Q:My 14-year-old Quarter Horse gelding performs well on trail rides when we ride with up to eight others. He's also fine with our Paint Horse when we work both in our arena. But last fall, I loaned my gelding to a friend for a ride of about 60 riders. My gelding was tied to the trailer all night. About 10 minutes into the ride, he reared, kicked, and spun out of control. Now, I'm nervous about taking him on group rides. I'm an advanced beginner. What should I do?
Diana Capo via e-mail
A: Diana, it seems that your gelding had a problem only with your friend, not you. It isn't wise to loan your gelding to others. He has bonded with you, trusts you, and listens to your cues.
It appears that your friend introduced your gelding to a completely new, upsetting experience for which your gelding was completely unprepared. First, your gelding was tied to a trailer all night. Then, with no warm-up or ground work, he was asked to join a large, boisterous crowd of people and horses. The situation sounds very unsafe to me.
To help both you and your gelding adjust to group rides, follow these preparatory guidelines. (Note: As you work with your horse, always put safety first. If you need help, ask a qualified trainer or certified riding instructor for assistance.)
• Never lend out your horse. Your gelding should be ridden only by people who've bonded with him and who are at your horsemanship level or above. It takes time and work to truly bond with a horse, so this likely means that you shouldn't allow anyone else to ride your gelding, especially on group rides.
• Assess arena safety. Before you ride in a public arena, assess it for safety. Observe the other riders; are they riding safely and responsibly, following arena etiquette? Make sure there's good footing and a safe fence or wall.
• Assess new trails. Assess new trails on foot, as much as possible. Introduce your horse to new trails slowly and with an abundance of self-confidence. Be the trusted herd leader.
• Ride with responsible people. Ride only with those who truly understand safety on the trail and elsewhere. Ride on a regular basis with two to three trusted, responsible friends. Then gradually add more safe, responsible riders to help your gelding slowly adjust to large groups.
• Go on short rides. As you add riders, begin with short rides. If your gelding seems nervous, go back to riding with the number of riders with which he's comfortable. After a few short rides, slowly increase group size once again. This may take quite some time or it may not. Be patient with your gelding and yourself.
• Lengthen the rides. When your gelding seems to be comfortable being ridden in larger groups, gradually lengthen your ride time. Watch for signs of nervousness. Ask him to accept only what he can handle while staying relaxed.
• Practice trailering. You'll likely trailer to large group rides, so accustom your gelding to trailer loading at home. Take him on short trips, then longer ones.
• Invest in a portable stall. Invest in a safe, portable stall to contain your horse on the road, so he'll be relaxed and comfortable. Provide plenty of fresh hay and fresh, clean water.
• Consider hobbling. To prepare for those times when you can't use a portable stall, train your gelding to handle hobbles. On the road, hobble him in a safe, grassy area with access to water. Keep him close by, and check on him from time to time.
• Warm up. Warm up your gelding in a safe, level area before every trail ride. Perform ground work, if necessary. (Don't be self-conscious doing ground work in front of strangers.) Stop, back up, and flex your horse laterally and vertically. Do the same thing under saddle, and add gait changes.