One of the greatest things you can do for your horse’s mind is taking it out of the arena and onto the trails. Trail riding is meant to be a pleasurable, relaxing experience for both you and your horse. Friesians are typically well-rounded and level-headed horses, but some may be more sensitive than others because each horse has their own personality. If your horse tends to be particularly jumpy, that doesn’t mean that you have to hit the trail anticipating a stressful or scary ride. Preparing for what the trail might bring is the best way to ensure that both you and your horse will have a great experience. Luckily, there are many things you can do at home, whether it be in the barn or in the field, to prepare for your ride on the trail.
Using desensitization techniques, you can begin to expose your horse to all sorts of new and potentially scary things that they may encounter on the trail. You should choose an object that is unfamiliar to your horse to do this exercise with. Some examples could include a plastic grocery bag, a wheelbarrow, or a tarp.
The first step in this process is to warm up your horse in your usual groundwork routine. It’s essential to begin with your horse’s consistent routine so that introducing new things is a pleasant and comfortable experience. This also helps you reestablish your relationship with your horse and get them listening to you. Next, introduce the new object by either moving the horse into the object’s vicinity or by having someone move it for you. If your horse is particularly sensitive, they may stop or move away from the scary object. Your job is to stay calm so that your horse responds to your actions in the situation. If your horse stops and spooks at the object, it is important that you do not get upset or discipline them. You can reassure them with a calming voice or gentle pat to let them know it is ok. Once your horse’s attention is back on you, you can move forward in the direction you were going. You should repeat this exercise by getting closer to the object and walking by it at different angles until your horse no longer reacts to its presence.
Desensitization can be a long, slow process, and it will look different with every horse. The most important thing is that you stay patient and calm so that you can instill confidence in your horse. The more things you can expose your horse to in this controlled environment, the more confidence you and your horse will have on the trail together.
Sometimes no matter how much you prepare, you may encounter a frightening situation while riding on the trail. When this happens, you must be familiar with de-escalation techniques to keep the situation as calm as possible. If your horse is quickly startled, they may jump to the side, jig forward, or freeze in their tracks. Just like with the desensitization exercises, your goal is to get your horse’s focus back on you. Rather than getting tense, punishing the horse, or panicking, you should instead sit up tall and take a deep, relaxing breath. When you feel you have your horse’s attention back, you can then carry on with your ride. The most important factors to remember while deescalating a trail ride situation are paying close attention to your surroundings and having patience with your horse.
I’ve been around horses my entire life, but my Friesian journey started just over 20 years ago. Our horses have always been a part of our family. They have traveled with us as we relocated from Vermont to New York to Iowa and finally, to Arizona. I can’t wait to share our story with you!
Oct 20, 2021
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