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Trusting the Trail

Deep down in my bones I’m a trail/endurance rider. My heart and soul live in the woods and my peace of mind can be found on a single track, hilly trail.

H’Appy killed any shred of confidence I had when he threw me over his head at a walk in the pasture. Before that I laughed at his shenanigans and shrugged off any behavior I didn’t like. Once I landed in a heap in front of him, all of that changed and fear and mistrust replaced it. I now know that he can pull a nasty buck and rear maneuver and he isn’t above being mean to get his way.

Where have you taken me, Human??

All of this has created a lot of tension in my rides of late and I felt like it was time to turn to my trusty trainer – the trail.

The proper trail can teach a horse a lot of things, but what I love most about it is that the trail itself has a personality and requires respect from both the horse and the rider. I ride better on the trail. My posture is better and I hold my horse more accountable than I do in a lovely, flat and secure arena. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am more lax in the arena often times allowing the horse to not walk immediately or turn after I had wanted or cut a corner because what does it matter? On the trail, a cut corner could mean falling over the cliff and an ignored halt could result in getting run over by a car at a road crossing. As such, when I give an aid I expect it to be listened to immediately without question when on the trail.

In addition, the trail hashes out a lot of things in a way that makes the horse responsible for bad outcomes instead of the rider. If you ignore my request to rebalance and slow down and then face plant over a root, that’s your fault. If you stop paying attention and walk into a tree, again your fault horse. Plus most horses aren’t stupid enough to go charging off through the brush on a whim.

It was a gorgeous day too. Cool enough to need a vest and most importantly- dry.

With all that in mind, I reached out to just about anyone I could think of in my area to see if they wanted to ride Gem to babysit H’Appy and me on the trail. Everyone was busy (or claimed to be so as not to have to ride my Gemmie) and so I found myself with my heart in my throat at the trail head of my favorite system, alone.

My biggest fear with him out and about is his herd bound tendencies. Once another horse is around, I no longer exist. Pulling into a busy trail head scared the crap out of me and so I decided it wise to hand walk him along the road, out of sight of the trailers and into the woods before mounting. Once in the woods, I realized this was the first time I’ve ever mounted him from the ground and it took way too long to get him to stand still for me to do so.

Not feeling as in love with these ears as my favorite black tipped ones, but some day I will get there

Once on him I was very very nervous and forced myself to breathe deeply and exhale relaxing my body and mind. Unfortunately a big part of the start of the 6.5 mile loop had been redone since I was last there and they lost about a mile of woods replacing it with a wide open gravel road. I was planning on using the terrain to keep any bad behavior at bay but now found myself in the open.

Very open and very inviting for a long canter. But I kept him a a walk not trusting him yet to not be a jerk about it.

H’Appy actually did very well. He didn’t spook at anything we came across: downed logs and piled up branches (Gem’s nemesis), deer bounding away, squirrels rustling in the leaves above and cars racing down roads. Once we hit the woods again after the gravel road, I calmed down a lot and put my faith in the trail.

I dismounted to walk across the two creeks on trail after getting to the first and feeling him try to bound over it from a stand still. The entire point of this first outing was to instill confidence and a positive experience in both and I thought that would be the opposite

It did not disappoint. H’Appy learned that by cantering instead of trotting he would miss turns and run into a tree. He stayed a trot or came back with a very small half halt after that. He also learned that when I ask for a walk after trotting and he doesn’t, he will regret that choice as he barrels down a hill and nearly face plants at the bottom. After that he slowed to a walk every time I asked.

He crosses bridges, roads and handled steep hills both up and down without pause. All great things

The biggest thing I hope he learned was to pay attention at all times. We came across my biggest fear with a mile left to go. As we crossed the road I heard horses up ahead coming towards us. When we got to them, they pulled over and we passed. He didn’t throw a tantrum because there was another horse ahead of us going our direction. We quickly came upon them, the lady pulled over, we passed and then she followed attaching herself behind us. Thankfully H’Appy was happy to lead (something Gem would not have done) and I enjoyed a small bit of company. When we crossed the final road though, the lady peeled off and we went straight. Well, that was too much for Doofus who had spent so many miles alone to finally find a friend. He stopped paying any attention to me, threatened to rear/spin/bolt back to them when he stumbled on a rock and near face planted. I laughed. The rest of the trek back to the trailer he focused on me and the trail although he threw in a few melancholy calls to his long lost new BFF.

After the second creek, I even trusted him enough to use a wobbly log to mount from. He stood perfectly still and was a gentleman

All in all it was a good time. Once I got over myself and started trusting him a bit. He ended tired and sweaty which is the exact way a horse should end a technical and hilly trail ride even though we walked 90% of it. I’m actually excited to go back out with him and hope that with time and miles the beginning settles down. I think I may try to do more trails and less arena work for now until I get a better understanding of how he works since I am most comfortable on the trail.

