Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Take the Lead (Mimi part 4)

Mimi, the opinionated walking horse, has made some incremental progress lately.  She has impeccable ground manners and rides well in the arena.  She also does well with a group on the trail.  Problems arise when she needs to be ridden off the farm alone.  Once she realizes she’s about to leave, she will balk and attempt to turn back.  If allowed to, she would also buck and rear.  I’ve pushed many a horse through that problem, but Mimi chooses not to make her play until we are entering the paved public road.  I’ve been trying to find a way to solve the problem without having a fight in the middle of traffic. 

On a recent Sunday, several folks gathered at the barn.  The winter had been mild so far, and everyone was up for a good trail ride.  I had been debating different tactics to get past her problem without putting the horse, myself and drivers in danger.  I had thought of putting a couple of folks out to block traffic while I got her started.  But once we were saddled and ready, the boss said “Why don’t you just take the lead and let’s see what happens.”

We started out, and the boss held everyone else back about 50 yards.  Mimi went out into the road with no hesitation.  And just as she had on other rides, she paid no attention to cars, trucks and motorcycles passing us by.  Once off the road and into the trail, the group stayed back 100 yards or more.  They say they caught glimpses of me from time to time, but I didn’t see them until we all got back to the farm. 

Mimi and I forged ahead, sometimes walking, other times at an easy amble.  We met several other people out enjoying the trail.  There were hikers, dog walkers, and cyclists.  As usual, Mimi shared the trail with them without any fuss.  At the creek crossing, she picked her way across calmly and confidently. 

There are several places where the trail comes near the paved road.  At each one, I took Mimi out onto the pavement for a short distance.  She never flinched.  This convinced me that it is not the road she is bothered by.  Rather, it is leaving the farm and her pasture mates that has her overly concerned.  And that is what we will continue to work on. 

Mimi standing ground tied at the barn

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Looking for Trouble (Mimi, part 3)

We’ve had a couple of good rides since Mimi, the opinionated walking horse and I had our little fight at the end of the driveway.  Her basic problem I believe, is that she doesn’t want to go off the farm alone.  The only route off of the farm is the paved public road leading to the trail system in the nearby state park.  Fighting with a balky horse on pavement and in traffic is never a good idea.  I had to devise another way to solve her problem.

It’s not good to work in a vacuum.  Discussing training problems with other folks is always a good idea.  I’ve been doing just that via the internet at site called .  The best advice I got was to set the horse up for a balk in a safer place and work it out there.  That is a bit problematic since the farm has only one way off the property, but I had some ideas. 

The perimeter trail around the property runs past a wooded area.  It also has a boggy place in it that bothers some of the horses.  So, on a recent sunny afternoon, Mimi and I saddled up to see what would happen.  The idea was to set her up for a balk in a safe area, then spank her backside sharply to keep her going forward.  In the barn area, Mimi was her usual well behaved self.  We walked down the long driveway, and before she had the chance to tense up at the road, I turned her onto the perimeter trail.  The front part of the trail is dry and fairly open.  The part we had started on bordered the pasture she is kept in.  Mimi walked out calmly and confidently.  The woods begin to close in on the back corner.  I could feel Mimi getting worried, but she continued to move forward.  The trail on the backside is a bit muddy and the tree branches overhang it in places. Mimi showed her agitation by getting a bit prancy but I insisted on a walk.  The deeper we got into it, the more she showed signs that she wanted to turn back.  Still it was a simple thing to keep her moving forward.  When she was walking calmly, we turned around and went back through it.  When we got to the front, Mimi made a halfhearted attempt to dodge back down the driveway, but we pushed past that easily.  The front section of the trail parallels the public road, but we had already dealt with that.  Around the corner, the bog awaited.

The farm property drains to this wooded area.  I think there is a seep spring here as well.  The place stays damp, even in dry weather.  But we’ve had a wet winter, with several heavy rains.  The bog is knee deep to a horse in places.  We approached it at a walk.  Mimi hesitated slightly but she stayed on track.  Once we were into it, I took a chance and gave Mimi her head.  She put her nose to the ground and picked her way through like a veteran trail horse.  We continued around, through the wooded back side and past the driveway.  Then, we turned around and made a complete lap in the other direction.  She stayed a bit nervous on the back side, but never offered to balk.  I took her back and forth in front of the driveway to reinforce that we only go home when I’m ready.  Then, instead of turning directly into the drive, we made a little half cloverleaf turn at the top and went back to the barn. 

While Mimi is proving that she will make a good trail horse, we were not successful in setting things up to correct the one flaw we’ve found in her.  We’ll have to get a bit more creative next time.