Comfort Zone Training – Solo in-hand/riding

Part 1

Helping a horse that is ‘herd bound’ is challenging as we need to help the horse grow it’s trust in us and it’s comfort zone area so that it feels safe going out alone. Easier said than done for some horses.

Our Stormy has been the member of our herd since 11 months old, he’s been surrounded by 4 other members to start with but now at the age of 15 he is just one of two left in our herd. He is happy to go out and about with other herd members and has done that throughout his life but the other horse left now is our aged Tara who can do small bits of in-hand/riding work but really is retired and a bit slow and doddery  SO, how do I help Stormy learn to be brave enough to go out alone?



Our first session was mostly walking in the field next to the horses home field. Walked and played some games to help his brain think, these games were slow backup and sideways moves. He was okay for a while but I could feel he was worried about going further down the steep part of the hill SO I retreated with him back towards the home field, this allowed him to breathe and think, to respond and not react BUT he had a couple of slips on the hill where it has been raining heavily and is now muddy and also touched his leg onto a thistle and he rushed off back home to the gateway….his reaction was quick and although mud and thistles don’t normally worry him I could see this would make him react if he wasn’t totally connected to me first SO I got him back and did a small bit of walking about near the gateway to their field to end on a good note.


  • Shelley – HorseSavvy


Comfort Zone Training – Continuing training

Since doing CZT last year from the horses regular field we have moved the herd to their Winter grazing by our house. They are used to the change and often get snowed in at this point BUT recently the weather has been mild so there is the wonderful opportunity to walk the horses out here, with the hope to ride too soon. Last year there were 4 in our herd, this is the first year with just 3 horses SO walking one out at a time is a good way to start as the 2 boys are a little herd bound.


First solo walk out….


Both boys were a little sceptical at first, Heads were up, stopping to look and unfocused on me. I regained their focus with regular grazing spots of their favourite grasses and waiting for them to ‘re-connect’ to me.



When Solly was out Stormy whinneyed and Solly whinneyed when Stormy was out. Tara was introvered and kept her own company.


Next day, 2nd walk out…




Today was SO much better for the boys. Lower heads showing signs of relaxation, less stopping showing signs of confidence in environment and more games (transitions, touch it) showing signs of a better connection to me. This was great too as we had a few distractions such as a herd of deer running twice across the track and sheep in the field near where we turn around.



Image00034There was also less whinneying from the boy left in the paddock each time which was good, much more  confidence all around.

A couple of oatcakes as treats for being such good boys on their walks today.





Day 3…


 Today went really well.

Just half an hour to walk both horses out.

Less whinneying from boy at home 😉





Solly: relaxed, head down, only stopped at point where we turn to come home and we even had some nice walk/trot transitions on the way back.






Stormy:  he too was relaxed, walked forward nicely, only one stop on the way down and then a grazing stop before heading for home. Lovely trot transitions on way home too. Fab.







Day 4 – Each day that passes our walking out gets better, easier, calmer and more fun 😉



Solly yawns and yawns when he see’s Stormy coming home. There are a lot of theories why horses yawn, for me in this instance I feel it’s Solly coming off adrenaline after being stressed due to Stormy being away.






Day 5…




Solly:  Walked to turning point easily and calmly. At turning point I let him graze for a reward and then we played sidle up to the ‘hillock’ as if I were going to get on. We also played with ‘ground tying’. Went well and we had fun.

I mounted him at the large stone mounting block near home when I knew ‘we’ were totally relaxed and had a short ride home which felt great.



Stormy: Down to turning point on track easy peasy. Allowed some grazing and then mounted at the ‘hillock’ and rode home. FAB 😉


Sessions now will continue until I decide to change route and when I do that I will return to walking the boys out and building to where we can ride it. CZT is a continuous mission of teaching each horse to relax and be rideable.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy



Comfort Zone Training – Strategies & Techniques


  1. Have a PLAN/GOAL to work to, whether it’s walking out, hacking out, agility, competing or starting a young horse.
  2. Make sure you break down your plan into small, bitesized, do-able pieces. Do each piece in order, making sure each piece is made into a relaxed, happy habit before doing more (1-7 times).
  3. Progress slowly but positively, don’t over stretch you or your horse, keep things DO-ABLE.
  4. If your goal is to ride in new places walk in-hand first, build on this until you can ride a bit of it, then more and more. Walking in-hand first helps confidence of the place, your own emotions, your horses issues/thresholds and knowing that it’s safe to ride.
  5. Make sure you know where you comfort zone is ‘now’. To stretch your CZ you need to come out of it and get into the Learning Zone, but return often to your CZ to help keep confidence. Don’t go out of the ‘LZ’ or you’ll end up in the Wildnerness Zone where can get lost or so worried it’s hard to find your way back to your CZ!



