Once I moved to where we are now, I tried a few more times, but he was always so tense that it made me tense which was just a bad combination. This summer, I am committed to getting him on the trail. I know that it would build his confidence for showing, and it will help his body develop in other ways.
I decided to get working on it this past weekend. I did my regular arena ride, and before either of us could change our minds, I hauled the mounting block out of the arena and got back on. We only did a small loop around the three properties closest to the barn, but that "loop" involves losing sight of the barn and all other horses.
The first part of the loop involves walking by the neighbor's two yellow labs. Whenever I pass by, I call out their names, Blue and Dallas, to give them a heads up that we're coming. They like to bark and charge up to the fence so I prefer they do it before I get there rather than behind me as I am walking off. They behaved as expected which gave Sydney a small jolt of fear. I could tell that he wanted to spin and go, but I planted my inside hand into his neck and asked him to go forward. I was so pleased that he trusted me enough to do as I asked.
The rest of the loop is pretty simple: a stretch of wide open dirt road, a shady tree area, and then we return to the backside of our property. Since things had gone so well on loop one, I decided to go again. I didn't even come back through the gate; I just kept right on walking. When we got to the dogs, Sydney was looking, but he didn't spook.
By this point, he was so relaxed that I decided to trot the long dirt road. It might seem silly that this felt risky, but never before have I felt like asking for a quicker gate was at all safe, especially with nothing but a long straight road in front of us. That sort of seems to invite a RUN! mentality. But not on Saturday. When I asked for the trot, he flicked an ear at me as if to ask, "are you sure?" but then he moved off at a very relaxed pace.
Near the end of the road, he did get a wee bit strong and ignored my request for a walk so I planted my inside hand and gave a strong WHOA! He jammed his nose out and resisted momentarily, but then he came back to the walk. Even better, he actually walked with no jigging. I was grinning from ear to ear. We repeated the same ride the next day with just as much success.
You don't know how embarrassing this situation is to me. Endurance riders are not afraid to hit the trail. When we have a tense or nervous horse, we know that all will be well as long as you keep them moving forward. When I was starting my endurance horses, four of them, I always had an equine trail buddy for the first few rides. Once my horse had a basic understanding of being on the trail, I was able to become the "trail buddy" and my horse got his confidence from me. I was able to ride alone with no fear.
I haven't had the chance to ride Sydney with another horse so we've never developed that first bit of confidence. I have a plan, however. On Saturday, a local college student who is looking for saddle time is coming over for a demo ride. She's going to ride Speedy while I ride Sydney. We're staying in the neighborhood, but if it works out, I may have found a way to get the boys together pretty regularly (at least through the summer) for trail rides away from the barn.
Keep your fingers crossed for me!