How’s Your Horse on the Trail?
We had a trail training session and I thought I would share it with you. Yesterday, we had the opportunity to ride with a small group at Hansen Dam in Southern California. I took my Quarter Horse mare Jessie and we trailered the hour and forty minutes to the equestrian center. Jessie is a good trail horse. She has lots of miles on her and she likes going places. Part of her mare personality is she also walks with purpose and she prefers to be in the lead.
We were riding in a new area and we didn’t have a good knowledge of the trails, but our trail boss, Debbie, had ridden the area for several years. Jessie still thought she would be better at leading the group.
The Group Ride
There were many river crossings and the trails were narrow and tight in many places. There were six horse and riders with one rider “ponying” a young horse. We began the ride in the third position. The small black gelding in front of us did not seem to mind that Jessie was almost on her rump. I would have preferred we were 6 or 8 feet back. While thinking I could do a little trail training, and since we were a good distance in front of the 4th horse, we did an occasional circle. This put us back in a good position. Unfortunately, Jessie’s fast walk soon placed us right back where we started.
The last thing you want to do on a trail ride is to make your riding buddies uncomfortable because you have to work your horse. But, we needed to work on this somehow. As we rode along, I thought about how I could sneak in some trail training.
Enlist a Friend
We stopped at a water crossing and I enlisted the help of my wife, Ranae. Quickly, I described the situation and asked her to ride in front of us. Now, her Quarter Horse gelding, Dusty, is usually the slowest one of the bunch, so I thought this might be good for both horses.
When we restarted down the trail, Dusty took the 3rd position and I placed Jessie in the 4th spot. Right away she was right on Dusty’s rump. Although the trail was narrow, we began doing a mini-serpentine exercise. We went from one side of the trail to the other three or four times and then I let her go straight. When she moved right up on Dusty, I did it again. We did this for 10 or 15 minutes and I could tell she was getting a bit annoyed. She was doing the exercise, but it was making her work a bit harder.
Increase the Challenge
Jessie was still wanted to pass Dusty and I realized I had let this problem develop. Well, now it was time to work on it with a little more trail training. I asked Ranae if she minded if we bumped her around a bit and she said “no”. My next step was to let Jessie try to figure this out on her own. When I removed all pressure from the snaffle her nose would get to about Dusty’s flank. If she was on Dusty’s left, I picked up the right rein and asked her to move to the other side. Of course
Of course, she had to slow, bring her head around Dusty’s tail to cross the other side. And, as soon as she did, I again relaxed pressure on the bit. Then, she would up to his flank again and I would pick up the opposite rein to ask her to switch sides again. After a few times, she was staying behind Dusty longer and longer before we needed to make the correction.
Be Happy with Little Results
We didn’t completely solve this problem in one ride. Trail training is tough because you have to find a way to work your horse without disturbing others. Jessie was still too close to Dusty, but she wasn’t trying to pass him. Because she was “getting the idea”, I got to enjoy my ride a little more.
This little episode also brought to light that I needed greater awareness of poor habits my horse might be developing. Trail training can be helpful for horses who want to eat on the trail, jig, or get to the front. If you notice those problems early, they are much easier to fix.