start asking for him to pay attention and follow the training that he has learned at home.
Choose an activity within the range of your horse's training and fitness level. Most horses' training backslides a bit in new situations, so if he is not able to do something proficiently at home, don't expect it out on the trail or at his first show. Longing or ponying a horse to warm him up helps burn off the excess energy so he can calm down and focus, but don't use tiring him out as a training method. It's easy to overdo, and go from too excited to too exhausted. Remember to provide hay and water. We want our horse to look forward to going and doing something new, not dread the trip because his experience is that he will be overworked and underfed.
Be aware too, that in a group situation there may be many skill levels of horses and riders. Don't insist that your horse do something just because some other horse did it, and watch out for horses who may not be as well trained as yours. As a herd animal, horses tend to react to the others in the group. One out-of-control horse can cause a mass panic.
A little planning can make those first trips away from home with your horse fun and safe. Think of it as a training process. You are teaching the horse that new places are safe and interesting, not just overwhelming. Before you know it your horse will be as well behaved out on an adventure as he is at home.
Doris Eraldi of Eraldi Training in Potter Valley can be contacted at 707-743-1337, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read Doris' previous article
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