Riding Well Grounded – One Step at a Time on the Trail

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by Marilyn Pineda


October 2014
My mare Gemma, cautiously in the lead and gaining confidence with every step. Photo courtesy Marilyn Pineda

I love the picture included with this month’s trail training article. I took it from the back of my mare on a recent trail ride with friends. Why is it a big deal? There are no horses in front of us! Let me explain.

My mare’s happy place is somewhere in the middle of a lineup of a minimum of three horses. I think she figures in that position she won’t be the first one attacked if there is a bear in front of us and she won’t suffer the consequences of being easy pickings for that cougar that might come up from behind. Whenever we are in the woods, my mare throws on what I like to call her “fear factor” coat. Consequently, we have been working with her on developing more trail confidence. I say we because this kind of work can only be accomplished if one’s riding buddies are willing to offer up a bit of their time.

Recently I went for a day ride with a couple of friends in the Harry Osborne Trail System near Lyman, WA. It is a beautiful wooded area on the side of local foothills and the sun shone down, making us feel glorious. It was quite warm so we were thankful for the comfort of the shady forested areas. My mare, however, was none too happy about all the strange tree shadows being cast upon the trail. After riding a long enough time for my mare to develop a feeling of comfort with the other two horses, I asked for the opportunity to take the leading position in our procession. Much to Gemma’s dismay, my companions said yes.

It took about five minutes of consistent loose rein persuasion before Gemma finally stood at the front of the line with all four feet in the trail, facing forward. At first I asked her to simply stand. Not lead, just stand quietly. I would add that I was able to work with her this way because we were on a section of trail that had a good amount of ground on each side. This is important because “fancy” moves, such as side passing off into the brush, did not create any safety hazards for anyone.

Once in the trail facing forward, it took another five or six minutes to get my mare moving forward into what she seemed to think were monstrous shadows. We quite literally moved forward, one step at a time. The conversation went like this: “Step. Good girl. Step. Good girl. Step . . .”

It took 20 to 25 steps, all one at a time, before Gemma finally realized I was not going to allow her to quit and return to her place of comfort in the middle of the group. Finally, very cautiously, she took the initiative to walk forward on her own and away we went. Later in the day we had to go through this process again, but it didn’t last as long as the first time and Gemma spent the rest of the ride in the front, cautiously leading the way, on a loose rein to encourage forward motion.

Having the invaluable tool of working a horse one step at a time, practiced during ground training at home, along with patient riding partners so we could practice on the trail afforded an opportunity to gain a new level of confidence as a team. I am looking forward to more growth here in our next wooded trail riding adventure. Just another step along the path of Riding Well Grounded!

TRAINING TIP: Keep the reins loose if you want your horse to move forward. Use the reins one at a time to keep the nose pointed in your chosen direction and use gentle yet firm leg cues to ask your horse to move forward, even if the horse happens to be backing up!


Originally Published October 2014

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