Fundamental traits of a trail horse
Here's a recent magazine column I wrote on what I consider the five basic traits that every trail horse should have.
How do your expectations compare?
Here's the cover click on it to read the whole article
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But if you're discussing general traits, I would also add sound. My friend bought a great horse. Lots of sense, smart, careful on the trail, very aware. She loved him so much that she rushed to buy him and didn't get him vet checked. Turns out he has stifle problems, and he'll never be sound for anything more than a little walk on the woods. You can work on training issues; you can make a horse more independent, trail savvy, careful, and calm with miles. But you can't do a thing with a lame horse.
And if you're a serious trail rider, conformation is important too. Straight legs, big bones, good feet, powerful hindquarters... Again, you can have a horse with plenty of sense, but if his legs are crooked and he's constantly interfering or sore... Nothing you can do for him.
When selecting trail horses, it's not just the brain. It's the body too. People thing anything with four legs can make a good trail horse, but trying to make a trail mount out of some horses is just going against nature.
Good article and to the point :D
As far as a sound animal the agility topic pretty much covers that.
I have always had to complete training while on the trail.
No luxury items like an arena or riding ring.
Miles and "been there done that" brings em around.
Just did a second read of the article, really liked it!
I would like to add something but not sure how to put it.
Time is the topic of interest, expectations of the rider are not met quick enough.
Some of these things take time, not resolved in a few short rides
or even in one riding season.
At one time a horse trader/seller I know saw me with a new horse(5 year old).
He said he liked the horse but it would take about three years till we really had it together.
I think he was right, don't get me wrong I enjoyed this horse from day one.
Great rides, headstrong, forward, and extremely agile but to harness this energy and for
us to always work as one took three riding seasons.
Although you did state "Are you willing to put the same time and effort into your trail horse? "
Maybe I should say some people don't realize the amount of time, miles and
patience that are required.
I liked it! I would add though trustworthy. Maybe this is personal preference or would be covered under Calm, but I want a horse that I can ground tie and know it will stay. I look for a horse that will plod along if I just sit up there and take me back to the trailer if I say "Go home" (I'm just using that as an example lol). My mare is like this and it has saved my butt a few times! I one time had to leave her groundtied for thirty minuets and came back to see her standing there. Another time she just up and followed me back to our trailer when her bridle broke (as did the rope halter we had :( ). I really liked the article!!!
Nicely written. Good sense.
Magazine articles are inherently shallow. Each of those five characteristics could be expanded to be a chapter of a book...or future articles.
There is nothing in any of those things that cannot be accomplished by the average rider. It just takes miles of riding and paying attention, with a little bit of horse savvy (which you learn as you go as well) tossed in.
Conversely, you can't get any of those things by babying a horse any more than a roper, reiner, cutter, barrel racer, or jumper can get performance out of his/her horse by love alone. It takes work and sometimes requires one to be a bit of a stern disciplinarian. One shouldn't expect to jump on their horse once every couple of months and expect the horse to have these traits built-in. It takes a lot more riding and training (at least at first) than just when we go for a weekend outing.
Traits and training are different. Traits are somewhat inherent. Traits can be affected by training. For instance, a more reactive horse can be trained to be less reactive. But in a unusual situation or one that you have not trained for, how is the horse going to behave? If he is alert and reactive, even trained, he is still highly tuned in to his environment. That is an inherent trait. Soundness is somewhat inherent based on good conformation but injury can affect that. Surefootedness depends on a lot of things, hoof trim or shoes, as well as inherent things like conformation and balance.
Thanks Tony, a lot of people don't realize that there are word counts for magazine columns that have to be followed lest the write lose his column. Never a good thing to annoy your editor!
I rode with a this summer who had a great saying. "it takes 500 miles to make a trail horse" Goes back to the wet blanket theory of horse training that I tend to follow. Lots of work, lots of sweat.
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I agree on the "time" thing.
While you can go out and "buy a trail horse," and find a horse with a sound body and good temperament, you can't buy the partnership and trust that comes from lots of hours in the saddle with that horse.
They all have their quirks. Some are good, some are bad, some are just. . .quirky. And those quirky-quirks are the ones you may not know exist until you find yourself in unique situations.
Regarding the willingness thing, I really believe this is earned. A horse needs to learn you are worth following as a leader, not just blindly accept it. A few very broke, been-there-done-that saddle horses might just accept what any human tells them, based on many years of being ridden by experienced riders, but most horses need to learn to trust the human.
For example, when you start riding a new horse, you ask it to do something it is unfamiliar with, say crossing a large puddle. From previous experience that horse knows you are the leader, and that it must listen, but out of uncertainty it hesitates. You insist, cross the puddle successfully, and the horses confidence in your leadership grows. Eventually, you develop trust in each other, and you have a willing mount. This type of relationship also requires listening to your horse. My mare stopped going across a steep hill covered in thick brush that we had ridden many times in years past. It was out of character for her. I looked carefully in front of us, through the thick brush, and found that the spring rains had washed a 2' wide, 4' deep gash in the hillside, hidden by plants. It would have been an awful wreck if she had walked unquestionably into it. Riding another gelding when I was younger, I trusted him, but when he refused a river crossing I assumed he was being stubborn. I made him do it, and he stepped off a ledge(that wasn't there the year before), into very deep, fast moving water. It ended well, but could have been disastrous.
that said, there are a few horses out there that are naturally unwilling. These are a pain in the butt. The vast majority of horses are not in this category.
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