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Arena horse and rider have fear when riding out on trails.

I have been riding for eight years now, and I am 16 years old. I have been on a lot of horses; slow ones, fast ones, stupid ones; but this is different. I have had my second horse, Denali, (9 y/o quarter horse/saddlebred gelding) for a year now. I bought him as an eventer horse, dressage, jumping, cross-country, you know.

One day, I brought him out for a trail ride (1st mistake). I was going with quite a few older, lots more experienced horses than he. My second mistake was when we opened the arena door to the 'outside world', he started getting really antsy. I did a few circles to get him back under control, and went out with my friends. The first few minutes went okay, but when it came to the hill, it all went wrong. On the property I board at, there is a huge 50-degree incline (at least) hill. As soon as the other horses started trotting up the hill, he took off after them, and then started bucking. The bucks where so large I flew onto his neck and stayed there for a while until toppling off his side and rolling down the hill. I got back on about two minutes later in the indoor arena and rode him. He seemed fine, but I couldn't walk for a week.

Ever since then, when I go one trail rides, it's always on another horse (and I even have a fear then as well), and I haven't been able to walk him outside the arena since then. And when my riding instructor told me one day to drop the reins at the canter, I was terrified and have NEVER been so scared in my ENTIRE LIFE. I was literally shaking with fear. It also is not just the bucking, he spooks a lot. I am always quick to reprimand him and NEVER has anyone said I looked scared, but I can't get over this feeling.

Please, I would like to ride my horse out again. But I'm scared and I just don't know what to do. Is this unnatural or should I just stay with him? I really haven't a clue. Thank you for your time.


Hi Anna,

You are not alone in your situation. So many wonderful arena horses (school, lesson, dressage and jumpers, etc.) do not have a clue as to the world outside the arena. Problems like yours occur when the owners try to take a horse into the world outside their comfort zone without properly educating or acclimating the horse to this new and scary environment.

First off I don't ride a horse without doing some real fun and active ground play with him. Round pen play and/or appropriate movement at the end of a lunge-line are a basic requirement for your relationship with your horse to be strong and for you to have the horse's trust (most important). You should be building your connection with your horse on the ground first. If your horse really trusts you, it will be a lot easier to introduce the horse to new and possibly scary situations. Without a real bond of trust, your horse has no leader around, he will fend for himself and not listen to you and that will certainly work against you. Doing a lot of ground play with your horse will help you get over some of your fear and gain confidence as his leader. It will help your riding immensely as well. Your riding instructor should be teaching you about horses as well as how to ride them (if she knows anything about horses which some riding instructors don't but won't admit it, and some do). You do not mention anything about ground play in your email, so I think perhaps it may be missing in your horse program.

There is nothing unnatural about your horse's, or your, fear.

Fear is a natural response to something perceived as dangerous. It should be a gradual process to get your horse used to going out on trails and hills, etc. It takes a bit of time for a human or a horse to get accustomed to something new. It is also normal for a horse to forge forward and want to run up hills. If even a few horses got ahead of your horse it will make your horse feel left behind and want to run and buck up the hill. What I do to get a horse used to new environments and trails is to either ride out with one or two experienced horses and riders or to 'pony' the inexperienced horse from an experienced and confident horse into the new area. I might do this several times before I ride with a group in the new area. Obstacles like hills, water crossings, logs, bogs or whatever are introduced to the horse without the pressure of other horses and riders who want to keep moving ahead and not take the time I may need to get the horse used to new things. I will make an agreement with another experienced rider that I am taking a horse into a new environment and would they hang with me while I introduce the new things to my horse. None of this was done in your case and that has really worked against you.

These things I am suggesting are commonsense procedures to introduce horses to trails and new things that are strange and different to them. The way to insure a successful and wonderful outcome for all situations with your horse is to, first and foremost, develop the highest relationship of trust with your horse that you can thru a lot of appropriate and fun ground activity. Secondly, give any potentially new situation a lot of thought before riding into it. Don't just 'wing it' and 'go for it' with your horse. That will work against you. Use one of the procedures I have suggested. Introducing new things and areas to your horse is something that you need to be able to do. But do it thoughtfully and set up the situation so everyone continues to feel safe. Move slowly and with real intention and aforethought. There is nothing wrong with you or your horse. You just did not think the situation through before you got into it. There is nothing particularly difficult about anything I have said. You can do it. Good luck and keep me posted.

Sincerely, Franklin

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