Walking and Hiking with Your Equine. By Vicki Jayne Yates

safety first

Basic ground handling skills practiced in the school or field are a must have before venturing out for a walk in hand with your horse. Your horse must stop to the word whoa. Be easy to lead and be mindful of your space so as not to step on you or push you over. You should be able to move your horse’s feet in any direction easily, forwards, backwards and sideways.  You should be able to read your horse and be able to be appropriate with your horse. If your horse struggles with separation anxiety do not take your equine out alone. Work on helping address the separation anxiety before venturing out.  Investing in some horsemanship ground skills is a great idea with a professional of your own choice.

Equipment for the horse – You need a good fitting halter, headcollar or bridle. Ideally the one you have ground worked your horse in.  Make sure you have a lead rope that is in good working order. If you are going onto the roads an essential is hi viz for your horse. 

Equipment for you – Non slip, with good grip on the soles sturdy foot wear. Gloves are great for protecting your hands. And a hard hat is wise. If you are going onto the roads an essential is hi viz for you.  

Insurance – If you are venturing out it is essential to have adequate insurance cover, minimum is third party insurance.

Holding the rope – Folds in the rope not coils. If your horse pulls away and you have a loop or coil of spare rope it will quickly tighten around your fingers. And broken fingers are very painful.

Have your horse walk beside you. That way you are able to see what is going on. If your horse is behind you, you haven’t got eyes in the back of your head.

Taking your horse for walks in hand has many benefits these include:

  • It’s very natural for in the wild horses to walk and roam miles every day. So by going for a walk together you are doing something nature intended.
  • It’s an opportunity for you and your horse to have some special one to one time, just chilling and strolling along together.
  • Bonding time.
  • It’s great for building horse and handler confidence as you will meet things on your travels that may worry or rattle your horse. These are Golden Gifts in Crappy Paper and training opportunities.
  • When you come across scary things they will be either; things you can pick up and move or not. Here are some tips to help when you meet the horse eating scary things. If it is a lightweight portable item and it is ok to move it, pick it up and walk away with it. Predators never leave. Your horse will note that your arms have not become detached, no blood is coming out and you are not bothered by the horse eating thingy that you are carrying. Your horse will re-evaluate and go from scared to curious. Once your horse is curious he will want to check out the horse eating thingy, at first very tentatively. When you get to this stage you can stop walking away with the horse eating thingy and go into graded approach and retreat. This is when you allow your horse to sniff it and then take it away. The taking away bit gives your horse time to think, reflect and consider things. You can then approach with the horse eating thingy and let him sniff for longer and then take it away. Reward your horse’s bravery. Once your horse is comfortable with his nose on the object if you wanted to carry on your walk simply return the object back to where you found it. For objects you can’t move.  If it is a safe place to use the scary object for training place yourself between the object and your horse. It is the safest place to be as scared horses don’t tend to run towards what scares them. Keep your energy low and reassure your horse talking gently and slowly. Show your horse it is safe by interacting with the object, if safe stand on it, touch it. Your horse will eventually work out it hasn’t eaten you, so it will get curious. At first very tentative and may only close the gap a little to get a better look. Reward this bravery.  And maybe that day this is as far as you want to go. Or if you feel comfortable to take the next step it is retreat a bit and give your horse time to think, reflect and relax. Then approach the horse eating thingy again as before taking your time. Then retreat as before. Repeat and repeat taking your time. It takes as long as it takes for a horse to be brave enough to trust your judgement on horse eating things.  
  • Some horse eating thingy can be replicated in the school before going out. You could practice the skills in helping your horse overcome fears. I regularly have helped people with these skills so they feel confident before venturing out.
  • Going for walks together you and your horse will learn to trust each other.
  • It’s great exercise for you and your horse. It’s proven to be good physically and mentally.
  • It establishes ground manners beyond the schooling environment.  

This information is not a replacement for working with a qualified professional. It is here for you to use alongside professional tution from a practitioner of your own choice.