Trail riding is definitely a training tattle-tale.
Just because your horse is as good as gold in the controlled environment of an arena does not necessarily mean your training is sticking and making the impression it should be.
Yes, Gabe has been absolutely wonderful in the arena, a nice, mostly-controlled environment where I can keep his attention mostly on me most of the time.
But take him out into a completely uncontrolled environment where anything can happen at any time and his attention often wanders from me and some pretty big training issues are revealed rather obviously.
A friend came over to go riding with me Sunday so all three horses got to go out. We were out for a couple of hours, the wind was HIGH, the air chilly, leaves flying all over the place and all the horses on high alert.
Gabe, for the most part, was pretty good. Aside from the cantering sideways issue (yeah, I don't know, it was weird) and absolutely refusing to respond to my lateral aids, he was fairly good. On high-alert and snorting at unknowns was the least of my worries with him. I can ride his silliness through without much problem and usually, I laugh at him just because he's being such a goof.
But two huge training issues revealed themselves and made me realize that perhaps, just maybe, I'm not expecting nor requiring enough of him. I admit, I let him get away with more than I probably should. ie, not making him give me the right response right away every time. I tend to make excuses for him and I need to quit that, right now.
The things I've let slide aren't obvious in the arena, but become glaring problems on the trail.
One big one is turning. Yes, a basic one, but a big one I didn't realize was quite the issue it is. Let's just say this horse is GREAT at yielding his neck, not so great at following through with the rest of his body when he doesn't really feel like it or isn't quite sure he wants to go where I want him to go. If he has decided he doesn't really want to go where I'm trying to get him to go, he'll turn his neck all day long in the direction I'm asking him to go but the body stays put. Ugh. Big time training issue that I'm going to have to really get fixed yesterday. No more excuses that he maybe doesn't quite understand what I'm asking, because he does, I know he does, he just decides he doesn't want to and that's NOT AN OPTION. Not on the trail. Not when going where I tell him to go RIGHT NOW is absolutely imperative in some situations.
Secondly is his forward. We have stop and back up perfected, actually, way more perfected than it needs to be because he's using both of them as ways to avoid doing what I've asked. Forward has become a huge issue. I fought with that horse for nearly 45 minutes to get him to even get close to a cow pasture filled with curious dairy cattle. Yes, the dairy cattle again. I'm tempted to borrow a small herd of dairy cattle and make him live in the same paddock as them for a few months. Passing those cows was an absolute disaster. I think at first the cows were the issue, so I let him stand and watch them for a few minutes and he seemed to be fine with them. The other horses didn't give a crap about the cows but Gabe didn't take their lead at all. It then became less about the cows and more about him deciding he was NOT going forward, period, end of story. It was backwards backwards backwards sideways sideways backwards circles backwards spinning more backwards, more sideways more stupid crap but NO FORWARD. UGH!!! I couldn't get him to take one little step forward for anything, and of course, I'd declined to bring the crop on this ride since I hadn't needed it in the arena for quite a while.
When I first brought him home forward was an issue then, too, but instead of going backwards, he went UP when he decided he didn't want to go forward. I fixed the up, he doesn't do that at all any more, but now when he has determined he doesn't want to do something, no matter what it is, he goes backwards, very quickly. It's hard to steer a horse going backwards, especially when that horse has decided he is NOT going forwards. And it's dangerous, very dangerous. I finally had to get off and force him forward and past the cows. He flipped his lid and I think I saw his brain slide right out of his head and smash on the ground. Even with me leading him and the other two horses marching along and sighing with boredom and I'm sure a bit of annoyance at him, he didn't want to go forward, so backwards and sideways he went, into a ditch and he lost his footing and fell. I'm glad I wasn't on him when he pulled that crap but I think it scared him straight. He got back up, the whites of his eyes showing and he marched forward when I led him on. No problem. We walked right past those cows without another problem. I wanted to take him back and forth by them a few more times, but my riding companions had already been plenty patient enough with us up to that point and I wasn't going to ask them to wait for our silly asses any longer.
I don't even want to talk about the absolute lack of his response to the lateral aids. I think I was just about ready to cry by the end of the ride because a simple trail ride had exposed all the basic training crap I need to put my nose to the grindstone on and quit accepting half-assed responses from him.
So, I'll be working on his forward response and expect an immediate and energetic forward response each and every time I ask as soon as I ask, no matter what. Until we get this down he no longer has the option of declining my request. Although it goes against everything I believe in training philosophy, I'm going to have to take away his voice until we get these very basic issues fixed. No more giving him second and third chances. The same thing for turning and lateral aids. No more second and third chances. He knows what I'm asking, it's time I start expecting and requiring him to respond when I ask, not when he feels like it.