  1. Breathe or Sing (to make sure you don’t hold your breathe and cause a brace in your own body).
  2. Visualisation (think through where you are going, see yourself doing your goal).
  3. Walk the route you are wanting to go by yourself first…make sure you know all the steps so that you feel confident before going there with your horse.
  4. Approach/Retreat patterns to use for confidence are circling and figure 8’s and transitions (go towards your goal/back off/repeat until it all feels better to be able to approach/retreat further)
  5. Be very consistent with your plan of action.
  6. If you are riding and think you need to get off then GET OFF….breathe, get confident again and continue. You can always get on again later OR just have a nice walk together and commit to your connection in-hand.
  7. Make sure you can connect and move all 4 feet in all 4 directions (back/forward/left/right).
  8. Find X (the place where you have a comfortable stop/halt). Take this X mentally with you wherever you go and make sure you use it to allow you and your horse time to breathe, relax and stay connected. It can be a gate, mounting block, cone or anywhere you go when you can take X with you once you start knowing you can hold that feeling of safety inside.



  1. Continue stretching your CZ and keep giving yourself goals,
  2. Be happy where you are now and take the pressure off yourself…..just enjoy your horse no matter what you do, each day is a super goal in itself 😉


  • Shelley – HorseSavvy



Comfort Zone Training – 2nd Unit – Session 7

WOW…the last session of Unit 2, the time has gone quickly and because the weather has been dry and not too cold I’ve been able to get out with Solly regularly. It’s really helping to keep our progress moving along nicely. Here is today’s session 😉



There were some new CZ area’s  pushed today…

(1) being on our own
(2) walking whole lower field
(3) ride on own
(4) ride up hill back to main field

…oh golly gosh BUT have visualised this in my head since yesterday and know my strategies and my path SO….off we go. Image00022Image00019Into the flat lower field okay and walked around the periphery using some circling, cods, half circles on the move and also with Solly just following me or walking along side at a distance.

We even found some ‘rubbish’ that he was brave enough to ‘touch’ and which I put aside to collect later when going home.



Things went very well so at the gateway I asked Solly to sidle to the gate and I got on. We had a moment where we lost communication and he started going backwards but I just breathed out, sat deeper and asked for forward and all was well.  We worked on the same things as yesterday, approach/retreat to the gate using fig 8’s and making sure each time out from the gate we made the fig 8 circles wider and this time to make them wider we put in a few nice leg yields. This helped prove to me that we were connected, Solly was listening and that I was calm enough to think too.

I was in two mind as to whether to get off and walk back to the horses field but had visualised riding up the hill back to the field so I stayed determined and went over the  bridge (wood/slippery…eek) which went okay and asked Sol to climb the hill. He decided it would be easier to trot (hard ground/slippery…eek) so I said to him out loud, ‘thank you for that but walk is okay here’ and as I breathed out he obliged by going down into walk.

As we got to the tImage00027op of the hill we saw Stormy and Tara waiting by the gate for our return and both Solly and I breathed out and relaxed more. We got to the gate and I thought about doing a bit more but in the back of my brain was the niggle that I must always stop on a good note and don’t try ‘just one more’ because often that is when something silly or a breakdown in connection happens….just stop where you visualised and said you were going to stop…SO we did and I dismounted.

I didn’t realised how much this was going to affect me because it’s something we just haven’t done for ages and as I stood and hugged Solly I was shaking through relief of doing it. Trauma is a worrying thing and it felt good later on to know I’d done it but I still need to do it consistently so that it doesn’t affect me like this again, so onwards I continue with our consistency CZT.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

Comfort Zone Training – 2nd Unit – Session 6

Sixth Session:

Sixth session of this week and overall the 13th session from the start of my CZT blog posts. Last session had the first riding outside the field and today I visualised a ride in the lower field, mainly because it’s nice and flat and I thought it might be easier taking away ‘going downhill’ off my ‘out of CZ’ list AND because the horses lived in this field a few years ago so we remember riding in it quite a lot.

