Friday, May 27, 2011

Ha! He's just a Trail Horse - What Makes a Trail Horse worth His Weight in Gold?

By: Darlene M. Cox (

Performance horses are trained in many disciplines, some of which are very prestigious and earn their owners quite a bit of money; however, a well-trained trail horse is worth his weight in gold, whether or not he earns a dime for his riding partner. What makes a horse a good trail horse? Is it a particular breed or gender? While rider preference may choose one breed or gender over another, there is nothing set in stone that superiorly places any breed or gender as best suited, but there are certain attributes that a quality trail horse must possess to be labeled "priceless."

· A laid-back personality/disposition. A horse that is unflappable and even-keeled is desired over one that is high strung and explosively reactive. A nervous horse on a trail ride not only upsets his rider, but also other riders and horses as well, which makes for a very uncomfortable ride for everyone.

· A "push-button" horse that is as reliable every time he is saddled and ridden, regardless of the amount of elapsed time between rides. You have to love a horse that even though he has not been ridden in months, acts the same as if he was ridden the day before.

· Good feet, with or without shoes. While trail terrain may be varied across the country, one thing is constant and that is a good deal of mileage is going to be put on your horse. Good feet are a necessity to ensure that you do not end up several miles from camp with a lame horse.

· Gets along well with other horses. It is always unpleasant to ride with a group of horses where one or two are wicked when another horse comes near. You can expect a little brattiness from any horse, but when hooves start flying and teeth start gnashing, it can get ugly and dangerous quickly.

· A good ground-covering walk. The gait in which most trail horses are ridden the majority of the time is the walk. A horse that sustains a nice and consistent ground-covering walk is one that can be placed on lead (the first in line, leading a group of riders), preventing any bottle-necking of horses following, which is caused when the lead horse slows down or is inconsistent with walking speed.

· Comfortably rides in any position within a group. A horse that behaves and remains relaxed no matter where he is in the group (on lead, in the middle, or bringing up drag). Some horses become accustomed to being in one position and will act out if taken out of that position.

· A horse that can be ridden alone on the trail or away from the group without demonstrating being "herd bound" is a dream to ride. Nothing is worse than having to fight with a horse to get him to move away from a group to venture down the trail alone.

· A horse that knows his job and keeps his mind on it. One that watches where he is going, concentrating on the task at hand. Some horses will let their minds wander (yes, there are those horses that will daydream on the trail).

· Standing calmly and quietly while tied. Tying your horse is something that will be done during camping and trail riding. Whether tied to a hitching rail or picket line while in camp or to a tree while taking a rest break from riding on the trail, you will have no worries from a horse that doesn't "worry" about being tied.

· A horse that stands patiently under saddle and doesn't paw the ground or try to "sneak" off down the trail. Nothing is more difficult than trying to stop and read a map when your horse is impatient with the delay.

· Easily loads and unloads from trailer. Nothing starts your trip off better than a horse that will load easily into the trailer. Battling with your horse to get it loaded into the trailer will put a damper on your camping and trail riding experience from the very beginning.

· Experience versus age. A young horse with more trail experience may be preferred over an older horse with little experience. Trail riding has its own learning curve for horses and even though an older horse may have more hours under the saddle, a younger horse with more actual trail experience may be a preferable choice, providing he possesses other quality attributes as well.

Choose your trail horse wisely and you will be rich beyond measure each time you saddle up to ride the many miles of trails that pave the nature land in your neck of the woods.

Happy trails!

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