I'm not sure how many parallels there are between 'pony trekking' in the UK and commercial trail riding in the US, and I know a lot of people here have their own horses and ride their own trails, but I was wondering what your thoughts on it were - and, in particular, how much you enjoyed it given what the typical trekking pony is like!
Over here, my experiences of pony trekking have tended to be this: you have a string of horses that are used to carrying non-riders, and so totally ignore everything the rider does. They follow the horse in front round a set route that they know, usually at a walk but with the occasionally few strides of trot, and it's not really riding at all, it's just sitting on a sofa with legs and watching the scenery. Said scenery varies from a hedge at the side of the road, to a beach, to, if you're lucky, a hill and lake.
Now I've started learning to ride, that's not nearly enough for me. I went trekking in the Lake District a few weeks ago, and my horse, Kitty, was completely unresponsive. She fitted into the stereotype exactly, and while she was more than able to carry my weight she was really too short for my long legs. She was also very greedy. Sometimes I was able to stop her from munching the whole hillside, but more often than not she was just too strong for me and would not listen to pressure on her mouth or being kicked on in the slightest. Aids that would have had a school horse cantering didn't make a difference to her. And the whole thing went at a slow walk.
Today I went riding with my mum (non-rider) and best friend (intermediate/experienced: she used to hunt and ride cross-country). The trek was great - through two rivers, along a beach, through a network of bridlepaths amongst the dunes and woods. My best friend cantered a lot, even did some galloping, had a great time. I didn't join the canterers: I feel safe doing it in an arena but having only let go of the saddle during the canter last lesson, I decided to play it safe out on the beach and on the trail. I got to do some trotting, which was good, but the horse I had was definitely a trekker. He liked to be second - he'd push his way to the front and then glue himself to the leader. He was a head-tosser, even without contact, and whenever you tried to steer, slow or halt him he would just lift his head as high as he could to escape the bit. I'm used to horses with lovely soft mouths - rather than applying pressure, all I have to do is open the rein in the direction I want to go - and so I was wary of hauling too hard on him, but even my strongest efforts wouldn't stop this horse! He only paid minor attention to leg aids, too, and completely ignored your seat.
We were all stopped in an open space, waiting for stragglers to catch up, and a pair of riders on ex-racer thoroughbreds went by. My horse decided he wanted to follow one of them. I did my best to get him turned around, back towards the group - I finally got him to turn to face them, and then he started backing up, before spinning round to go follow the ex-racers! In the end, that rider had to stop and one of the trek leaders come and supplant her horse!
Trekking is great fun, especially for non-riders, and this was a good route - but while my mum was happy to just sit on her horse with a loose rein and let him walk along, I wanted a horse who'd actually listen to me - who, more importantly, I had some control over. I didn't want him following the canterers and I didn't like that I couldn't steer him or get him to stop when I wanted him to. He can't have been fifteen hands, and he didn't feel wide at all, but the head-shaking, the resistance to the bit and most of all my inability to get him to listen to me for important things like 'slow down' and 'halt' meant that I felt far less safe on him than on the big 16.1hh horses I ride in my lessons. I wanted to know that I could stop or put him into a circle if I wanted to, that would have been enough - but as he proved, he wouldn't listen to me at all.
What are your experiences with trekking, particularly on horses that aren't your own and that are used to following their routine?
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