Where can you and your horse really bond? Where can you encounter obstacles that strengthen your leadership with your horse? Where can you and horse achieve true harmony and mutual respect? For me, the answer to these questions is out in the woods on a beautiful trail.
Trail riding is one of the best activities for a horse and rider. Throughout my experiences with horses, trail riding has been the most memorable and rewarding times I’ve spent with my horses. Nothing can bring a horse and rider together faster than having to navigate a stream, a steep incline, or travel down rocky descents. In my book there is no such thing as “just a trail horse”, therefore when I choose to trail ride, I take my best horse!
I enjoy both easy and challenging trails. You may have found that your horse has the necessary qualities needed in a competent trail horse. I think a good trail horse needs to be responsive, trustworthy, and confident. A responsive trail horse is one that is sensitive to the aids. A horse that responds to leg cues and moves its hindquarters and forequarters or backs up with ease is ideal for trail riding. I need my trail horse to be trustworthy, so that if we come to a deep stream or a rocky, slippery trail, I have no worries. A trail horse must be confident. Every horse spooks from time to time, but a solid trail horse is not flustered by a deer dashing through the woods or a loud crash from a branch deep within the forest. A confident trail horse is one that willingly and boldly accepts a challenging trail in any kind of weather.
Trail riding is not only good for horses but for people as well. Riding deep in the woods, opens the mind and relaxes the soul. I feel closer to nature and closer to the real source of life. And to experience these things on my favorite animal is awesome!
I have countless rides in my memory with important people in my life. A bunch of those memories is with my daughter. I will always remember our time together out on the trail and the things we saw in nature together. Once we came upon a large fluffy, white baby owl. He was sitting on a log right in the middle of the trail. He absolutely refused to move off the log. We stopped our horses and wondered what we should do, fearing that the mother was somewhere near by. I decided that we were not turning back, so I asked my faithful, bold trail horse to get closer to the owl and put pressure on it, hoping the baby owl would move away. Finally the owl gave in and hopped to the side and we respectfully went on our way. Of course I have lots of fun memories from showing my horses, but the memories made out on the trail with family and friends, I will cherish those forever.
There are competitions available for you to test your skills as a rider and your horse’s abilities out on the trail. I particularly like NATRC, North American Trail Ride Conference. They offer long distance competitions to riders of all equine breeds and disciplines. NATRC is noted for their dedication to safety and sportsmanship. I have participated in many of these rides over the years, and they are not only fun, but you learn a great deal about conditioning your horse as you prepare for one of these rides, and you make new friends along the way.
Another wonderful thing about trail riding is the people you meet. Some of the best people I know, are people I trail ride with on a regular basis. I have found that the friends I have met through trail riding, are people who I respect, because they are honest, friendly, reliable, and have a tremendous respect for nature. Some of these people have become life long friends.
No matter what breed of horse you ride, or your chosen discipline, trail riding is beneficial for your horse’s mental and physical well being. It’s a time for you to improve your equitation. It’s a chance for you to explore nature and different terrain, while building your confidence in yourself and your horse. Its a chance to witness the simple beauty of nature, and share that with loved ones and special friends.
Gail Ford is owner of Mulberry River Farm. She is a local amateur rider and competitor who studies natural horsemanship and the fundamentals of dressage.