Took Dandy on the trail Wednesday. Before that, he's had lots more ground work, and a little more saddle time. It's been too wet and slippery to try pushing him into a trot. But, I've been anxious to see what the foxtrot is like. We worked on his "walk and whoa" some more, and rode around the farm exploring his new surroundings. He has startled at some new things, but never spooked. After his initial reaction, his curiosity gets the best of him, and it's easy to coax him toward whatever it is. By Wednesday afternoon, the ground had dried, and the weather was beautiful. About a dozen folks gathered at the farm to ride the local trails. We put Dandy into the trailer with the rest and headed out.
He was a little more excitable than usual at the trailhead. But, there was a lot more going on than he has been accustomed to. As usual though, it was a simple thing to settle him down. He stood calmly while I mounted, with other horses and riders milling about. We even caught up a loose horse like he had been doing it all his life. Most of the others were on Walking Horses, and they rode out at a brisk pace. Once everyone was lined out, and we had room to work, I gave the command "trot", and kept the leg pressure longer than normal. Dandy first instinct was to follow the herd and he moved out at a stiff trot. I pulled him in a little, and he fought the bit briefly. But, it wasn't long before he settled into the gait his breed is famous for. I can only describe it as halfway between a good Walking Horse rack, and an easy western pleasure jog. Unlike the Walking Horses, he worked on a loose rein, which I am much more comfortable with in a trail horse. Dandys' youth and inexperience told on him though. He doesn't yet have the endurance to hold his foxtrot for any length of time. I tried to anticipate when he would run out of steam, and give the verbal command "walk" just before he slowed down. This, just to reinforce an association of commands with gait changes.
We crossed three wooden bridges successfully. The first, he tried to avoid. His owner rode up on another horse, and spoke to Dandy. We rode across together, with Dandy stepping gingerly. The second, I gave him his head, and he stepped across willingly, although he kept his head down, investigating the flooring all the way. The third had guardrails, and he hesitated, but crossed it easily as well.
I found out that he has a competitive personality. He doesn't like to be passed on the trail. He's not aggressive, he just moves over and hogs the trail. I had to stay after him to keep to one side while folks went past us. We rode about 8 miles, and worked up a good honest sweat. After 4 miles, he decided he did not need to keep up with the herd after all. We walked the rest of the way.
Thursday, I gave him a good liniment rubdown, and worked on ground hitching. I was only able to spend about an hour with him. By the end of that time, he would stay in place for just under a minute while I gradually moved away from him. Smart horse. He catches on really fast.