I have a mare that has a lot more go than anything else. After riding for 30 or so minutes, she calms down some, but is still a fast walker. When going through trails, she doesn’t slow down to take the time to take the best path. I don’t like pulling on her much when going down muddy and slick trails. I’m worried that she is going to injure her legs. Should I put her in boots or what should I do? If so, what would you suggest?
~ Thanks Jordan
There are a couple of things you can do to prepare your horse to be out on the trails. To help set you and your horse up for success, here are some exercises that you can practice at home before setting out.
When I ride my horse, I want to have the ability to set the speed and have them maintain that. This then become their responsibility rather than me having to constantly micromanage them. Just like you would if you asked them to trot, you would want them to maintain that until you asked different. Work on transitioning from a slow walk, to a fast walk, to a slow trot, to a fast trot, and back again. Let your horse make a mistake, before you correct them, and use your seat and legs before using the reins. If you are clear and precise in your movements, and have good timing of your release, eventually, with enough practice, you will be able to transition up and down in speed without ever having to touch the reins.
To help your mare pay more attention to her feet, you can work her over ground poles or around other safe obstacles. This will allow her to focus more on the path she is taking, but in a safe environment.
I often hear questions from people concerned with pulling on their horse, and this is a valid concern, as it can make them dull to the pressure. Practice softening your horse; the more you practice this and the softer your horse becomes, the more your horse will soften and come into your hand when you pick up on the reins, rather than feeling like a tug-of-war. If you have never worked on softening, start with side-to-side lateral flexions. It is important to note that softening comes from the body too; you should use 50% leg and 50% rein when you ask your horse. And most importantly, make sure to release all pressure when your horse gives. Think “I take, they give, I give”. If they don’t want to give, don’t add more pressure, just wait on them, maintain the pressure, allow them to search for the right answer; and as soon as they soften, release ALL of the pressure, so that they can learn that they found it. Remember, horses learn from the release of pressure.
-Steve Rother Horsemanship
Steve Rother has travelled across the country over the span of multiple decades building his knowledge of horses and finding ways to impart that wisdom to the hundreds of people who look to him for guidance each year. He helps both horse and rider build their confidence together. The methods he uses and teaches work for all breeds, within all disciplines, and he is dedicated to helping every rider, no matter their level of experience, get the partnership that they truly want with their horse.
To learn more, go to HorseTeacher.com or follow him on Facebook at Steve Rother Horsemanship. Join Horse Teacher University for unlimited access to over 120 of his training videos or become a part of the free Excel With Horses Community