Steady Trotting Home
The trails by our barn do not form any sort of loop. Basically, we ride out to our desired distance, turn around and come back. There are a few tiny loops, but they join the main trail, so the horses get that definite feeling that they are headed home.
Most horses will travel faster on the way home than on the way out—that is a given. Horses like to be home where their friends are. This doesn’t happen if we are riding Cruiser and Ranger together. They seem to feel that they are the herd and there is nothing to rush home to. By themselves, though, they step up the pace, too.
A faster gait on the way home if fine, but it must be a steady and controllable gait. It was time to teach Cole this lesson.
We have practiced trotting towards home with Ranger, and Cole seems happy to follow along at the speed of Range. It taught him a lot. Now, it was time to work on doing it alone.
As of writing this, we have gone on 3 long rides as described above. We did do some trotting towards home for short stretches with mixed results. On the third ride, we went further than ever. I didn’t want to do a lot of walking back because it would have taken forever. It was time to work on long stretches of trotting back to the herd.
Shortly after turning around to go towards home, I asked him to trot. He went very, very fast. After about ten seconds with no slowing, regardless of what I did, I decided it was time to start all over. Cole reluctantly stopped when I asked him to. We walked a bit, and then I asked him to trot. This time, he went even faster, and before I knew it, we were cantering—and he didn’t want to stop. I had to do the old “swerve to the left—swerve to the right” a few times to slow him down. Once he got to the trot, I turned him around a tree until he was going away from home, and we walked a little bit. It was clear that I had to come up with a plan.
We were heading back towards home, and I asked him for a trot. A few strides later, before he could gain speed, I said “whoa” and clicked for the stop. We did that a few more times. Each time, he was more cooperative about stopping. I got his attention.
My next step was to allow him to trot, and this time click him for slowing down when I asked him. We did this 4-5 times—I don’t remember how many times—and each time, he improved, but I noticed that he didn’t stop right away to get his treat. He kind of just coasted down to a walk.
The flash bulb went off. I didn’t need clicker, now. What Cole really wanted was to keep trotting. I would use that as my reward. I asked him to trot, and of course, he rushed off, again. I asked him to slow down, and when he did, I eased up on the reins, told him how good he was and let him just continue to trot at that nice speed. If he didn’t slow down, I would stop him and try it, again. (This actually didn’t happen, but it was part of the plan.) He made the connection. I didn’t have any more troubles with him the rest of the way home. When he sped up more than I wanted him, I asked him to slow, he did and then we just went on our merry way.
We did a fair amount of transitions, threw in some walk breaks and smiled all the while. We walked the last half hour except for one section of trail that was fairly close to home. I wanted to test him. We were close enough that Cruiser and Ranger will sometimes give us trouble if we trot there. We trotted 3 separate trots on that trail. The first two were perfect, but the last one, he didn’t respond to my slow down requests. He still stopped, though, when I asked him.
Overall, I think it was an excellent training session. The active training part didn’t take much more than 5 minutes. The rest was easy. Clicker helped, but figuring out that sometimes there are things that are more important than carrots helped, too. Clicker merely explained to him what I wanted.
It was a two and a half hour ride, with nearly an hour and a half of trotting. The weather was perfect and my horse just keeps getting better and better. I sure wish winter wasn’t right around the corner…