...I did after all post this in the trail riding section of the forum, not the dressage or jumping section, so of course the trail riders are going to take some ownership and pride in the post, and yeah maybe they are going to get a little cocky because truth be told it seems as if the better trained horses do better on the trails. Who wouldn't be proud of the fact that they can ride in the woods and have deer bounding after them or dogs chasing them and their horse STILL has the confidence in their rider to remain calm and focused?...
A lot depends on the horse. I think Mia needs to become a decent trail horse because she will never truly give up her fears by riding in an arena. She is the horse who spent the first 4 months here breaking into a heavy sweat just standing in a corral! As in 'covered with lather' sweat just from the stress of hanging out in a corral. It took her a month to accept Lilly, who had been her corral mate under a different owner for 2 years!
I've worked hard to turn her into a good, safe trail horse, but we are not there yet. It needs a lot of time on the trail, and I haven't had much spare time since going back to school (at 55!).
Cowboy, OTOH, is a BLM mustang pony. He has had at least 6 owners in his roughly 15 years. He associates arenas with being a 13 hand horse surrounded by strange 15+ hand horses. He associates it with being ridden by students who were too often ham-fisted and inclined to punish him for their riding errors. Put him in an arena by himself, and he is a scared horse. You can expect bolting and bucking.
But let him follow Mia out into the desert, and he is calm, relaxed and level-headed. My wife rides about 3-4 times each year, and she can ride him anytime, anywhere out in the desert with Mia. And if Mia starts snorting & blowing & dancing, he'll slide by, take the lead, and show her there is nothing scary.
Which horse is "better trained"?
Cowboy has a lot more experience. He's been used for games, barrel racing, used for kids on a ranch, a lesson horse...but a lot of his 'training' seems to have taught him that people are jerks. If we truly get his trust, he'll be an awesome horse.
Mia had probably never been out in the desert before. When I first walked her there on a lead line, she would stumble over small rocks because she didn't know a horse sometimes needs to lift her feet! She came with more than her fair share of inner demons needing exorcism. But she is a fundamentally sweet and giving horse. She will always be a horse who is intensely aware of her rider.
They are just different horses.
And Mia needs both arena and trail. The trail teaches her to listen to her rider instead of her demons. But the arena teaches her to stop when her rider says stop, and that a canter is not a gallop and that both canters and gallops can be done without getting dangerously on the forehand.
What I dislike is when someone assumes their riding passion or style is superior to all others. I enjoy watching a dressage video, but I'd as soon be emasculated as take dressage lessons. I'd love to try barrel racing, but Mia is a total klutz with her feet and afraid of strange horses. We may never set foot in a barrel race. I feel happy riding in a forward seat, which is associated with jumping, which I have no desire to do.
OK, Mia & I are both kind of weird. But if we are happy & enjoy our rides together, does it matter if I sometimes combine an English jump saddle with a curb bit and we do some riding for our own pleasure? If I work to be light on her back, balanced with her, easy on her mouth, and she tries to do what I want, then why should anyone say bad things about us? Why is she a bad horse for struggling with her fears on a trail? Why am I a bad rider for being cautious about when and where I take her out?
Why can't riders support each other in their individual goals?