Perry Wood answers:
Before attempting to ride your horse out alone, you must be able to lead her anywhere and everywhere politely. I am assuming she has daily turnout, so shift your focus from thoughts of keeping her fit to ways of training her to work with you.
Once you have a good functional relationship where you can start riding and doing stuff on the ground together, you could think about her physical fitness. Physical fitness in your horse without her emotional and mental well-being could mean you have a more energetic, powerful heap of trouble!
The fear factor
Although we express these behaviours as being ‘well-mannered’ or ‘ill-mannered’, in many cases with horses, it is simply that they do not yet understand what is required. But in some situations, it is actually because the horse is feeling afraid and, therefore, behaves in ways we don’t want. And in the case of your mare, I think that her behaviour is a demonstration of anxiety or fear.
Horses are herd animals and naturally feel safe when they are together in a group. When they are alone, their instincts are yelling at them that they may fall foul of a hunting predator, so they behave in ways that make life difficult for us.
If your mare doesn’t want to go out riding alone, she is not yet trusting you as another member of her herd and certainly not as her trustworthy leader… It may be that in the past, she has not had good leadership from the humans in her life, so gaining her trust in you may take time.
When she pulls you over as you lead her, it may be because she wants to get somewhere fast, and that ‘somewhere’ is probably with or nearer to other horses. And this sort of behaviour has probably been in evidence for a long time, when she may not have had the kind of training and reassuranceyou now need to give her.
I suggest you ‘chunk’ everything down into steps, each small enough that she can stay mentally calm and understand what it is you are trying to achieve together. For example, with the leading, put the halter on in the stable, rub her and lead her a couple of steps forwards in the stable. Then stop, rub her and ask her to go back a couple of steps with pressure from the halter. Then stop, rub and ask her to move her head six or eight inches to the left with the halter. Then stop, rub, put her head back to the centre with the halter. Then ask her to move her head to the right eight inches. Stop, rub and centre. Then stop and rub.
Do all of this in a slow, friendly way, so she listens to the halter and understands what it is saying. Always work with her like this until she gets great at following the feel of the halter and listening totally to you in a nice calm way.
Out and about
Next, on a warm, non-windy day, when there are other horses still in the stables, take her just outside the stable and repeat the leading procedure, until she is good at it. Then take her 10m from her stable door, stop and repeat it again. You can gradually expand the possibilities and increase the size of her comfort zone, but do so in such a way that she can always stay calm and responsive.
Once you are making marked progress in and around the yard with the leading, you could even go a little outside the gate – 20m up the lane on what will be your rides with her would be a good start. And do all the same stuff again!
Lessons in Leading
A couple of important notes about good leading… With a horse who pulls, keep the rope a little slack and have little ‘feels’ on it. Alternatively, hold the slack rope firmly in both hands, stand still with your legs wide apart in a strong stance, and let your horse get to the end of the rope and have to turn around to face you (in a way, the horse has stopped herself and is teaching herself to be light on the rope). Then continue walking again and repeat as necessary.
In the longer term, to have her more confident hacking alone, first take her out with another horse. When she is doing that calmly, ride her out in front of the other horse on the way away from home, and behind the other horse on the way back to the yard. If she is calm, you could gradually expand the distance between you and the other horse as a way of increasing her comfort zone and independence.
Continue with your trips leading her out and try to make your rides out via a circular route. You may also find it works to lead her out from home a certain way, then mount up and continue your ride. But these are all ideas to try after you have trained her to lead well in all circumstances.