He was sweaty and tired at the end but in all the best ways possible. He was very good for most of it.

30 thoughts on “Trusting the Trail”

  1. You’re brave to go by yourself! I’m like you- the Trail is definitely my happy place. I’m so glad he was a mostly good boy and it sounds like the Trail helped you exactly as it should. Here’s to more H’Appy trails!

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    1. I did all my conditioning for Gem solo, so being out alone doesn’t bother me in general. On a new to me horse though…my heart was pounding and my hands were literally shaking doing up his bridle. Which obviously put him so at ease 🙂

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  2. I love the trail. You are very brave to go alone- well done! (for the record I’d love to ride Gem and keep you company). H’Appy is a smart horse so I doubt he’ll do anything really stupid. And it’s good to teach him that he needs to rely on you- not other horses. Now I just need to apply that lesson to myself!

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  3. I think it’s funny that you use his klutziness as a training aide! Like you, I feel best on a single track switchbacking up a mountain, which I sadly lack. You’re not the only blogger I read who feels the trail teaches the horse, or, the mountain teaches the horse. Gotta get me a mountain: ) Single tracks are extremely rare in Germany and I have a couple that I hold dear. They are sadly very short.

    My horse has a raging case of cellulitis probably my fault, I started feeding alfalfa pellets. *sigh*

    Nothing worse than being to blame for an illness!

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    1. My trainer always said with Gem and has now begun to repeat it with Doofus “Make that his problem. Ignore him” when he trips or contorts himself and a bad outcome happens. She wants me focusing on me and let him deal with his own bad ideas. it works in theory as long as I can get myself to do it!

      I’m sorry about the cellulitis!! It always sucks when a decision turns out the wrong way but you did it with the best of intentions so don’t beat yourself up

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  4. I love this! I’ve felt Opie’s confidence in his own body grow so much this year with all the trail riding and hacking out in the fields around the barn after rides. Being responsible for your own feet is tough work, but a good life skill lol!

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    1. I’m a big proponent of letting the horse deal with themselves. When I got Gem I would take her out on trails with her lunge line and go jogging in hand. I garnered a lot of odd looks, but it worked! Doofus has a long way to go yet but hopefully by next year he will be gong well.

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  5. Getting yourself into a more comfortable situation is definitely good for both of you. Hopefully, the trail lessons will transition over to the arena as you both get more comfortable and trust in each other.

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    1. Yeah..nothing betas saddle time to grow trust and understanding. I’m way too uptight in an arena, so I think the trail will be our home for a few months while I get to know him. I need a new saddle for it though. The Kieffer, while it fits him well and is serviceable for a 30 minute arena ride, made by lady bits hamburger meat after 6 miles on hilly trails. Ouch!

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  6. yay LOL i was skeptical was I not ?? (With friends like me LOL who needs enemies??) 🙂 I am so glad you did it. I dont know if i could ride REMUS on his own on the trailer. He is not herdbound but he is so dang stupid at shying at stuff….ugh….my heart beats faster just thinking about it LOL so you are brave girl!! 🙂

    I am glad he was pretty good for you. And those ears are pretty cute…:)

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  7. Glad your ride was mostly great and ended up instilling confidence in both of you. 🙂
    I was out on those trails yesterday with my pup! Such a nice day.

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  8. Yay! Glad you had a great ride!! As soon as I get settled into my new place i’d love to go out riding with you! Chimi needs to get his chunky butt back in gear and I definitely plan on using the trails to get us back into riding shape this fall/winter 🙂

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  9. I love a good trail ride. It’s a shame about the big gravel section; who wants that? Levi used to completely melt down if he met another horse out on the trails – even if he had Eugene with him. His brain would just leak out of his ears and he’d lose it. He’s much better now. I’m sure H’Appy will get there.

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    1. I was very disappointed to lose woods for a gravel road. They do controlled burns and timber harvesting and it looked like the wooded section had been cleared which is sad. The area is called the Experimental Forest so they are always doing things for research purposes. I hope he learns to mellow with that

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  10. I am in awe of your bravery! Tricia is terrified of deer (i know, right!?), and the trail can get a bit intense. Like where are there NOT deer? I really wish we could have relaxed, fun trail rides. I really think it would boost her confidence and be a great break for both of us. You are my hero!

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    1. It was a great first outing for us. Next time I’ll do more trotting and eventually I will let him canter. He needs to figure out his feet first. Galloping down the pasture hill for dinner, he nearly face plants at least half a dozen times. Every single day. I don’t trust him yet.

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