I have been struggling lately with how to think about Boomer's behavior on the trails. I can't say that he isn't cutout to be a trail horse as he doesn't balk on trails away from home, he crosses water, logs, mud, etc with no issues. However, he balks/spins/rears at home occasionally. And when he does that, he ruins my ride. When he is good, he is wonderful. When he is bad, he scares me. To be honest, I have thought about selling him even thought I never would. I have really started to bond with him and he does amazingly well in the arena. He constantly improves in his arena work. When he does behave on the trails, I love to ride him. I know that with work, he can improve. Nothing with him has ever been fast or easy. In so many aspects, he is just the horse I want and need. But this balking BS has really got me worried.
He was pretty bad on a ride last week. I had to get off a few times to get him under control. However, we did finish the ride on my terms and we did NOT go back to the barn the way we had come, which was what he wanted.
After that ride, I stuck to the arena for the next few rides and was amazed with his progress. His cantering is coming along so well and he is also doing really well with side passing. He seems to be learning a little about collecting himself, especially at the trot and he is starting to carry his head lower and not trot around with his head up and nose out. I am very proud of his progress.
I had made plans for today to go on a trail ride with a friend. She knew that we were needing to take it slow and just go with what Boomer's behavior dictated. We decided to go all around the property but not out to the roads. He was great. He was on a loose rein the whole time and was really great. He wasn't spooky or fast, he just walked along like a hero. However, once when we headed up in the direction of the road, he started to balk. I easily got him to move forward with gentle urging and a quick prick from the spurs I had worn today (for the first time). There are a number of paths back to the barn and we decided to take the one closes to the road so that he would think we were going towards the road, but would be rewarded by turning off to go to the rest of the trails. As predicted, he balked and popped up in front, but was pretty easy to get going. I would say that last week his temper tantrum was an 8 out of 10 and today was a 2 out of 10. Overall, a HUGE improvement! I actually really enjoyed our ride and I was able to relax out on the trails, which is really all I want to do!
My new goal is to try to give the horse as many positive experiences as possible with out putting him in a situation where he may want to fight. Call it avoiding the problem, whatever. It is a temporary goal. I want to build a foundation of pleasure on the trails. As he increases his confidence, we will try the roads again. Really his main problems have stemmed from the road. He did have issues leaving the barn, but those were quickly resolved once I worked with him and kept to the grassy property. His bad behavior picked back up after John and I ran on the roads for 8 miles. I am wondering if his feet hurt him on the roads. Not enough to lame him, but enough for him to resist going. Solution for that will be to make sure he has hoof boots on when we make plans to go on the road again. For now, I plan on just building his confidence out around the property. Really, with everything going on in my life, I just don't have the energy to do anymore with him.
The take away message is that Boomer was awesome today. He is really improving on his arena work. He is a really good little horse all around. I have no plans on trading him in for a more sane horse. I do plan on continuing to work with him at a very slow pace. I hope that one year from now I can ride him out anywhere without an argument.