SO…what did we do today? Here’s some pics and a write up of the days fun.




Started off with a nice walk in-hand with Solly accompanied by Mark and Stormy on the walk we did a while back…to the log piles.

In the first, lower field, we played around with circles, COD’s and half circles on the move. He was listening, willing and relaxed and I was checking his body language to make sure it stayed that way.



He then spooked, spun and ran across my walk line and stared at the high bank to our right….I couldn’t see anything BUT then saw movement…..a fallow deer buck was up there and when it Image00045 moved it spooked Solly. This is why I do the in-hand games and I was SO glad I wasn’t riding, not sure I could have kept my seat to that…he doesn’t often go FAR but by golly gosh he’s SO FAST!!!

SO…after that we played a bit more with circles and side passing to regain our composure and relaxation and then we moved on, out of the field, up a steep hill and back to the ‘log piles’. We decided to walk the other side of the log piles today and had to walk along a very narrow piece between logs and stream to get back onto the track, Mark went first with Stormy which went well and then when Solly and I were just about to go over it about 6 sheep skitter around the pile from the other side and in front of us making both Solly and I jump!!! My heart went to my mouth but then we breathe out quickly, Solly, after initial jump just stands and watches as I do the same, the sheep stop coming and we slowly go around the logs and carry on our walk.



Today we walk one field further towards home. Horses were high headed checking out all the sheep moving a round and when we get to the next gateway we stop, relax and allow the horses to graze a bit. Going back the same way was good, we went exactly the same way back SO we stretched our CZ two ways….once walking the ‘other’ side of the logs and secondly walking further along the track…progress feels good 🙂




Image00079Just like I visualised Image00077yesterday and this morning, I rode in the lower, flat field. I got on at the gate and rode some circles, fig 8’s and moved forehand and hq’s regularly.




The fig 8 circles became wider and covering a nice amount of space and we used the pattern as an approach/retreat strategy for our CZ, which was by the gateway.

Image00099 Image00102 Image00103 Image00106



A very nice ride, calm and with purpose. Solly and I were connected and working harmoniously.




A very happy rider and horse today 🙂

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

Comfort Zone Training – 2nd Unit – Session 5

Fifth Session: 


The key of CZT is having realistic goals to progress through. My goal is to ride Solly out of our normal CZ of the main field. I can ride Stormy and Tara out but not so comfortable with Solly regularly as when away working I don’t get the time to be consistent with this sort of training with him. So. We’ve taken a LOT of time getting a really good liberty/online/ridden connection in the field but it’s time to stretch it now. If you’ve been following this CZT blog then you’ll see the consistency of walking out in-hand to the same place for a bit, then in-hand to other places and what I’m trying to gain is a consistent connection to Solly wherever we go, using repeated exercises to create a familiar walk and then expanding on that BUT never doing something SO different that we loose the path to what we’re aiming for….a calm, relaxed, harmonious connection.



Image00016Today’s aim was to go over and over the once place that has spooked both horses…up and down the hill between two fields SO…we did just that, over and over few times until there was complete relaxation and calmness walking up and down that hill, even stopping and backing up the hill which proved to me we were connected.




Image00069We even checked out the ‘spooky’ blue bag (of rubbish) up on the side of the hill too AND we did some things on our own without Mark and Stormy’s company which again proved to me that Solly and I were connected because if we weren’t Solly would have been looking for and worrying about where Stormy was.



Video of us coming down the big hill showing how connected we are as I ask for stops and backups along the way



First part of the challenge went well, walk over with and the hill challenge tackled to where it wasn’t scary any longer. The next challenge was on the return of the walk was for me and Solly to do some walking about in the field next to our horses one to get familiar with the area a bit more with the thought of riding a bit of it.




So, after walking and checking there was nothing out there to worry us such as deer or pheasants running out in front of us and knowing where the slippery pathways were I knew we were nicely connected and I felt confident to mount up.







We got on at the fence, rode around a bit then came back towards the fence, relaxed then went out again. I did a few approach the gate and go away again to keep my confidence and to allow Solly to see the herd which keeps his confidence.







I made sure I could move his hq’s and his forehand then transitions of walk/halt/backup and we even went down a hill and trotted back up…felt really good to be doing this after all our CZT preparation.


