Monday, May 11, 2009

Training Trail Rides

The day was sunny, windy, and cool. Pretty much a typical day on the Beach in Central California. The weather here is so consistently good that I often forget how good we have it until I travel. Today was a day for a group trail ride that my friends and I do every few weeks. These are special trail rides where we engage in activities for the purposes of training and improving our mounts.

One of the biggest problems with training a horse to trail ride is that it is often difficult to train a horse for the trail unless you are on a trail. But then you may be with friends, or fellow riders who may not appreciate an unruly horse in their midst. And of course it is generally unfair to impose your training requirements on fellow riders, especially if they do not get to ride very often. And since it is unsafe to ride a green or difficult horse on the trail alone, the horse who needs the most work, gets the least attention and so a vicious cycle ensues.

For this reason, my friends and I have resolved to meet every few weeks to engage in what we call a training trail ride. We select trails that are easily accessed and bring plenty of helpers to hold horses or watch our gear. Someone always brings food and it is a festive affair. But most importantly, there is only one agenda and that is to improve your horse. Some people have green horses that need miles, some people have spooky horses that need exposure, some people have horses that need to overcome being herd bound or trailer sour. All are welcome and, in the group, there is always someone with a similar problem or willing to work with you. On these group rides, one should never feel that they are holding someone else back or that they are disturbing others. The whole point is to bring your difficult horse to a tolerant, paitient, and helpful environment where everyone understands that the purpose of the ride is not to just get from A to B, but to get everyone going home safely with a more educated horse.

I have found that these Training Trail Rides are extremely valuable and have contributed greatly to the improvement of our hourses. The following is just one example of a very valuable exercise:

Canter Relay:
Best for a group of 3 or more riders.
Pick a safe section of the trail where the horses can canter. Have one rider canter off while the rest wait. When the first rider has cantered about one to two hundred yards, he stops and waits. As soon as the second rider sees the first rider stop, he starts his turn and canters to the first. When he arrives, the first rider may depart for another cantering leg of the same length while the second rider waits for the third. When the third rider sees that the second has stopped, that is his cue to begin his leg.

This drill can be repeated as many times as is convenient depending on the trail conditions. The benefits are at least as follows:

  • By cantering small sections, the riders gain confidence in cantering on the trail without giving the horses a chance to get too fast and out of control
  • By insisting that horses wait while other horses canter away establishes the riders control and forces the horse to learn patience.
  • By keeping the wait time between legs short, the horse learns that there is no need to be herd bound as long as he has the patience to wait his turn.

This is just one of many similar drills that can be used to improve the quality of a trail horse. But it must be done with the permission of everyone involved and therefor cannot be imposed on a group unless they are all of like mind. If you live on the Central Coast of California and you are interested in participating feel free to email me for dates and times. If you live elsewhere, try to organize a similar group. It is well worth the effort as it is useful and a lot of fun.


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