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!