Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Don't Discount Trail Horses

Good Wednesday everyone!  Many of you have been trail riding on vacation.  That's the riding experience most people have had.  That's fine.  Don't discount it.

Trail riding is my passion.  I love it.  It's how I met RW.  It's what I did between knowing the large animal vet who taught me to ride as a six year old and having my own horse.  It does actually take skill to trail ride.  Now, I don't mean when the average person trail rides.  I mean when you go with some friends, not in an organized group on some vacation package.

When you go trail riding on vacation or in some organized group with a guide, it's the trail horse who has skill.  Everyone wants to discount these hard working horses.  It really gets under my skin and aggravates me to hear it.

Ok, not all trail horses are masters of their trade.  Just as not all show horses or lesson horses are masters in their fields either.  But, here's the thing.  That trail horse has to be able to let any Joe Public idiot, no experience rider, get on him and then bring him back safely.  You can't have a bad horse and have him do that successfully.

A good trail horse needs to be patient with his rider.  He needs to know his job.  He needs to do his job despite boredom, despite idiot behavior from his rider, and despite walking through what is a candy store to a horse.

A walk through the woods gives a horse a virtual buffet on which he wants to feast--grasses, plants, berries.  They may not all be good for him, but he doesn't know that.  Why do you think colic is the number one killer of horses?  Because they don't know that berry that's so tasty is also deadly.

A good trail horse walks past that buffet.  Even if he bends down to snack occasionally, he knows his job is to continue on.  And, he does his job.  Most trail horses do not follow their instinct to graze and just wander off with their riders.  They do their jobs.  They carry their riders safely back to the barn.

I cannot tell you how many people have told me they've only ridden "dumb old trail horses that just walk in a line."  That's how I know that person is just a "dumb old person who has no business on my horse."  Ok, maybe they just don't know any better.  If they become my students, they will.

About half of my horses were once trail horses.  Speakeasy, Tar, Big Mac, Chief--all trail horses. I don't know if Shadow was a trail horse because they didn't leave a history pinned to his collar when they left them at the meat lot.  I will tell you he behaves like a trail horse.  He has trail horse skills.  He has a trail horse sense of calm.

Trail horses cannot be high strung.  Too many unexpected things happen on the trail.  Birds fly out in front of them.  Bugs sting them.  Limbs drop from trees.  To your average horse, these things are signs of impending doom.  To a trail horse, it's just another walk in the woods.

Trail horses are more able to step over obstacles without a fuss.  Trail horses go under limbs without thinking a tiger is going to jump on them from above.  Trail horses open gates more easily.  That gate isn't as feared an object for a trail horses as it is for a lesson horse or a show horse who is not expected to deal with a gate.

My lessons are composed of three things, for the most part.  First there is a 20 minute warm-up for the horse and rider to get in tune.  Then, there is a 20 minute segment on the trail obstacles--going over and through things.  Finally, there is a 20 minute segment on the barrel courses learning patterns to work on equitation.

My retired Paso Fino, high end, Paso of the Year show horse, Merry, does not excel on the trail course.  She does not want to open a gate.  Merry is entirely too high strung to ever be a trail horse.  Now, could I teach her to do these things with enough time?  Sure.  But, I don't have the time, unfortunately.  I ride a lot less than I'd like to ride.  Management is a dull and time consuming job.

Yes, Big Mac was a show horse first, who retired to become a trail horse.  But, his show rider/owner was RW.  RW's ideas about show horses are very different.  One reason Big Mac made the successful transition to trail horse was RW's handling of him as a show horse.

RW believes that yes, a few days before a show, stall your show horse.  Let him build up some energy.  That will let him give his all on the day of the show.  But, on those days and weeks between shows, trail ride him.  It allows his mind to relax.  It allows him to be a well balanced horse.

And so, there are few show horses as well balanced as Big Mac.  I wish he were younger and had less arthritis.  I'd certainly use him more.  He is an outstanding horse.

Many trail horses are outstanding horses.  It's why you have a good experience on vacation.  That good experience brings me new clients sometimes.  They had so much fun, they want to learn more.  That's great!  Just remember, give that trail horse the credit he's due.  Don't underestimate him and don't overestimate yourself.  That's tomorrow's topic!

I'll get off my soap box now.  Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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