Difficulty following other horses

I bought a mare this summer - 10 years old, lovely mover, nicely broke in the arena and reasonably brave out on the trails. She’s already a spicy and anxious/super-alert horse with a big walk and a zippy little trot, but she’s happiest in the lead – we run into issues following other horses. At a walk, she can be a little impatient and visibly annoyed, especially if the horse in front of her is going slower than she wants to go, but we can re-set with half halts (sometimes full halts) and reminders to chill.

At any gait faster than a walk, she rushes – it’s not a matter of being left behind, she feels like she would climb straight up the butt of the horse in front of her if I let her. Unlike most horses I’ve ridden, she seems to take no relief or comfort in letting someone else be in front. She becomes a tense, jiggy, sideways, teeth-gnashing mess, and if anyone comes up behind her in this state she will threaten to kick (has never done this in the lead, no matter how close other horses are following). She seems to hate the pressure of having horses simultaneously in front of and behind her, but if I put her last in a line, she rushes and tenses even worse. Everyone else can be doing a leisurely jog and she’ll be sucked-back and cantering at 4mph, flinging her head and grinding her teeth. It happens on our trails at home and when we trailer out.

We’re working on doing some leapfrog when we have willing horse/riders to practice with. In the meantime I’m doing my best to keep her occupied with bending, SI, etc when we’re following to keep her mind otherwise engaged, but it doesn’t slow her down much. (She has a gorgeous travers in the trot going down the trail, LOL). I’ve gotten advice to just let her tire herself out, but that’s not my preferred method - she’s already very athletic and the last thing I need is to have a horse will listen to me, but only after 15 miles of work first. Any other tips for working through this?

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How is your mare when you’re out on the trail alone? Is she forward and curious? Or is she anxious and jiggy? In other words, is her behavior a problem only with other horses, or is she hot all the time?

My horse used to be a lot like this, only he was a little hot all the time and worse with other horses. I could work with him when we were out alone, but it was hard to find other riders to practice leapfrogging so he never got as much practice with that as I would have liked. One suggestion that I have heard but never tried is to let the horse go to the front, but then make her work so that being up front isn’t so much fun (circling other horses, trotting figure 8s, leg yielding, etc.). Then let take her back behind the other horse and let her relax. If she gets jiggy again when she’s following the other horse, let her go to the front and and work some more. Make being in the lead the most uncomfortable place to be.

If your mare gets jiggy when you’re riding alone, try a big WHOA, drop the reins, then tell her to walk forward. If that doesn’t work after a couple of repetitions, add a step back after the stop, and then walk forward. My horse used to get jiggy a lot, and this really helped settle him, although sometimes it took several tries. The key is to make a big whoa (sit back, firm pressure on the reins) and then release all pressure–don’t try to hold her. It took a long time with my guy, but now when he gets jiggy I can just say “walk dammit” and he says “oh yes ma’am, I just forgot for a moment.”

One last thought–you’ve only had your mare for a few months, so you’re still building a bond. When she trusts you more as her leader, she’ll settle down.

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If you have some friends to help, go riding and allow your horse to work her way up to the front of the group. As soon as she gets there have everyone reverse so she is again at the back of the line. Repeat.

My horse prefers being up front and is very good at cutting corners or walking a little faster on side by side sections. We go out with a local club and one ride had a bunch of dead ends. Two or three times he reached the front of the line just before we got to the turn around point and he ended up last. He was content to stay in the middle after that for the rest of the ride.

Another alternative - what happens if you dismount and hand walk? I’ve done that at the first wide point in competition when we got caught behind slower horses in front and faster horses behind on a narrow trail. I let everyone else go by and walked until my horse settled before remounting.

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On the trail alone, she’s forward but still anxious, but it mostly translates into spooking (at campers in the distance, at birds moving in the brush, at me sneezing, at the sound of the pommel pack zipper…) instead of jigging. We’ve spent the last few months working pretty intensively on getting a flat-footed walk instead of a jig, with the exact method you describe: big halt and immediate big give. She’s improved to the point where I can now half-halt and release all pressure, and she will sigh and tone it down.

