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Characteristics of Trail Horses
Trail horses need to be confident, sure-footed and reliable. While these qualities may occur naturally in individual horses, they are also abilities that can be trained and developed. In fact, encouraging the horse to deal confidently with many of the hazards found in a trail riding class can form a useful part of the training of any young horse, whether ridden Western-style or not. It’s all about the relationship and bond between horse and rider. It encourages agility and increases the horse’s ability to focus and have assurance in its own abilities as well as those of its rider.
Trail Horses: The Best Breeds for this Discipline
Many American horse breeds, having been bred to work on trails in remote areas, still maintain the qualities of good horse sense and surefootedness that were required when they were working horses. These include the American Quarter Horse, the Morgan Horse and indeed all stock horse breeds. However, preparing for trail riding competitions can benefit any and all breeds and types of horses, from cobs to ponies. The larger and more demanding events will be ridden Western style, with horses expected to walk, jog and lope, but there is no reason why any show should not take cues from Western trail riding and set up a class of its own. Having a horse or pony of any breed that is well prepared for trail riding can only work to the benefit of both horse and rider.
Trail Horses in Equestrianism
In the days when people were dependent on horses in everyday life, sometimes riding every day, they would frequently encounter certain hazards. These might include low-hanging branches, narrow twisting trails with steep inclines, ditches, pools of water and logs that the horse had to step over. They would have to cross narrow bridges and perhaps ask their horses to sidestep away from potential obstacles. Horses learned to have confidence in tackling these hazards by watching other, more experienced horses, and by building trust in their rider. The first competitive trail riding classes simulated many of these features in an arena. Today, many informal trail riding classes take an even more imaginative approach to the activity, with flowerpots, shrubs and even live animals, such as llamas or goats, that the horse has to pass - this can be extremely challenging! The rider may be asked to take a coat on and off, or open and close an umbrella while still on horseback. The horses can be asked to walk over a tarpaulin on the ground or weave in and out of coloured poles or cones. Backing and turning on the forehand or hindquarters are also essential moves. Preparation is key to success in the competitive trail class. As part of the programme of classic Western showing events, trail horses will be expected to compete in Western saddles and bridles, and their riders in Western clothing. Competitive trail riding is not confined to the arena, either. Horses and riders may be expected in some cases to participate in an actual trail ride of several miles, during which they may meet some real and unexpected hazards, such as a large or noisy bird flying out in front of them.