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Your horse may perform like a trail-riding veteran across vast stretches of open land, but ask him to step down a narrow trail and he turns into a nutcase. With rock walls pressing in on him or tree branches and bushes brushing against his sides, he may act as if you’re forcing him to walk his version of death row. That scenario happens all too often on the trail. Horses naturally hate tight, narrow spaces because they limit their ability to run from potential danger. However, at some point in his trail career, your horse is going to be faced with going down a narrow path, and when you come to this obstacle,
One of the ways I’ve found to prepare my horses for this experience is by creating my own “tight and narrow” space to work them in. I took three old tractor tires, removed their inner tubes, and then set them upright and buried the bottom of them in the ground. I positioned the first two tires about 4 feet apart and then set the third one about 2 feet away from the others. That allows me to introduce a horse to the concept of going through a narrow space with the tires set farther apart and then increase the challenge by working him through the narrower path.
I like to introduce the horse to this obstacle using just the halter and lead rope, and then, when he’s comfortable with that, I tack him up and take him through it. When the horse is wearing the saddle, the stirrups and fenders will catch along the obstacle, which will frighten the horse at first. It’s like a predator reaching out and grabbing his sides. It’ll take consistent use of Approach and Retreat to build his confidence, but it’s important to accomplish this on the ground first before you get in the saddle. That way most of his reactive behavior will be out of the way.
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