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Finding a good trail horse can be a tall order to fill

My quest continues in trying to find the most suitable trail horse for my husband.

My quest continues in trying to find the most suitable trail horse for my husband.

It is a challenge to find the right horse for a seasonal, novice rider who just wants a horse that he can climb on and safely ride down the trail without worrying about spooking, jigging or any other misbehaviour. Hubby is not interested in doing any schooling or ring work to produce this type of horse — he just wants to get on and ride on those few occasions that we could go out and do that. This is rather a tall order to fill.

In my research, I ran across an article written by Dee McVicker and published in EQUUS magazine. She summed up nicely the key points to look for in a good trail horse.

Dee identified seven key criteria for a good trail horse — here are the first two, the rest will follow in my next column:

1. Load willingly – in my riding life I have had two horses that did not load willingly and they were an endless source of frustration and dismay. I had both horses when I was much younger and did not have the knowledge on how to deal with the problem successfully at that time. One horse was my beloved Nugget — the first horse that was completely my own.

My family was transferred to Winnipeg and I was not leaving without my horse. No one in my family had much experience with a stubborn horse that did not want to load — it was quite the operation with lots of other folks getting involved and everybody had a different opinion. After two days and a lot of broken equipment, Nugget was finally loaded and off we went to Winnipeg. Needless to say, when we stopped for breaks, Nugget was staying in that trailer. At one stop (a motel next to an all night service station), we slept at the motel while the service station attendant sat in the trailer and played soothing guitar to Nugget — it was great. In the morning, Nugget was quiet, relatively relaxed, had eaten and drank all her water.

We arrived safely in Winnipeg with a quiet, calm horse so the trauma of the loading seemed to be past. We stayed in Winnipeg less than a year so then had to face loading Nugget again to get her home. We found a much more spacious vehicle and had learned some better techniques so the loading was completed successfully without all the challenges of the previous session!

2. Go where you point him — if your horse won’t go through, over, around, up and down trail obstacles and into water when you ask him (assuming it is safe to do so), then your trail ride is not going to be a pleasant experience. It is rather hazardous when you come to a creek crossing and your horse is making the decisions. I have seen several occurrences where the horse was refusing to cross and did the “unhappy dance” on the creek edge only to finally commit and make a mighty leap over the offending stream.

This is very unpleasant for the rider and often results in significant discomfort for the rider and horse. I used to ride an Arab cross who loved to get out on the trail. I had volunteered to help some friends gather cattle in a rather rugged area so I had some trepidation about the entire venture and trusted that my faithful steed would look after me.

Several hours in to the ride, we encountered a boggy area with an old corduroy road that had fallen in to disrepair. The other experienced riders I was with proceeded through the bog and emerged mud covered on the other side. My horse and I looked at that challenge and pondered the wisdom of proceeding. I decided that we needed to go with the group so I asked my horse to move forward.

There was doubt on his part but he went forward bravely and we successfully navigated the sucking muck. I was so proud of my horse for trusting me and going into that mess. One of my fellow riders commented that he had never seen a horse tiptoe through an obstacle like my boy did.

Tune in to my next column for the rest of the good trail horse criteria.