Forest Ride

Every now and then these two old timers like to stop to talk to me, or maybe I should say talk to each other in front of me. One was a rancher and the other did rodeo for a good portion of his life. They sometimes include me in their conversations, which start off something like, “How are your horses doing? You riding those thoroughbreds? They aren’t too much for you?” I try to answer before they start debating. The rodeo guy things thoroughbreds can pretty much do anything in an arena, and the ranching guy believes they spook at everything, they have bad minds, and they only belong on the track. They both agree that they can’t be ridden on the trail. I rarely get a word in.

This discussion I’ve heard so many times. Several people told me Shandoka would never amount to anything, and I should just take him to the sale. We proved them all wrong, and I endeavor to show everyone what thoroughbreds can do to hopefully convince someone out there to adopt one. It’s the reason why I write this blog and post the pictures.

Dulce is third OTTB I’ve trained for the trail. I wish I could pony him with another horse, but it never works out for me this way. Instead, I pony him. Before I get into the saddle, we go for walks, we explore things together, and I do everything I ask of him to do. I’ve done this with all three, and it pays off. Today I took Dulce for his first ride under saddle up in the forest.

Dulce is a horse that needs to be walked first in the beginning. His mind gets agitated with excitement, so I need to relax his mind first. If I got on him and go for it, we will do battle the entire time. My expectations will be defeated, and all he and I will do is get totally frustrated with one another. I can’t stress this enough….in the beginning, throw your expectations out the window and pay attention to what your horse is telling you he or she needs to feel more confident. How did I know he needed me to walk him first? He didn’t want me to get on him, and I saw the concerned look in his eye; so we walked. I let him walk until I saw him relax and feel comfortable. His head lowered and his eye relaxed.

I took Dulce and Harley back to the trailer, and I got on him. This time he stood perfectly. He was on the muscle a bit, and I kept saying, “Easy, easy,” and within a hundred feet, he mellowed. I’m asking a lot of him. Harley won’t pony him, so he must lead the way on his first ride into and through things he never experienced on the track. He needs to push through the brush first or walk buy weird looking downed trees first instead of following a seasoned horse that can show him it’s no big deal. Harley follows us and that does help, but it’s not the same.. This is a lot to ask of a newbie, but gosh dang he is so brave and smart. As you can see in the video, he didn’t jump, bolt, buck, rear…..nothing. He walked along calmly with his ears forward interested in everything. He eyed a few things but kept going. He had no problem with moving forward. He did so well that I was able to ride him one handed. I kept the ride short, because I wanted to release the pressure from him pretty quick to reward him, so we only did three miles today.

Dulce rode over rocks, along the rim of a steep canyon, pushed through oak brush taller than me in the saddle, rode through some dense forest, and he dealt with some smells that made him a bit nervous. We wound around pine trees, and we climbed up and rode down a hill. Riding in the forest is so different than riding out in the BLM down below. It can be so claustrophobic, and you never know what is around the next corner. A rabbit ran out in front of us, and he stopped to watch it never spooking. He did everything I could have hoped for.

The great thing about trail riding a horse is that it is a nice break from arena work, they love it and it lifts their spirits, and it teaches them to put all of that arena work to use out on the trail. It also helps them learn to use their hind-end naturally, because each time you do hills, they naturally need to shift back on to that hind end. It also strengthens them physically and mentally in different ways that arena work can’t do.

I always want to say something: Ignore a horse’s pedigree. Focus on the horse that is right in front of you. Don’t let people put ideas in your head on how your horse is going to act because of the sires in his or her line. If I listened to that, I never would have attempted this due to who one of his sires is through his dam. If you have preconceived ideas about how your horse will act, you will create a horse that acts like those ideas. Thoroughbreds love the trail. They absolutely love it, and if you take your time with your horse, you too can have a great trail horse.

I can’t wait to get back out there with him. It felt so good to be out there again on such a brave, smart horse. Gosh, he takes my breath away.