I didn’t overdo it but stopped on a very good note and praised Solly big time for being a good boy 😉

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy


Comfort Zone Training – 2nd Unit – Session 4

Forth Session: 




A lovely sunny day at the end of November SO we go out for another walk through the fields for some CZT.






Some okay moments, and some out of CZ moments. Going up and then down the short hill where we had a ‘moment’ last week was still a bit of a worry. Both horses spooked for no apparent reason but we got over and into the next field without incident. To be honest I was glad not to be riding at that moment!




We also went further down the track outside the fields which was good, so distance progress was made.





Mr Solly was pretty good, he had a few ‘high headed’ moments but was only looking which is okay and he didn’t spook at anything apart from that ‘hill’ 😉





We went back following exactly the same route as going out, Mark rode Stormy for a bit but I decided to walk it  as I wasn’t feeling safe.





Mark and his Stormy riding along while we walked calmly 😉





Nearly home and it was a good walk…exhausted and tired but happy to have done the same walk again. We need to go over it again and again now to settle all our nerves on the ‘hill’ part. Maybe go out again tomorrow to see how it goes.







When we got back to the field I rode Solly as I wanted to ride him after all that walking. We did some nice walk weave, leg yields, fig 8’s and over poles but couldn’t do much else as the ground was ROCK HARD and I didn’t want to hurt Sol’s feet. Enjoyed the ride even though short and it was lovely to see Solly riding so nicely with just the rope halter and 22′ line 🙂













Comfort Zone Training – 2nd Unit – Session 3

Winter is coming and at the moment at the end of November the ground is very hard and the horses can get sweaty if too much is done with them SO am taking it slowly with them although still trying to do ‘stuff’ with them to help keep the consistency of the CZT.

Today I played for a short while with Solly in the lowest round pen, this one is nearest the gate to the next field. We played with some gentle mind exercises to get us mentally connected first, things like sidepass a few steps then DHQ and halt for 5 seconds, then same on his other side. Then some backing up to connect me to his feet.





We connected very quickly so went on to circling in trot for relaxation (where he’s learned to blow out to relax his lungs and body) and to go long and low to stretch his topline and mind before trying a few strides of canter. I always check these to make sure the saddle is sitting well and to release any stiffness in his mind or body.





All went well so I did some work for the mounting block. Solly likes to ‘play’ a lot so when asking him to the mounting block he usually comes but not quite far enough, then he fiddles and chews his reins for a bit SO today we worked on getting this smoother with some treat training techniques. That went really well so the last time he came up to the mounting block nicely I mounted and rewarded him for willingness and nice behaviour.






Riding was short but good. As we could only do a bit I decided to do as much ‘without the reins’ as I could. I didn’t just ride with loose reins as Solly likes to have a ‘feel’ from his rider to keep connected, so with reins held we did turns from our focus/body/weight/leg aids and they went really really well….I was actually really happy with the results. Transitions from walk/trot and halt/backups were light and willing and we did some very subtle turns on the hq’s and  then the forehand which I was very impressed with….the whole ride was lovely. Progress 🙂

My thoughts are on riding in the next field so I  need to do more riding towards that area soon…before Winter sets in and the chance goes until next year!


  • Shelley – HorseSavvy



Comfort Zone Training – 2nd Unit – Session 2

Second Session:


Our 2nd session was an in-hand walk again, me and Solly with Mark and Stormy for company and this time we decide to go in the opposite direction from last time. This is mainly because soon the horses have to come home to the house paddocks for Winter so I thought it would be a good idea to walk that route as we have a new track in unfamiliar fields this year. SO… we went. This time too I made a small change with Solly as I asked him to wear/carry a horsey ‘backpack’ which he actually did very well for me. It was very handy to put my excess clothing in as I got warmer. Here are the pictures from our walk……





Out of the gate and down the first hill, keeping off the frozen section so that the horses didn’t slide. Along the flat field at the bottom wasn’t a worry at all, we used to have the herd in this field so they know it. I’m also better on this walk because we travel this route twice – three times a day when visiting and feeding the herd so I know what to expect along the way. Out of the 2nd field and we have to go up a pretty steep ‘new’ road that was put in this year for logging purposes. The horses have not seen this before and took it pretty well.






We went slowly as the track has stones on it and a steep fall to the left to the river. My heart was going slightly but because I knew the route I was able to keep calm and help Solly stay with me emotionally.






