First, let’s address the elephant in the room. I realize the title of this article may be a bit controversial. So, I just want to go on the record and say, I do not believe in taking a show horse out on the trail and riding like crazy or being irresponsible. Show horses are athletes and expensive ones at that, and the last thing you need is an injury. However, that does not mean you can’t take your horse out to have some fun. Trail riding is one of the most fun activities you can do with a horse but many equestrians who have show horses especially expensive ones, may feel a bit anxious about letting loose.
Is it really ok to take your fancy show horse on the trail? If you are an experienced rider and understand how to introduce new things to your horse, then you can absolutely trail ride your show horse and have lots of fun!
In this article we’ll discuss how trail riding can improve your horse’s physical and mental well being. Along with some tips on how and where to trail ride.
Why Trail Riding Is Good For Your Horse’s Mental Health
Trail riding is a good opportunity to give your horse a mental break while still giving them exercise, attention and having fun riding. Out on the trail you can still practice the concepts you’re working on in the arena, but your horse will get to enjoy a new environment. Sometimes the same routine day in and day out helps to get horses broke and reliable more quickly, but it can also make some horses sour.
And, you don’t have to ride hard out on the trail. You can go for a walk on the trail to cool out after a work out in the arena just to give your horse the chance to think about something else. Trail riding can be just as much fun for your horse as it is for you which can help your horse look forward to your rides. Check out more trail riding and trail safety tips in this article: 10 Best Tips For Trail Riding
In addition, you will strengthen your bond with your horse by trail riding. As you conquer new challenges, work through new obstacles and have fun, you’ll build more trust. You’ll learn how your horse reacts to different stimuli and start to understand his personality better. And, as you build your horse’s confidence by teaching him how to ride in different environments, he will start to trust you more as well.
Have I mentioned that it’s fun yet?
Trail Riding Can Improve Your Horse’s Fitness
Another benefit of riding your show horse on the trail is improved fitness. Navigating uneven terrain and riding on hills can help your horse learn to balance better and improve his topline.
Trail riding in some areas is more difficult for your horse than riding on well maintained arena footing. And of course this means you’ll need to be careful and help your horse avoid things like rocks. As you start to hack out your horse on the trail more frequently he will build endurance and stamina. If your horse is already too fit and takes a long time to work down then you can keep your trail rides to walking. Your horse will still benefit from new experiences.
Or, you can talk to your trainer about cutting down on arena work and incorporating more trail rides during the off season. Your trainer knows your horse and can help you come up with a suitable plan that fits his needs.
How Trail Riding Can Improve Your Horsemanship
Any time your horse faces a new environment or obstacle there is a chance he’ll over react. Or, he may not, depending on his personality. Either way, we all tend to ride better when we are being challenged. If your horse is not experienced at riding on the trail you’ll have to spend some time introducing him to the world outside of the arena.
Over time you may end up in a tricky situation that will test your skills. Riding on the trail is a great way to find out if your horse has any gaps in his training. You’ll likely end up with some homework and there may be concepts you can work on in the arena.
For example, if your horse struggles with stepping carefully over logs or navigating through rocks, you can practice walking over ground poles in the arena. You can also expose your horse to things like water at home. Find a puddle in the barn drive way and practice leading your horse through it so he’ll be more confident walking through puddles out on the trail. If it rains and your outdoor arena gets any puddles, take advantage of the opportunity to practice. You can also use items like tarps to teach your horse how to react to scary objects in a safe environment.
What Not To Do When Trail Riding Your Show Horse
If you cringed a little when you read the title of this article, then you probably already know what I’m about to say here. While we all love a good gallop through an open field there’s a difference between trail riding and yahoo-ing.
For starters, don’t take your show horse out on the trail for their very first trail ride and go galloping around on tight paths and jumping over puddles. You’ll simply teach your horse that trail rides mean all rules go out the window and it’s time to get crazy.
Next, don’t be afraid to have fun! Yes, it’s important to maintain control when you’re out in the open, but it’s ok to have a little fun too! You don’t have to spend the entire trail ride walking or keeping your horse in a frame. Yes, keeping your horse focused will help reduce the chance of a spook but, if your horse seems relaxed, let him ride on a loose rein and take in all of his surroundings.
Try not to micro manage your horse or get anxious about objects you think may scare him. If you know there’s a large boulder around the corner that he may be afraid of, just stay relaxed and be ready to redirect your horse’s attention. Remember, your horse will feed off of your energy, so it’s important that your body language conveys that trail riding is no big deal. This will help your horse feel more confident.
Tips For Introducing Trail Riding To Your Show Horse
If you’re on a seasoned show horse who has never been on the trail, chances are your horse has seen lots of scary objects and new places. This will work to your advantage since your horse probably knows how to handle new things without big reactions.
If you plan to trail ride your horse for the first time, here are some tips to help you be successful.
- Ride with an experienced buddy: This way your horse has another horse to follow when faced with scary objects or animals. Plus, if the other horses you ride with are relaxed, it’ll help your horse feel more confident and relaxed as well.
- Start slow: If you start out by just walking your horse will learn trail riding is about relaxation and taking a break.
- Ride forward: If your horse is nervous, don’t force him to walk. Try to keep him moving forward and maybe trot for a while to drain some energy. Riding with a buddy in combination with moving forward will help your horse start to relax if he’s feeling anxious.
- Remember your tools: As you ride you can do things like ask your horse to yield his hip or bend one way or the other for a couple of steps. You can test to make sure your aids are working and give your horse something to think about. And, test your breaks out before you need them, just to be sure.
- Keep your ride short and sweet: If the ride is going well and you are having a great time, quit while you’re ahead. I don’t mean riding for 5 minutes, but when you feel you’ve ridden for a satisfactory amount of time and your horse has been well behaved, call it quits on a positive note.
- Increase the length of your rides over time: As your horse becomes accustomed to trail riding, you’ll be able to go on longer rides. Remember, even if your horse handles everything calmly, he may not be fit for long trail rides if he’s used to only riding in an arena. Riding on uneven footing and up and down hills may be a little more strenuous than his normal workouts.
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