When you're riding your horse in a lesson or on a group trail ride, is he listening to you? Or is he just following the horse in front of him and taking you along for the ride?
This is a safety issue, for one... if your horse is just following another horse around, he may get too close to the other horse, which could lead to a nip or a kick. Obviously, that is not safe and we don't want that to happen. In order to be safe when riding in a ring with other horses, we have to be sure our horses are attentive to us and not just following the other horses around the ring.
You should be able to ride your horse in a ring with other horses and navigate your way around without your horse playing follow the leader.
In your group riding lessons, if your horse is just following the horse in front of you, you haven't mastered the skills you need. What if your instructor asked you to go out on the rail and do an exercise one at a time? Would you be able to get your horse to do it?
Practice Riding Deliberately Around the Other Horses
If you think your horse is just playing follow the leader, you should take the time to practice deliberately riding around the other horses. Maybe go the opposite direction of the other horses or maybe turn right when the horse in front of you turns left.
This will reiterate to your horse that you are in charge. It's easy for them to be distracted by other horses when they're in groups. It's almost like they're on a merry go round.
It sounds funny, but it becomes a problem if you can't get your horse to listen to you. When you are on his back, he should be paying attention to you to the point that it doesn't matter what the other horses are doing.
An Easy Way to Test It Out
There is an easy way to test if your horse is listening to you and not just playing follow the leader. It is to stay out in the ring and ride a little longer after your friend takes their horse back in. Does your horse keep going as he should? Or does he try and follow the other horse back to the barn?
Hopefully, he keeps working just fine when the other horse goes away. If he doesn't, you need to keep him out in the ring for a bit longer. Chose an exercise you know he is good at, one that includes a lot of changes of directions. Things that will keep his mind occupied, so he focuses on you and not his friend who is off work for the day.
On trail rides, it can become a problem if your horse is too much of a follower. If you are riding down a narrow trail, obviously your horse will be following the horse in front of him. In this situation, you just want to practice making sure your horse keeps a safe distance from the other horses. A rule of thumb to go by would be to imagine you could fit another horse between you and the horse in front of you. That is a safe distance!
On the Subject of Riding Too Close to Other Horses
If you have trouble keeping your horse away from the horse in front of him, or your horse doesn't like other horses getting close, there is a standard simple thing you can do to let others know to stay back. That is to put a red ribbon in his tail.
That is something that is known throughout the horse world. It is a super easy way to help you encourage others to keep a safe distance.
If You Are Playing Follow the Leader With Your Horse, You Are the Leader
Following the leader, especially too close, is not a very safe thing when it comes to horses and riding. The only leader the horse should have is you. The assertive rider on their back giving them clear signals of what to do and when. Remember, that is your job! If you are not being assertive, then you are allowing the horse to take the lead, which most likely will lead to a game of following the leader with the horse in front of him.
If your horse doesn't seem to be following your direction when in a group, you need to take an honest look at how you are riding and assess if you are being assertive enough!
Remember, the horse is only as good as the rider on his back!