The Trail to Success
Tips for Happy Trails!
Tips for Happy Trails!
Check out these suggestions and my Trail Tip videos to help
you and your horse become a team!
you and your horse become a team!
Trail riding seems like such a simple pleasure ....
But in order to have fun on the trail, you must be
diligent in making your horse safe.
Riding smart and safe is of utmost importance. If your horse is not well-schooled in basic control, don't even think about riding in the great outdoors.
To ride "The Trail to Success", here are some guidelines to help you.
Reetsie and Misty in Oregon's Ochoco Mountains
Can you pass this checklist?
If he doesn't whoa, then you'd better not go!
Does your horse stop immediately and easily? This is undoubtedly the most important basic command. Control over your horse is necessary for both your safety. No matter if you are mounted or on the ground, the"whoa" command isyour safety net, and sometimes your emergency brake.
Teaching my horse that when I say "whoa" means stop and stand- no matter what -
has saved me from certain accidents.
My great Appaloosa, J.D.
I have always felt if your horse respects you when you're on the ground, then he'll have reason
to obey you when you're mounted.
He should travel by your side willingly and with no resistance on the lead.
When you stop, he stops immediately.
He should be able to back up in a straight line or in a curve with a light pull.
Sidepassing and pivots will prove useful skills both on the ground and mounted.
Using horse sense keeps you safe
Safety is something a lot of people learn by accident.
There is no reason that a horse should be allowed to misbehave. It's dangerous for you, and sometimes even for him. Some accidents are unforeseen, but most are caused because we humans took shortcuts or missed crucial steps in a horse's training.
I require that my horses stand still for grooming and tacking up. Him dancing around means I could get stepped on.
Mounting? HE MUST STAND STILL! Remember how I earlier stressed the whoa command? It's for your safety and his control that he doesn't move a foot when you mount.
Exercise your horse prior to your ride by longeing or doing free work in an arena. 7 - 10 minutes at a steady trot and lope-canter usually does it. Do more if your horse's energy level warrants. It is time well-spent! There are so many smart reasons to do this: get the excess energy out, study to make certain your horse is sound, warm up his muscles AND his mind, review voice commands, etc.
Respect what you and your horse are capable of
Let's say you've schooled your horse in the arena, and feel confident he'll stop, turn, obey leg aids. You're ready to tackle the great outdoors!
Create confidence by being in complete control of the environment on these first rides outside. Keep it as distraction-free as possible. Realize on the first outdoor trips, you won't be riding off into the sunset, climbing mountains and fording rivers. Setting too high of expectations will almost certainly set you back on the training.
Like humans, horses need to go through grade school first. Be content with with baby steps, because done right, you'll accomplish more in bonding and trust with your horse. This is how you teach horses to believe in you, and when they'll try any obstacle. It will be because you taught them to trust you. It means a huge responsibility on you, which comes back to my original statement: respect what you and your horse are capable of.
Green on green makes black and blue
Translation: An untrained horse with an untrained rider is asking for world of hurt.
Besides the disappointment of not accomplishing your dream, you are placing yourself in great danger. First graders can't teach first graders. If you are a novice, ask a knowledgeable horseman to help you select a sound, well-trained horse to start with. Then, take riding lessons to learn the right buttons to push.
Or, take lessons on a well-trained, reliable trail horse. The big advantage to this approach is that you can concentrate on improving yourself. You won't have so much to figure out, training both you AND your horse.
Do your homework
To efficiently handle obstacles, your horse must be well- schooled in fundamentals.
Whether for show or pleasure, your horse should respond to subtle leg aids. He should correctly sidepass and yield for forehand and haunch turns, no matter whether you are leading or mounted. These movements are essential to control your horse's body .... and could make a huge difference in a dangerous situation.
Training your horse to yield to leg aids allows you to move close to or to avoid obstacles
and maneuver within them. When your horse is sensitive to your commands, it makes it easy
for you to open that gate or move around a tree.
Ride with confidence
(even if you're shaking in your boots!)
(even if you're shaking in your boots!)
There's many a time we ask our horse to tackle an intimidating obstacle, one that he's never seen before. If you've given him a firm foundation in fundamentals, he will try to please you. Also as important, if he realizes you'll be patient, he can satisfy his curiosity.
