I am thinking of riding some powerlines which are steep. I can drive my 4 x 4 drive truck up them with no problem. The power company can drive rather large utility trucks up them also. They are long hills, maybe 1/4 mile with an elevation change of about 400 feet. These hills will be four or five in row. Do you folks think this would be to steep or to many?
Hill work is a great muscle builder and horses can handle steep hills fine if there is good footing to dig their hooves in. Just watch out for very dry, hard or soggy/muddy ground, both of which can be very slippery...having a horse slip and fall on your leg is no fun at all.
With the measurements you describe, 400ft rise x 1320ft run, that would be a 30% grade. Now remembering that you have to go back the way you came would double the amount of hill work. Most horse trails don't have more than 20% grade for erosion control. Of course there may be short areas where there is a very steep grade, but that would be the exception.
I would imagine that an endurance rider would be able to elaborate more on the steepness factor. I think, unless your horse is already in great shape, that it would be too much work. Maybe try to do one and see how it goes or find some ditches to ride up and down as conditioning for the big hills.
Generally, I also believe that if you need 4 wheel drive to get your vehicle through, you probably shouldn't take your horse there for a friendly ride. If you are using the horse for working livestock or something like that, then you do what you have to within reason.
The reason I asked the question is because we are planning a 180 mile trip form home, relatively flat land, to the mountains in the western part of the state. As we get farther west there is mostly highways that have mild slopes. I was planning on using RR trails to avoid the highways. Looking over the topo maps and google earth I see there are powerlines that would cut days off the trip, but of course they go up and down the mountains steeply not like RR trails. I was also thinking of using the C&O canal part of the way but I think the skeetters would do me in.
I'm from Idaho where "steep" is a very relative term. We have a section on our farm that is 30 degrees, more or less, about what you describe. The horses go up and down it all the time--we often put their hay at the bottom of it to make them work a bit. And, yes, I've ridden Mr. Big up and down it numerous times.
That being said, when it gets that steep Big likes to quarter both up and down--big zigs and zags so he isn't fighting gravity quite so much. I generally let him.
However, down at Hell's Gate State Park there are numerous trails that are steeper than anything we have on our land. We have to stay on the trails. We take it slow and Big has never had a problem. I often have to force him to stay slow--he sometimes wants to trot on the steep stuff, sometimes even canter going up. I try to keep him at a walk both for my comfort and his safety (which means my safety, too!).
Take it easy to start and get your horse in shape. Think about it: if you were always on flat land how would YOU like to carry a load up a series of steep hills without having a chance to get in shape first? Horses have muscles, too, and they respond to training just like ours.
One other thing that I thought was worth mentioning is that it is entirely possible for him to get muscle fatigue in the middle of one of those hills. If you feel him start to really struggle to keep going, then just stop and stand still for a minute and let him catch his breath/get his muscle strength back. It's when you push him farther than he can physically go that you run the risk of having him go down on you, especially if the footing is less than ideal.