At the top of the hill Solly went much slower, his head low in a stance I usually take to mean he’s out of his CZ and a little introverted. We go really slowly for him and let him take his time to come back out of his shell. When I could feel him trying hard to come back to me I ask him to just do a couple of ‘games’ to test he’s connected tome and not disconnected and withdrawn.






The games I ask are: touch it with his nose to the log pile (to help him smell and touch his environment and to let me know if he’s frightened); move fh & hq’s to where he’s sidled up to the log pile (again to see if he’s frightened of it); back up away from the log pile (to allow his brain to reconnect with his feet and shows me he’s listening to me and back in the world).







The wood pile is HUGE so I was very pleased Solly walked by it so well.







Then we’re onto a small pretty piece of track that goes through a small wooded area and to the last gate for today.







We all take a rest and a good look around.






From here we can see the rest of the road and the uphill track that goes to our house, which is where the herd will be coming when the weather turns really nasty over winter.I feel very confident that they’ll know where they’re going when we do this walk later on and I felt very confident walking Solly to this gate today. Such a HUGE difference to me from a track where I know where I’m going to one where I have no idea, I’m sure the horses are the same so it was good to let Solly and Stormy have a ‘recce’ trip out today.





The whole trip back was pretty nice, some grazing for the boys and also Solly showed some curiosity over things he’d just walked ‘blindly’ past on the way up.








Curiosity shows he’s ‘awake and paying attention’ to the world around him, lack of curiosity for him means that he’s gone introverted
and not paying attention.




  • Shelley – HorseSavvy
  • Image00073

Comfort Zone Training – 2nd Unit – Session 1

First Session:

This is day 1 of my next ‘7 session unit’ of CZT with Solly. Knowing to make progress from the first week’s sessions I now have to take what we did and learned there to another area so we pushed out of the CZ of the field in the company of husband Mark and his horse Stormy and decided to do a circular walk across a few fields and onto a track back home.

Walking out in-hand allows you to control going into an unfamiliar area without the worry of riding, you can check out the track, make sure the ground is safe and that there is nothing going to make you or your horse jump and if it does then you have time to think about things and only carry on when you and/or your horse are relaxed and happy to continue.

Being with Mark and Stormy helps both Solly and I to be in good company in a situation that may worry us. It also helps from the perspective that I will walk further with Mark beside me on that first outing than I would do on my own so I can really stretch the CZ for me to then be able to do the same walk on my own with Solly and know it’s a safe walk.

We do really well through the first two fields, we’ve been here once before a few months ago so I know the area, the footing and where we’re going which helps us be confident.

At the end of the first two fields we had to go through a new gateway, which I’ve never been through before. There was some ‘blue’ plastic rubbish up on our left, the river really close off the right of the track and an incline up a hill. I ask Solly to follow Storm through the gateway, turn so that I can close the gate and then we walk up the incline together. A little bit of raised ‘energy’ as it’s all new to me but we get through okay.




At the top of the small hill I am faced with a sharp left turn and a similar hill down to the next field. We are now higher up looking down a sharp edge to the river on our right, Solly next to this with me on his left facing going down the hill. I get a little unconfident and have to stop and just  stand and wait while I get my focus and energy back on track. Mark stops too and waits patiently for me. If I was alone I would retreat back to the familiar place of the previous field as the energy in my mind and body could easily affect my horse, from there I could either (a) approach again and go forward or (b) retreat and try again in a bit, the next day, or when I can…today I re-focus and carry on.

The picture on the right shows Solly down the hill looking at the field, checking out the sheep, seeing if there is anything to worry about before carrying on.



Back on track we follow Mark and Storm through the field. Mark has been through the field before when riding out so I know he knows where the safe footing is.

All goes well and about half way through Solly raises his head and looks to the left, we see a couple of people coming down the track outside the field and then he looks to the right where a couple of kids and adult are playing ‘poo sticks’ at the bridge there. He was a bit high headed for a bit but we carried on and I think he soon realised that the track they were on was familiar to him as we’ve walked and ridden down this track to the village in the past.





Once on the track we were okay again, familiar terrain felt easy and comfortable and we all strode out heading back for home.







Nearly home and Solly started to look out for our other horse Tara who we’d left in the field, he also started just checking the track side grazing and herbage out which was good to see, his curiosity back. I was also very chilled out and happy to just walk along in Solly’s company. Soon we were back through the gate into the field and Tara was right there to greet us back home 🙂


  • Shelley – HorseSavvy