Trail riding is fun, rewarding, and an adventure for you and your horse! Are you fully prepared for a day (or week) on the trail? Whether you’re hitting the trail for a day-long ride or packing up for a week-long horse camping outing, you and your horse need to be prepared for anything and everything. Knowing how to respond, staying calm and maintaining control of your horse are the basics of trail riding. Achieving these will take time and a lot of practice.
Ideally, ride with someone who is willing to practice and wait for you on the trail should you need to stop and work on negotiating an obstacle until you and your horse feel confident and calm before moving on. Make a mental note of what you will need to practice when you get home before hitting the trail again. One important thing, too: never talk about how scary the obstacle is or when that monster is going to jump out because your horse will be scared and will be looking for that monster. If you think it, so will your horse.
Think about -- and practice overcoming at home -- these potential obstacles before hitting the trail:
- Being tied to the trailer, for tacking and otherwise . This is my favorite because we have seen way too many wrecks. First, safety check your saddle, pad, etc. Practice saddling and unsaddling your horse, including taking the halter/bridle on and off. Does your horse stand tied/not tied? Practice both. Out on the trail, have you ever tied your horse properly to a tree? This is something you and your horse will need to practice. Will your horse stand quietly tied to your trailer or a tree? What about when it is really windy? What if other horses are walking by? How about when you leave and get out of sight? Cars/trucks/4-wheelers going by? Dogs? Think of everything you can to practice. It will help and it does transfer to the trail.
- Crossing a ditch/mud puddle/small creek . Keep your horse pointed toward the obstacle or across the ditch/creek, and take it one step at a time. You can send your horse over the obstacle, but make sure you have practiced groundwork at home to be sure you have control before going over or through anything. When practicing at home, start with something small. In the arena or a field, start with a log. Step over it, back over it, then sidepass over it; have fun with it! Next, put a tarp down (folded up) then step over it. See if you can get your horse to step ON it, then make it a little bigger, and so on. A grade in terrain also makes a nice “obstacle” to step into, onto, back up through, etc. Then go to the ditch or puddle. I like to focus (look) at where I want to go instead of thinking of what I’m crossing. If you think positively, sit up, ride forward and keep focused forward, your horse will follow in mind and body.
- Riding in large groups, with unfamiliar horses . We hear, “When my horse gets in larger groups, he jigs, rears, doesn’t listen, and is unruly, but when it is just me and my horse, he’s great.” Sometimes people think their horses will be fine when they decide to join a big trail ride or relaxed if the other horses are leaving or running up on them. This is simply not true. Just like people, horses have their own set of emotions. Some horses can handle it with help from their rider; for others, the horse will want to take over. That’s when it can become dangerous for both rider and horse. You will need to do a lot of practicing, hauling, and riding with a few, then gradually more people. A horse with a confident nature can usually be trained or coached to do almost anything. This is a good candidate for a trail partner. Some horses will be more timid or nervous, and even unsocial. These horses will need a more confident rider to teach/help them through the situations. They will eventually have more confidence, thanks to the trust and help of their rider. You can also do some desensitizing to help, but you have to be careful with this as you can go overboard and send them to the moon.
Other things you and your horse can work on are directional and body control, first in the arena, then out in the field. Play games. The intent is to calm emotions and get your horse to focus on you. Ask a friend to come over with her horse, then another, and still more. Then if you feel comfortable, head out on the trail.
Remember there’s more than just one way to teach your horse. You may have a way that your horse understands better. Just be sure to never sacrifice your relationship with your horse during the process. The more prepared you are and the more practice you do, the more confident and ready you and your horse will be for anything you encounter out on the trail.
Angelia Robinette-Dublin and Jenny Lance met in 2004 and received their training certification together in 2005. They became best friends with like philosophies on horsemanship and decided to work together under the name "Live To Ride." Robinette-Dublin breeds and raises American Quarter Horses and participates in extreme trail riding, ranch versatility, reining and cow working disciplines out of her farm in Lexington, TN. Lance participates in dressage, some cow working, and trail riding from Athens, OH. These ladies mirror the majority demographic of recreational riders today. With their enthusiasm and knowledge, they focus mainly on helping you to create a Performance Trail Horse as a safe and confident trail partner. For more information on Live To Ride, visit www.LiveToRideHorses.com
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