We’re also doing dressage lessons with a trainer who’s helped me a lot with tuning up the timing for the release. In the ring, I can slow her rushy trot with the half half and release, but out on the trail with other horses in front of her, she just blows right through it and starts fighting against what seems (to me) to be the slightest amount of pressure. Holding her back at all seems to be like winding up a spring. If I slow her in the trot while we’re behind other horses, she’ll compress, and as soon as I give or release at all, she’ll rocket forward at a canter.

I’ll definitely work more on making the lead spot the less comfortable place to be. And you’re right that it’s only been a few months and the relationship is still building - it’s just so hard to be patient sometimes!

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I actually really like the idea of the dead end! I may have to do some recruiting to find some people to do this with but it’s a neat idea.

(My mare is a firebreathing little ArabX and our trail buddies are all pretty easygoing QHs and paints. It’s hilarious watching her power-walk past horses 2 hands taller than she is.)

I’ve done a lot of handwalking from home but I haven’t done any work where I’ve dismounted on the trail and hand walked from there. It wouldn’t be great when she’s already jazzed up (unless I’m practicing my flying dismounts) but I could definitely work with dismounting while she’s still in front and then letting other riders pass.

My 20 yr old Walker gelding always worms his way up front. After an hour or so he tires of it and is happy to hang back. I try to let him pick his speed on the trail, within reason of course. He just starts off raring to go then eventually realizes he needs to conserve his energy. I guess I don’t necessarily see it as a problem unless the horse is just plain unsafe and blowing through you. If just a hit amped, I let him be knowing he will settle.

I love a forward-thinking horse and overall I don’t have a problem with her wanting to be out front - I just want her to be safe and civil in the event that someone else needs to be at the front of the pack! My nightmare scenario is a situation where we’re on technical trail or traveling downhill and she comes unglued seeing another horse trotting in front of her.

So far we haven’t done more than 10 miles in one outing but even at 10 miles, if she sees someone in front of her break into a trot she’ll fight to catch up / pass them.

One other exercise that has worked well for me is LOTS of walk/trot transitions. I do this if my horse is so full of beans he just has to move those feet. The trick is to transition to the trot before the horse breaks into it, let him go a few strides, then walk a stride or two and go right back to the trot. The key is that the speed is always your idea, not his. And frequent transitions are harder than just straight trotting long distances. The longest I’ve had to do this is about a mile before he relaxes.

@RedHorses mentioned dismounting and hand walking. If I ever feel unsafe this is what I do. But, you have to decide what to do when you dismount–should you lunge the horse and make him work, or do you just lead him down the trail a bit and then hop back on? With my horse, dismounting and leading him for a bit helps if he’s genuinely afraid of something. I’ve never had any luck dismounting and lunging my horse if he’s just being ornery–it just winds him up more.

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In my experience, when the trail gets complicated or when picking your way downhill, you won’t have this problem. Because then the horse knows it has to think about where to put its feet. Horses aren’t suicidal! (There are downhills where I’ve had to recite this mantra over and over.)

My gaited horse has a fast-paced long-strided walk, and when younger, our trail rides could turn into battles of him trying to get out front and go at his preferred pace, me wanting him to stay behind another horse and act civilized. I found that circling him helped, as did backing up for about 20 feet. Both of these are ‘harder’ than walking normally, and he would get the idea eventually.

Now that he is 19, he doesn’t much care where he is in the string. But if in front, he picks up his pace and gets quite happy. When riding with mostly quarter-horses, we have to do a fair amount of stopping and waiting for them to catch up.

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The Leapfrog Game is good for this. With another rider or two on calm horses, you’re all riding down the trail, and at a safe place to pass, the horse in the lead stops, waits for the other horse/s to pass them, and falls in behind. At the next safe place, repeat with the new lead horse. No horse is in front for more than a few minutes. Keep doing that for long enough, most any horse will get the idea that there’s no point in fighting for the lead.

It is really helpful if the other horses have about the same walking pace as yours. My horse is a smart-walking Morgan who can almost keep up with a gaited horse, and nothing irks her more than being stuck behind a drowsy shuffling Quarter Horse on the trail.