It’s not so unusual, is it? Taking your horse for a walk? Farletta and I do it frequently. However, I have been hand-walking horses since I was a kid. I think it was in part a way to deal with the fear and uncertainty of working with young, green horses when I myself was quite young and green. Walking with the horse may have stemmed from a fear of falling but as I grew older and more connected with the horses in my life I realized there were several benefits to walking with my horse:
Unique bonding experience: there is something different about walking with your horse verses riding on top of her – there is a difference in the energy you feel and the connection
you have. It is hard to explain; you must experience it. It is not
the same as walking your horse to the barn or to the pasture for the purpose of moving him from one place to another; hand-walking your horse is a deliberate activity with the sole intention of spending time with, learning about and bonding with your horse.
I enjoy watching Farletta walk next to me – watching how her muscles move smoothly under her skin, the fine arch in her neck, the intricate details of her face and the locomotion of her legs and hooves as they navigate the terrain.
Build your horse’s confidence: I have repeatedly encouraged clients and friends to hand-walk a horse for their first trail riding experience. Unfortunately, many do not take the suggestion, over-face their horse (or themselves) and end up having to rebuild confidence of both horse and rider which can be a very long and difficult process.
Exposing a horse to a new situation from the ground (vs. from the saddle) is not unlike using ground work to start a horse
under saddle –few people use the old “cowboy” method of jumping on and bucking a young horse out anymore as we’ve learned it is much easier on the horse and the rider to slowly expose him to things he must learn to be ridden before you ask
him to carry a rider. By removing the rider from a scary situation and instead being a supportive person from the ground, the horse can learn to navigate difficult situations without the added stress of an unbalanced or inexperienced rider. If you are a rider who is nearly impossible to unseat and can approach a scary situation with rock-solid nerves you will likely have success either way. However, if you have a less-secure seat or any anxiety riding a spooky horse, you and your horse will benefit greatly from hand-walking into new situations.
When Farletta was young and green I moved her from her home farm in Kentucky to visit another farm for a month. Unlike our home farm, this other farm had nice riding trails and a large outdoor arena. Farletta and my friend’s mare, Phoebe moved together for the month. Farletta had been very calm and quiet at her home farm and seldom spent time with Phoebe. However, when she moved to the new farm she became a different horse. She was nervous and fidgety
and would scream when she couldn’t see Phoebe. I had never seen Farletta like this. It was like she had no confidence in her ability to take care of herself. So, I put on her rope halter and a long longe line and took her down the trail. First I led her but
gradually I lengthened the line and let her walk ahead until she was leading me. Before she knew it I was behind her and she was in the lead all by herself. She tried to turn back but I encouraged her to continue forward, to be brave and lead me. The strategy worked and soon Farletta was back to her old confident self.
Good exercise! I often find it difficult to find the time (or motivation) to go to the gym for a workout. If I put a halter and lead on Farletta and head out to the trails with my dog Boedy off-leash I can exercise all three of us at once! Additionally, it is helpful for Farletta to get used to Boedy crashing around in the woods so that she is confident when we see (or hear) deer and wild turkeys! I make a point of hand-walking Farletta to warm her up before her ride and for the cool-down period. Sure, it’s more work for me but that is the point. Might as well take my calorie burn where I can find it!
Ground manners! Lots of people wish their horse’s had better ground manners but few people enjoy working on them. It takes time and effort to get your horse to walk at your shoulder, stop when you stop and go when you go. Does your horse crowd your space? Does he push or pull or refuse to move? Take him down the road (if it’s a safe road!) or down the trail and work on it. It takes a little effort and a lot of consistency but you will never regret the time you spent teaching your horse to respect you and listen to you from the ground.
So, grab a halter and lead and hit the trails! Spend some time bonding with your horse. Gain a new outlook and view the trail
from your horse’s perspective. You will find a new dimension to your relationship, and increase mutual respect for and trust in one another. Your horse has a gift to offer you; it is the gift of the relationship. We need only to take the time to seek and accept it. Taking a walk with your horse can help you get there.
Cheryl L. Eriksen, MSW, Equine Enthusiast, EAGALA groupie and writer of interesting, educational and entertaining blog posts!