A good trail horse is a wonderful way to get out and see some country you might not be able to see from car or on foot, plus it gives us a chance to have something fun to do with our horse once it has been well trained.
Our names are Steeve and Jesseca (yes, they are both really spelled like that) and our passion is smooth moving Tennessee Walking Horses. We spend a ridiculous amount of time on the backs of our horses, and while we don't like the same kind of horse; Steeve likes something with a bit more spice and Jesseca likes something a little more steady-Eddie, at the end of the day, no matter what, each type of horse has to have a solid baseline to start from.
Think about it, when you go out on a trail, you never know what you might encounter—it might include traffic, backpackers, rough terrain, strange animals, or a slew of other things that the horse might not see elsewhere. You may be traveling on trails well away from road access and have only the horse to depend on to carry you safely! If you are mounted on a horse than only knows go and hopefully whoa, you are basically at the mercy of the horse to see you safely through the ride. You are not as safe as you should or could be.
A common problem we see with many horse and rider combinations is that the rider seems to feel that “just” trail riding doesn’t require a horse with much training. We feel the opposite; that trail riders should be mounted on horses that have as much or even more training as other horse endeavors require.
What happens if you need more than just GO or WHOA? It’s not unusual to be in a situation on a ride where your horse might need to back up, move its body around an obstacle, turn around in a tight space, or even side pass. For starters, trail horses need to be comfortable enough not to get upset if their feet get tangled in brush or mud! They need to respond to your request to move their body away from a tree that could knock your knees or head, be able to jump fallen trees that may block the trail, and not be worried about branches that may touch them and make weird noises. They need to be comfortable walking down banks, into water, and walking up steep inclines without rushing.
A good trail horse is not dependent on the horse in front of it to set its speed or direction. There are many times when a rider needs to act independently of what the others are doing. We select only the horses that have the “it” factor to be the best of the best. Just like any other discipline, some have “it” and some don’t. The human also has the responsibility to make sure that they have the training themselves to help support the horse in whatever situation comes up.
“Just trail riding” should involve as much prior thought and training as showing, distance riding, or any other activity that someone might want to do with their horse. It’s not an excuse for sloppy or non existent horsemanship, and people should be proud to say I’m a trail rider—leaving out the word “just”.
We get tired of hearing, 'Well, she's not good enough for the show ring, but she'll make a good trail horse' or 'he's only half lame, he'd make a great trail horse'. Why should trail riding be relegated to a secondary job for a horse? If you want to trail ride exclusively, buy a horse who excels at it, not one who can't do anything else. Our horses are purpose bred and built to go long distances - smoothly - and safely.
We know and understand you're up against powerful instincts that tell the horse to avoid what they may perceive as danger. You will never entirely override instinctive behavior, but a well-trained trail horse learns to tolerate the unfamiliar, to heed your aids instead of his own urges, and to relax into the business of covering ground safely and efficiently.
We both strongly believe that teaching the horse to deal with its anxiety is the best way to get them ready to face the unpredictable world they will be asked to navigate with you. Give a man a fish, you feed him for one day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.
Our approach in training excellent trail horses is simple. We teach our horse to deal with the unexpected.