Fall is the ideal trail
riding season here in Colorado - crisp days, beautiful foliage, flies waning and
frisky horses. Coupled with a good trail riding buddy, it doesn't get much better
than that! This past week, Richard and I have been introducing two of our green
horses to trail work. After a brief warm up in the arena, we head out to the pastures
and foothills to see what we need to do. Two lessons our horses are currently
learning are working a gate and crossing water, so I thought you might like to
read a bit on those subjects for your trail riding.
A friend invites you to bring your horse out to her farm or ranch for a ride in
the woods. This is the third time she's asked and in spite of the fact you really
want to go, you're already hunting for another invented excuse of why you can't
go. What's the real reason you keep declining the invitation? The dreaded creek
crossing! If you use a step-by-step procedure to prepare both you and your horse
for the water obstacle, it will give you the confidence you need to cross the
creek. The program starts on the ground and then progresses to mounted work.
To be successful, be sure that the water crossing has safe footing, is not dangerously
mucky, and is at least ten feet wide. Horses tend to jump over narrow crossings
to avoid touching the water and can create a difficult habit for you to change.
Your goal is to have your horse walk calmly and slowly through the water and stop
in the middle if you ask. At first, look for shallow, quiet streams. After you
have mastered this basic lesson, you can challenge your horse with deeper waters.
Your horse should have good basic training so you can guide him across
the water. During in-hand work, he must move forward in response to your body
language or an in-hand whip and he must stop relatively square and stand still
when asked. When ridden, he must be responsive to your legs so that he will go
forward and straight, he must not bolt on a long rein, he must stop when asked,
and stand relatively still when required. If your horse has this basic training,
you should be able to cross the creek with no problem if you follow this procedure.
Here's how I do it.
1. To prepare a horse mentally and physically, I review
in-hand work over unusual but safe surfaces such as concrete, plywood, and a tarp
or plastic sheet. If necessary you can place the sheet alongside the arena rail
so that the rail helps you keep your horse traveling straight. I work the horse
from both sides. I often work with an in-hand whip that is about 52 inches so,
if necessary, I can use it to keep her moving forward and to keep her hindquarters
from swinging off the straight line. I allow and encourage a horse to look down
at what he will be stepping on or in but I keep the horse from rushing or bolting.
Rushing indicates fear and uncertainty and once a horse starts rushing, it adds
to his fear. I take the horse slowly across the obstacle as many times as is necessary
to establish a calm routine.
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Working a gate smoothly and safely from the
ground and from a horse's back is not only handy, but it can be the basis for
introducing and using a good number of individual maneuvers. If you have a plan
in mind before you approach a gate, things will go more easily. Before you try
to ride a horse though a gate, be sure he has good manners as you lead him through
a gate from the ground.
Especially with a young or inexperienced horse, it is best to begin the
in-hand gate lesson with a halter and lead rope. Once the horse works the gate
well with a halter, repeat the lesson using a bridle. When using the bridle, instead
of grabbing both reins together and treating them collectively as a lead rope,
separate the reins with your fingers and use them in a way that does not give
the horse conflicting signals. At all times during ground work it is advisable
to carry a dressage whip in the hand farthest from the horse (the left hand if
leading from the near side).
The simplest gate configuration to work from
the ground is a gate (when you are facing it) which swings away from you, hinges
on the left, and latches on the right. With such a gate, you lead the horse from
his near side up to the latch, halt, open the gate as you walk the horse forward
until his hindquarters have cleared the latch post. Then halt.
will be some variation depending on your horse's level of training. You will be
asking your horse to perform a 180 degree turn on the forehand around the left
front leg with the hindquarters moving to the right. Ideally, you remain facing
forward and continue holding onto the latch with your left hand. Tip his nose
toward you and cue him on the left rib cage with the whip you are holding in your
left hand. This will make him move his hindquarters to the right while rotating
around his left front leg.
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