My horse is herd bound. She doesn’t like to lead, and when I ride with others on the trail, she just wants to follow. I have been following other horses on trails for years. Most riders also recommend riding in a group since it is a potentially dangerous sport, and you never know what you will encounter on the trail. It is the safe thing to do. However, most trail riders have probably had days when they were ready to ride but nobody else could go or fellow riders canceled last minute. That meant being stuck at the arena or not being able to ride at all. Should you dare to go on your own?
I encountered the above scenario so many times, that I just decided to give the solo ride a try, and I have been working with my horse ever since to become confident being out without other horses. One of the greatest discoveries was how wonderful a solo ride really is – for once it is all about me and my horse. We are moving together, discovering together, and growing closer as a result. I can think and talk to my horse, and do everything at our own pace without having to adjust to a group. But it isn’t as easy as just doing it; it takes a lot of patience to teach a heard bound horse to be comfortable riding without her buddies.
My mare was very hesitant at first. We went on a trail that she knew well from many trail rides in groups. Still, being on her own, she was anxious and fearful of what might be around every bend. Sometimes she refused to walk past a seeming obstacle, and I would ride around it or get down and lead her past it. She spooked easily when hearing or seeing birds or squirrels moving in trees, and fallen trees or tree stumps became monsters that she did not want to pass. Going through water needed lots of encouragement. Some things she still does not do, but we have progressed and both of us feel more confident.
We started by only walking the trail, then eventually doing a little trotting. Every time we go she becomes a little more confident, and so do I. We are working on running in the woods now, which is pure joy but has its own challenges. As we all know, at higher speed an unexpected jump to the side due to being spooked can be quite unbalancing. Therefore, the greatest concern when going riding alone is safety. An inexperienced rider should not be riding on the trail alone. Apart from the usual safety precautions (I always wear a helmet), I keep a charged phone on me. In addition, I have a tag on the saddle that has not only my phone number, but someone else’s a person can call in case I get separated from my horse and am also unable to answer the phone.
I still love the camaraderie of group rides and the fun we have when we ride together, but the independence and closeness to my horse when we ride alone is something very special. It is great therapy, and as an added benefit, my mare is now able to lead a large group when we do ride with others.