Last fall, I made a plan to supplement Nautica’s “normal horse” education by introducing him to real, wooded outdoor riding. Unfortunately, I got injured and had to stay off of him during October and into the prime fall riding months, when it then became too wet to ride out anyway. I was supposed to have surgery in March to fix my arm, but with the current quarantine situation, all elective surgeries have been halted. What at first seemed like an inconvenient turn of events gave Nautica and me the time to slow down and just work on this whole “normal horse” thing.
Last year, we spent our first six months working on making Nautica a calm and cool citizen in the arena before we ever even thought about dressage work. The next logical step in improving Nautica’s well-roundedness is to test his skills in the great outdoors. Now that it’s spring, we’ve had a few sunny days where we’ve been able to ride out after our dressage schools and lessons. I trade out his snaffle for a hackamore, slap on a fly net and off we go! Of course, Nautica thought the idea of being a trail horse was absolutely horrifying at first, so I’ve attempted to make it a more enjoyable experience through bribery.
Nautica’s love for food greatly outweighs his fear of nature, so I’ve created a little mental exercise program for him. Each ride, we go out as far as Nautica can without jigging or stoping, then I hop off and let him munch on some fresh, spring grass. We’ve been working with this method for two weeks at about two or three rides a week and already it seems to be working. Nautica has now made it all the way to the back edge of the property, past the back pastures and right up to the start of the woods where the trails start. This is huge progress for a horse who previously would have jigged and snorted at leaving sight of the barn and would bolt at the sound of leaves crunching under his own feet. Even last year, Nautica probably could’ve done some light trail riding but it would’ve been a tense and uncomfortable activity for everyone involved. Our focus now is to make riding in nature a low-key, at-the-buckle and enjoyable activity. Just like how relaxation and softness are our biggest focus in dressage, the same goes for trail riding.
So “trail riding” has been our fun quarantine activity. I can’t complain. I’m very lucky that my barn has access to hundreds of acres of trails and open riding spaces as well as a great group of people who are always ready to trail ride. I’m hoping by fall, Nautica will be ready to go in a group and utilize the beautiful scenery our farm has to offer!