Safety on Maiden Rides, Part 2

Learn horse-training tips that will help you handle spooky situations with your young horse on the trails.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

In Part 1 of this series, trainer Teres Vining reviewed the basic training that she puts on her young horses before heading for the hills. In this second of three parts, learn how she turns spooky situations into learning opportunities for her young horses.

Canine Comforts

Teres’ Border Collie, Brella, is a very important part of her training program and is an assistant trainer, in a sense.

The horses become accustomed to having Brella around when they’re working in the round behind. She’s like good company for the colts. They’re not worried when she goes along on those rides out.

“A lot of colts don’t know how to follow a trail because they’ve never been out of the pen,” Teres says. “If the dog goes up the hill ahead of the colt, it gives him a focal point. It gives a colt confidence. I can get the dog to stay behind me if I want, but I like her to be traipsing around. I’m always aware of where she is.”

She stresses that this is extremely important for staying safe.

Before hitting the trails with a young horse, make sure you are prepared. Download AQHA’s FREE Trail Ride Safety Tips report so you don’t forget anything important.

“You always need to be aware of what’s around you.” For example, Teres doesn’t concentrate on a colt so much that she’ll be startled if the dog comes “flying out of the brush.” And, that’s something Brella does often.

“She runs around in the brush and chases birds,” Teres says. “I let her do it. Pretty soon, a colt learns that whenever he hears a scary noise in the brush, the little dog is going to appear. That’s his buddy, so soon he learns not to be scared. I can let her teach these colts a lot about what’s going on in the bush.”

Goosed by the Brush

Sometimes, in tall brush, a colt will react when he feels it poking his body. His instinct is to get away from it. But he doesn’t need to leave the country, Teres says. He just needs to have his confidence built and might have to be reminded that he needs to pay more attention to his rider than to the brush.

“If it’s brush that scares a colt, I might turn him in circle and let his butt hit that brush, then I’ll ride off a little bit. Then, I’ll turn him in a different circle and let the brush hit him again,” she explains.

She might also give the colt a reminder about paying attention, by bringing his head around toward her knee.

“I won’t release him until his hip moves out of the way and he comes around with the front leg (on the same side he is being pulled). To come around, he has to pick up that inside shoulder.” Teres says the focus becomes the bodywork and not whatever bothered the colt.

“I’m teaching him that even out here, I can control his face and body,” she says.

“Then, every time I pick up on that rein, he’ll just soften up and pick up his shoulder and move his hip. It becomes natural.” The touch of the brush that first bothered him is no longer on his mind. Pretty soon, she can ride him through it without a problem.

Was That a Bear I Saw?

Teres will tell you that the Pacific Northwest is a paradise for people who love to look at wildlife. But for colts learning about the great outdoors, it can be pretty spooky. And, if a rider is going to stay safe when something appears out of nowhere, the phrase “think fast” applies.

With some of the colts she has started, Teres says, “The first time I’ve ever ridden them out, we’ve run into a mama bear and two cubs.” This has happened several times, as the trio lives on the top of the mountain behind Teres’ house. “We’ve also run into elk, deer and wild turkeys flying up. As soon as I get across the pasture and hit that brush, I never know what’s there.”

Does Teres’ heart sink clear to her boot soles when this happens? “No,” she says firmly. “I don’t have time to be nervous.” Right away, she explains, she distracts the startled colt’s attention and turns this into a learning situation. She never lets the situation put her - or the colt - in danger.

“I’ve had them turn around and try to run toward the barn,” she says. “Even though I need to regain control, I still need to carry on, like maybe smoothing out that situation into loping a circle.” She never tries to force a colt up to something he has just spooked at. “That will just make it worse for him,” she says.

Ready to hit the trails? Download AQHA’s FREE Trail Ride Safety Tips report to make sure you are prepared for a ride out of the ring.

She might work the colt in circles, ask him to pick up a shoulder, or stop the colt, turn him, then back him up. But, she says, “I don’t push him into it. Pretty soon, he’ll just work himself closer and closer.” If he finally relaxes without ever looking right at it, she can turn him one way or the other and just quietly ride away.

“I just turn it into a situation where the colt never knows what happened - like I meant for it to happen. I continue on with the motion until he smooths out. I want to keep a rhythm to everything.” She says it’s important that the colt gets his confidence back and is listening, thinking and softening up in the face.

The potentially scary situation has then been transformed into a learning experience.

“It was about using his body, paying attention to me, staying soft in the face and not being scared of things.” She pauses, adding the big plus: “It was also about building courage.” That’s an important factor in her training program. She wants these colts to become confident and brave.

Return to America’s Horse Daily next week, when the “Maiden Rides” series concludes with tips on handling colts who are too eager to head back to the barn.

AQHA Member Benefit Spotlight

AQHA Members have the opportunity to enjoy the AQHA Horseback Riding Program and earn rewards for the riding they do. Become a member today and start logging your rides.