Take your Horse on a Trail Ride
The demands of training can leave horses worn down, sour, and bored. It’s time to get out of the arena and onto the trails!
Horses are naturally roamers, says trainer Wendie Holt O’Brien, and being away from familiar places is rejuvenating. “It’s like taking a vacation for them.” Exploring a new place introduces horses to different sights, sounds, and smells. This exposure can help prevent spooks in the future.
“Back in the arena, they’re not going to look around as much because their senses were triggered on the trail,” says O’Brien.
Besides helping to spook-proof horses, trail riding provides stimulation. Since they’re having fun, they’ll hardly notice they’re working.
The extra spunk horses have in a new environment can be used to build strength and agility. Riding in large figure eights gets horses to flex their bodies and activates the muscles in their hindquarters.
“When you have a big, open field, start with cantering a really large circle,” says O’Brien. “Then, ask them to make the circle smaller and smaller and feel them collect underneath you. That’s really fun to do.”
Trail exercises like these are good for training as well as for a horse’s physical well-being. O’Brien says the different soils and surfaces on trail rides can improve tendon strength and sure-footedness. Riding through hilly terrain develops a horse’s strength and endurance. Using natural obstacles on trails can have mental and physical benefits for your horse.
Get creative. Ask the horse to step over logs, tromp through tall grass, and splash through a stream. This will improve its confidence, stamina, and stability. If you feel comfortable enough, hopping over a fallen tree can be invigorating.
Good to Go
No matter how much or how little horses are worked out on the trail, the benefits are immediate. O’Brien notices an instant improvement.
“It opens up their mind a little bit. You get faster results. They’re thinking harder; they’re listening to you better,” she says. “The things you teach them on the trail you can certainly bring back to the ring.”
Most importantly, horses appreciate the mental break. The refreshment of a good adventure makes them ready to get back to work.
“Their outlook is better,” O’Brien says. “I can see a difference right away when we come back from the trails. I come back into the ring and they’re like, ‘OK, back to business.’ ”
Even if there are no trails around, a ride down the road or in a field will do the trick – anything off of the property and out of the ring.
A horse can’t do much without the other member of the team – the rider. A trail ride is just as renewing for riders as it is for horses.
“I love it,” O’Brien says. “It’s refreshing for the horses, and it’s good for the riders, too.”
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