Is there anyone who does not enjoy trail riding?
Trail riding is what most people have in mind when they are thinking of spending some enjoyable time in the saddle now that the days of the working horse are over for the most part and riding is a leisure-time activity.
WHY WE ENJOY TRAIL RIDING
Whether it is just a short hike of an hour or so, a several hours long ride through the woods, or even a trekking trip that takes several days, it is always the same basic enjoyment one gets when one is mounted on a good horse and covering miles and miles through Mother Nature.
Some are always looking for a wide field to have a little race in, others are content ambling quietly through prairie or woods at a relaxed walk trail riding can be great fun, and there are no rules on how to enjoy it. If you want to test your horse and your own nerve by going up and down steep hills or crossing creeks, fine; if you find the wonderful recreational experience horseback riding has to offer by following well-kept trails in a park there is nothing wrong with that! It is just a great way to leave it all behind and let the wind and the landscape and the sun, the smell of earth and vegetation restore your mind. Only few activities can do this as good as trail riding can.
THE GOOD TRAIL HORSE
The ideal horse on the trail is one that knows it all, that will not shy because of rabbits, birds, waving branches, woodpiles, smells, water, you name it. It has elastic, comfortable movements, so you will not get tired too quickly; it is sure-footed, so you do not have to worry about stumbling; it is not hot, wanting to run, so you won t have to hold on to him constantly; and it is not lazy, so you do not have to kick him forward all the time to keep up with others. You do not want a horse in trail riding that is glued to other horses, but one you can steer away from other riders, or hold back, without any problem. He should be intelligent enough to pick his way through rubble or fallen trees, if you are going across country. He should respond well to leg aids, so you can open and close a gait from his back. He should be sound, of course, not liable to pull a shoe, not finicky when it comes to drinking water other than the water at home.
All kinds of horses can make good trail horses. Much of it is training, but some breeds are on average better suited than others. Heavily muscled horses do not make good trail riding horses in general, nor is it to your advantage if the horse is very tall. The tall ones are seldom really surefooted, and it could be more of a sweat to climb back on them after a rest than you might like.
If you plan on doing longer rides, it is a good idea to have your trail riding horse hobble broke. That way, if you are having a rest, you can just hobble him and let him graze and he will not wander off too far.
There is no particular style on trail rides, although a western stock saddle is the best for most purposes, as well as other western equipment it is made robust and simple, nothing you cannot handle wearing gloves. The saddle offers a comfortable and secure seat, and it has a broad area touching the horse s back, distributing the rider s weight better and more evenly. However, with many different types of western saddles, for trail riding you need to avoid those that are made for special events, for roping, or cutting, for example. You do not want a huge horn on it, because that can prove dangerous when you are ducking under low branches of trees, and you want one with old-fashion tie strings, to tie to it whatever you want to take along: a rain slicker, a warm coat, a canteen, maybe even a bedroll.
WHERE AND HOW
Riding in the great outdoors is possible in most states. Be sure not to trespass on private property though; usually good maps are offered that indicate where it is okay to go. National Forests and State Forests are grand places to ride in. Maybe you can get permission to ride on some ranchers land In any case, when trail riding, always leave things as you found them. If you find a gate open, leave it open; if it was closed when you came to it, close it after you passed through. As a matter of course do not leave any trash behind again, leave everything like you had never been there.
Taking your horse on a trail ride, alone or along with others, is one of the healthiest activities both, for yourself and for your horse! It is the best for your horse's mental well-being!
There is a growing number of riders who enjoy taking part with their horses in competitive trail riding. This may take up a day or even several days. Also commercial organizers offer such rides as part of their recreational entertainment in beautiful country all over the globe, and even breed associations put on annual trail rides as get-togethers for their members and fun experiences.
For companies wishing to advertise Horseback Trail Riding: You are invited to create your own Trail Riding listing. You will also be provided a private area of this site from which to update and edit 24/7.
Photo above courtesy of the APHA. Article by Hardy Oelke, photos Oelke or archive Oelke, if not otherwise stated. For information regarding the Sorraia horse, the Vale de Zebro Wild Horse Refuge, and the Sorraia Mustang - visit www.sorraia.org
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