This summer I’ve been working quite a bit with a young horse at the rescue named Blossom. We went slowly last summer when we started Blossom with her training for riding, giving her time to learn to be relaxed and confident while being ridden. Too many trainers rush at the beginning when riding young horses and then the horses end up with holes in their foundation training and problems later on.
We’ve been doing lots more riding with Blossom this summer and she has been doing awesome! Blossom has been going for lots of rides off of the property this summer. Several of the streets near the rescue loop back onto the main street, which means they are great for riding because they have very little traffic.
Riding out, all alone
Just recently, Blossom and I have started going on solo rides. This is a big step for a young horse! Many horses enjoy going on trail rides with their buddies, but HATE leaving the barn alone. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to hear about trail riders spending the whole ride fighting with their horse. This isn’t fun for horse or rider!
I want Blossom to be relaxed and happy when we ride out alone. At the beginning, I worked on building her confidence by going out alone on short rides. And by short rides, I mean short rides!
When training any behavior, find a starting point where the animal can be successful and then build from there. Since Blossom was fine riding in the front yard, we started by riding just one house down the road.. Then we would come back home and eat some grass in the front yard. Then, we’d pick a different direction and go out again. Since we’re at an intersection, we had four different ways to go.
Blossom might have been very concerned if we started with long solo rides. However, since we were not ever going very far, these one-house rides were no big deal for Blossom. Over the next few days, we built up the distance, going down the street to the third house, then the fifth house, and so on, until we made it to the end of the block. And, by that point, riding to the end of the block was no big deal.
Wednesdays are recycling day!
I want Blossom to be brave when we encounter new things and “scary things” on our rides. Wednesdays are recycling day. So, last Wednesday morning when we went out riding, in front of almost every house was a blue recycling bin full of stuff that looked, smelled, and sounded weird. Plenty of different things that should be scary to a young horse!
So, Blossom and I played approach the blue box and touch it (or its contents) with your nose. She caught on really fast and thought this was great fun. Every time we found a house with a blue recycling box, she’d approach it and touch it. I would then click and give her a treat. (What is clicker training?) Pretty soon I had a brave little horse marching down the road in search of the next blue recycling bin.
Targeting the blue bins helped turn potentially scary objects into fun objects. In the set of photos above, you can see Blossom approaching one of the recycling bins, getting closer, and then touching it with her nose.
Later on, she attempted to modify the rules and found a few mail boxes and even a fire hydrant to include in the game. She received some clicks and treats for those as well. I want Blossom to be brave and curious when riding out alone, even when going new places or passing by strange sights. I think we are well on our way toward achieving this goal!
Note: When riding out alone, please always tell someone where you are going and when you should be back, wear your riding helmet, and take a cell phone! These seemingly simple steps could save your life.
Here’s one last picture! This was a set of two mailboxes. Blossom was a bit confused at first, she couldn’t figure out if she should just touch one of them or both of them. But, she picked the one on the right and I was able to snap a quick picture.