Training for Trail: Next Steps for 3 1/2 year old?
I have a 3 1/2 year old that I have owned since she was 1, so believe you me, we have done more groundwork, bonding, joining-up type exercises, and trail walks (unmounted) than I can count. According to those that supposedly know (trainers) she is where she should be for her age and how often we work her; she is a smooth as butter when in-hand - we did a showmanship class at our local show to test our skills and she was a gem, doing the patterns with ease (my goal was not to win or even place, just to acclimate her to the show grounds, new horses, keeping her attention on me while in this new place, etc.). She can be ridden - walk, running walk, trot, canter (yes, she does all those gaits and I know there may be strong opinions on this). But, since she is still young, we only ride her 2-3 times per week and keep it to 40 mins or so - little warm up, little review (walk, trot, change direction, etc) and then maybe something new. So, she will go over tarps, wood pallets, rubber mats with holes - just stuff I have laying around that we work with. Then we cool out and let her loose in the arena while we pick up (she's mellow at that point and just mills about). The other 3 days per week, we do not ride but spend time grooming, walking the property, practice standing without pawing (hahahahaha) - work, but not riding. I will lunge her once or twice a month but honestly, she doesn't enjoy it (she'll do it but I think she wonders what the heck the point is) and I feel the same.
Anyway, We moved to a new barn 6 weeks ago. The new herd is settled, new patterns established and she is now familiar with things like an indoor arena, which was totally new to her, so I am feeling back on track and like I can think about "next steps".
She was ponied on a trail a few times last year at the old farm. For the past six weeks I take her out and we walk the trails at the new place; she just has on a halter and lead rope. I have taken her out with her saddle on as well. I am able to walk her with total slack in the lead rope, using body language (shoulders, head, eyes and rhythm of my pace) to lead. She will go ahead of me on trail and lead when I ask her too though, like when the trail gets narrow and only one of us can fit through at a time. Only struggle, I'm sure is partly b/c of her age and inexperience, is there are brief moments when I lose her attention and have to bring her back to me; scratch her neck, snap my fingers, say "we're walking" and then she's back with me.
So, that is where we are and now I am trying to figure out what we do next to meet our goal of having a horse that is safe to trail ride and loves to do it as much as we do. Can someone give me some suggestions?
Please note, I have no desire to have a show horse - I really don't like showing. My goal is to have a healthy, sound horse that we can use for trail riding, take camping with us, etc. - I am not foolish though, and I do not think for one second having a trail horse is any less work than bringing up a show horse, I am always confused as to why people think trail riding is "skill-less" (?).
Not sure it matters, but Jazzy is a little thing: 13.2, 650 pounds, Morgan and Tennessee walker mix. She is as slow as molasses and as full of personality as you could get (she likes to play still). I don't know, but if you can call a mare level-headed, I'd say she is that!
Most of the training my horses get is actually out on the trail.
As soon as I feel like I have a stop and give, I'm out of the arena and onto a trail someplace.
If your horse is doing everything you suggest she is doing above. Head down the traiil. It is a great place for them to learn.
I usually start with trails that are really brushy along the edge, Seems to help keep the horse focused on following the trail. And if you can do the 1st couple of trail rides following an experience trail horse that will help. But if you are a good enough horseman, you can do it alone.
I also have a 3 1/2 yr. old, we just started him under saddle this fall. He was born her from my mare so has also been handled since birth. He knows all the ground work, has been long lined, desensitized, etc. I also take him out for walks, where we live though we have to go a mile on the road to get to trails we ride on. So I've been walking him to get him used to traffic. So far a friend of mine and I have rode him in the round pen only at a walk. He's off for the winter here, we've already got a foot of snow in the round pen and I don't want him slipping in there......he has been ponied but I think in the spring I will start back with ponying him with his Mom and then start the riding.....sounds like you have a great start on her already!
Thanks to both of you for your reply. My gut said we were OK to head out mounted so your words are music to my ears, Painted Horse. I am going to ask around today and see who I can hook up with to go out on trail... I'd feel better if a strong solid mount was leading, at least at first.
I have another question = do you ever let your horses choose their gait on trail? I started world war three when I asked this at my barn!
sounds like hes ready to ride on the trail to me ! with a steady eddy of course =]
i never let a horse choose what gait we go on the trail. if i did we would gallop for hours...
I choose the speed that I want the horse to travel. But I will often let them choose the gait that they want to use to achieve that speed. Unless they get uncomfortable.
My horse can slip between foxtrott, a rack, or a running walk gait but still be moving at 6 mph. As long as he doesn't go into a pace or cant-a-lope, I'm not too worried about how his feet are moving.
Good luck with finding someone to trail ride today with you! Let us all know how it goes!
I don't let my guy choose his gait on the trail, because give his druthers, it would always be turn around and walk home! I will sometimes let him break into a canter on a nice stretch of trail though if we're already trotting. Will all your basics done, I'd say you're ready to hit the trails with a nice solid trail buddy!
Like Painted said, hit the trail! By the time your horse is five, you will have a pretty solid trail mount even though still young. Good time to teach a lot like baby stepping down hills without rushing when reaching the bottom, going through water, getting exposed to nature's critters etc. There is so much learning that goes on. You will bond deeper than you could have ever imagined. Pretty cool!
While it is nice to have an experienced horse to hack out with, sometimes it is not easy to find someone to ride with. What I would do when I started my youngster was pick a good patch of grass as a destination... first time was field across from house. The next time it was a few houses down street... then the end of the street... and so on. Very soon, my horse was so excited to leave property he'd wait at gate, let me saddle him without even haltering him, and then he'd head down the road, confident that he was going to a wonderful destination.
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