While I was making a presentation recently, in front of a large crowd at a horse expo, I heard myself say, while justifying why the horses in the huge coliseum were a little overwhelmed, “please understand their discomfort, after all , they’re just trail horses.” I knew it sounded wrong, even as it came out of my mouth and even though I was reiterating the disclaimers of the riders to please excuse their horses because they had never been in an indoor arena. The fact that they were “just” trail horses and “just” trail riders has given me some food for thought. The truth is, trail riding requires the same horsemanship skills as any other type of riding and given the fact that you are riding in a totally uncontrolled environment and often in unpredictable circumstances, you could argue that trail riding requires an even higher level of horsemanship.
In the past decade, I have seen the nature of the riders in my clinics change. It used to be that the riders were more interested in showing—in improving their riding skills to perform certain maneuvers better or in making their horse go slowly on the rail so they could win more ribbons. It used to be that people who were “just trail riders,” didn’t show up at clinics because they weren’t interested in showing, performance or going ‘round and ‘round. These days, my clinics are full of trail riders who have realized that the more they know, the better they ride, and the stronger their partnership between horse and human, the safer and more satisfying their horse activities become.
After all, it doesn’t matter whether you hit the trail or ride around in circles, you need to have authority over your horse, he needs to respect and admire your leadership so that he is comfortable leaving the herd in your presence and going wherever you say, and he needs to have good ground manners before, during and after your ride. You need to know how to stay balanced on your horse (arguably even more for trail riding), you need to know how to cue him and control him in all gaits and you need to be able to rate his speed and put him exactly where you want him to be—maneuvering around challenging obstacles. These horsemanship skills are important no matter where you are going with your horse and they require study, practice and experience.
The truth is, good horsemanship is good horsemanship, no matter what discipline you ride or what activities you pursue—there are no horse activities exempt from this. For instance, take a look at some of the topics, just released in my new video, “Trail Solutions.” Starting out with the ability to evaluate a horse to make sure that it is the right type, age and training level, so that you have the greatest chance for success out on the trail or in whatever discipline you choose. Trailer loading is not “just for trail horses”—but it’s pretty important and almost any horse is going to have the need to be transported at some point, but especially a trail horse. Having a horse that steps right into the trailer without pushing or prodding is as important for a person going to a horse show every weekend as it is to a trail rider. Knowing how to safely train him to lead willingly and eagerly into the trailer is a skill almost any horse person needs.
Side passing is not just a cute show ring maneuver or a fancy dance step; it’s a way to completely control your horse’s body and maneuver him to an exact position that you dictate. When you’re out on the trail, being able to maneuver around obstacles, keep your horse in control in tight and confining spaces or sidle up to a gate to open it are valuable and essential skills. And having a horse that stands dead still for mounting is perhaps more valuable for a trail horse than it is for any arena horse, since mounting out on the trail can sometimes be precarious. Here's a clip from the Trail Solutions DVD:
What about desensitizing a “cinchy” horse? Most people that have been around horses for very long have at some point encountered a horse that is resistant and resentful about tightening the cinch/girth and it is as common in trail horses as it is in any other type. It can strike the easiest going, best tempered horse if pain is inflicted by the cinch. Learning how to eliminate this undesirable and potentially dangerous behavior might make the difference in salvaging a good trail horse. That episode is on another Horse Master compilation that trail riders will also find helpful--Troubleshooting. Here's a clip from that one:
You can call to get both or either DVD at: 800-225-8827
Studying and perfecting good horsemanship skills is equally important for all types of riders and like in any discipline, trail riders will be safer, have more fun and get more satisfaction if they ride better, have a trusting and willing horse and know how to handle “problem” situations. I’ve met lots of very experienced riders that used to compete and/or rode at very high levels, but now they find their greatest satisfaction in “just” trail riding. Trail riding can be a challenging and sometimes difficult pursuit and, as with anything challenging in life, it helps to know more. That’s why I love having trail riders in my clinics and I expect the same level of commitment to excellence that I do from any rider.
Trail riding can range from a leisurely stroll down a mowed path around the barn to a 100 mile trek through the mountains. Any event that involves riding horses requires skill, knowledge, lots of practice and lots of patience. An accomplished horse person is admirable in my eyes, not matter what path she follows. What do you think?
Enjoy the ride,