Keep your horse pointed head-on at the scary obstacle. Allow him to look. Hold him steady with your legs.Talk to him. Allow him to take his time to check it out. BREATHE!
When your horse has learned to trust that you won't let him get hurt, you'll also trust that he will obey in whatever situation. End result: you'll both enjoy a wonderful time on the trail, certain that together, you can handle challenges.
Gaining confidence in each other's abilities is the product of many hours. You will be rewarded for your patience and effort. Time is well-spent in teaching basics, moving on to a little more difficult obstacles/maneuvers.
Don't feel like you're back-tracking to review basics. Maintenance is always necessary for top notch performance in anything. And, as you two become a team, you'll spend less time fine-tuning. And, that's called efficient training!
Correct horsemanship is crucial
Sitting balanced in the saddle, hands and legs in proper alignment will allow your horse to feel your subtle signals. Leaning over, eyes down, sitting off to the side, hinders your horse's balance.
As a competitor, you'll get more points when you signal your horse with almost invisible aids. Think how pretty a picture that is! That is the goal to work for.
Are you winning, losing, or calling it a draw?
Realize that each and every time you are with your horse, you are either training .... or untraining
Think about that. Are you accepting unwanted behavior because you don't want to
take the time to correct it?
Not ending on a successful note will make the next lesson(s) more work (and sometimes unsafe) for you. Go back to a basic exercise to achieve positive results,
and then return to the problem obstacle. Sometimes it won't be a complete win but
a partial is ALWAYS better than giving up.
Don't give your horse a reason to stay awake all night thinking of ways to misbehave!
Be aware of your surroundings
Hey, the driver should be looking where they're going!
A major fault of almost all riders is looking down at their horse's head constantly. Part of building trust is your horse knowing that you, as the master, are observing the trail ahead; evaluating the terrain that will allow you both to handle it safely. Especially in the green/novice stage, you must be attentive. As you learn how to read and rate obstacles; he learns to trust that you will help him safely get through whatever. Horsemanship-wise, riding with your eyes forward enables you to accurately "feel" your horse. It is amazing how much you
will sense when you don't ride by your eyes!
I tease my adult students when they're looking down at the horse's head. "Please tell me when you drive your car down the freeway, you're not looking at the steering wheel?"
Rebecca and Howdy
~~ If someone's horse gets loose: DISMOUNT IMMEDIATELY!
When another horse is bucking or running scared, yours may very well want to join. For safety, jump off, quickly take the reins off his neck,
and the situation becomes yours to control.
~~ Keep a horse length between when traveling on a trail.
~~ On problem obstacles, wait on the other side for the next horse to cross. Do not leave them alone!
~~ Make an agreement before heading down the trail: no one takes off at a faster gait. The horse(s) who are left behind may bolt to catch up, with no matter if there are limbs, ditches, or whatever in the way. And/or they could start bucking as a way to get you off, so they can rejoin the other horse(s).
As in any relationship, trust takes time to develop. Here's something to consider: do you trust your horse? If the answer is no, then realize it is mutual. Your horse doesn't trust you.
But, by patiently creating a training program of successful steps, a partnership is established that will carry you safely through the roughest of obstacles and situations. Challenges will be confidently handled, because you believe in each other's abilities.
There are no shortcuts in horse training. Time, patience, consistency, and knowledge are the keys; you'll need them to unlock your horse's mind. These keys are what will create a happy horse who
will always try for you.
If "trainers" tell you to use gimmicks and promise a guaranteed shortcut to fix a problem, don't
buy their oceanfront property in Arizona.
Where Am I ????
A GPS is a wonderful invention, but do not become totally dependent on it. They are not always reliable for accurate directions. Use your GPS, but always
double check with a good old-fashioned map. It could save you from going down a dangerous trail or a wrong road with a loaded-up trailer.
The very best map book we've found for traveling is the Oregon Road & Recreation Atlas made by Benchmark Maps. They make these invaluable books
for all the states. Every single road is listed, even the dirt logging roads and quite a few trails.
Wherever we ride in the wilderness, we always carry forest service and/or BLM topographical maps as well as a compass to consult. We still get "misplaced"
sometimes, but not for long!