Horse Problems: Riding in Traffic

There is a Mexican fellow in our suburban neighborhood that rides his horse everywhere he goes. He rides with traffic, stops at stop lights, crosses at crosswalks. I see him every so often and marvel at his horse’s composure.

I had always had a dream of taking my horse to the Colorado Rockies and riding in the wilderness for hours. However, I found out that to GET to the “wilderness”, you had to trailer and then ride up some bumpy forest roads. There was no avoiding some amount of riding where cars would share your narrow passage – sometimes with a drop-off on one side or a steep incline on the other.

My first experience with riding on a car-traveled road in the mountains was illuminating. It was a dirt road that was not heavily trafficked. I thought my horse would be immune to anxiety. She had been ridden many times on dirt roads around the ranch with a VERY slow-moving vehicle or two. She had seen innumerable trucks on the ranch, and she would pony beside both a golf cart and a gator. But having cars and pick-up trucks pass close by her, kicking up gravel and dust (even at a polite speed) made her nervous.

Many drivers were delighted to see a horse. They shouted or waved. Some thought it prudent to beep the horn so I would know they were coming from behind. (Not helpful of course). It pretty much ruined the ride. Since she was nervous, I was nervous. We never made it all of the way to the un-traveled wilderness.

Teaching your horse to move safely around roads and traffic is an exercise in escalating de-sensitizing. It takes Baby Steps to get used to objects and sounds associated with traveling down vehicle-populated by-ways: first feeling comfortable around a sitting car/truck, then a car/truck with engine sounds, then with slow movement in front of him, beside, behind him etc.

Driver’s are not always polite, cautious, or even sensible. So your horse must be bomb-proof with some exaggerated driving. Spin-outs, horns, motorcycles, even semi’s or logging trucks might be encountered.

While I love to do the videos for this site, this one is so good it really can’t be beat. One of my favorite natural horsemanship trainers, Warwick Schiller, demonstrates the whole process.

(Notice while you are watching that he uses only a bosal hackamore and his horse is barefoot.)

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