Our arena riding has been going along great, but if Scratch is to be a good trail horse I need to get him out on the trail. While I know it's not likely, my biggest fear is Scratch will toss me or scrape me off under a branch and head back to his home in Oak Creek.
We were riding through the stables a few weeks ago. When we got near the end of a row of stables something spooked Scratch and he took off. I reached for a one-rein stop, but he was already braced, so I grabbed my night latch and hung on. Scratch lunged forward, stopped quickly to eye a hitching post, then dodged right. I guided him past a tree as he galloped off. We were in the open now, the stable's event parking lot and we had good footing and space to navigate. Scratch was loping pretty good and I managed to reach down and rub him on the neck. I asked for a whoa, but he wasn't ready to listen yet.
After letting him go a little farther, I reached down and rubbed him again, asked for a whoa, and when I did not get it, pulled him around for a one-rein stop. Then, I dismounted and I think this is where I made a mistake. He wasn't standing still, I had a lot of adrenaline going through me, but most of all, I wanted off. I wasn't thinking that I would be rewarding Scratch for bolting.
It took me quite a few days to even want to ride outside the arena again. It really bothered me too. Scratch was doing better work in the arena, but without the trail work, my goals can't be reached. I had to find a way to get him outside the arena.
Finally, after a week and a half of worrying about it, it was just time to do it. We left the arena and started working the areas just outside. Was Scratch on high alert or was it me? Perhaps a little of both. He started trotting and I hadn't asked for it. Immediately we started doing circles around everything I could find, a cone on the ground, a pile of dirt, a trailer and a telephone pole. The more I worked him the more relaxed I became and he stayed paying attention to the instructions I was giving.
It wasn't much, but it was a start. We headed for the front arena. We had to negotiate other horses, vehicles, and pedestrians. We had to ride by where he had bolted before. While still just a bit on edge, he handled it well. We made it to the arena where there is a water trough, got a drink, and considered the ride a success.
It was a couple of days before we could get out there again. When we did I took him down into the riverbed. The walking was much more labored but I felt comfortable that he was not going to take off. We followed the riverbed for about half a mile then jumped up on the main trail. It's not very wide in most spots perhaps 15-20 feet. Scratch was going out amazingly well. Had I worried over nothing?
We got to where I had planned to turn around. The river is mostly dry from our drought. There is one spot up river where there is a good spot to get a drink. I dismounted and led Scratch to the shore. He didn't want anything to do with it. I led him back to the trail, it's fairly narrow here, to mount. He seemed really agitated and fidgety.
We did some groundwork and when that didn't improve I led him back up the trail to find a wider spot to mount. Once mounted all he wanted to do was gallop back the way we came. I didn't let him, of course, I bent him around, serpentined, and even tried backing him up. Nothing worked. After about 40 minutes I dismounted again and walked along the trail dejected. How could he be so different? Leading was a breeze. Scratch certainly has no problems walking along side. It is hard to fathom how leading and riding can be so very different.
When we get to within a few hundred yards of the stable, I remounted and Scratch walked along calmly. When we got back I loped in the round pen just to remind him there is work to be done at or near the stables.