So, You Think You Love Horses? Some Reflections on the Nature of Horses and Man

More Discussions by “The Accidental Horseman”

Equestrian Sports and Activities: Trail Riding

Trail Riding is a fun thing to do with Friends
trail ride

Let's Go: Horses seem to enjoy a trail ride also.
trail ride
I am a trail rider and believe it is something other kinds of riders can easily do if they wish. Trail riding is not particularly demanding on either the horse or the rider and might be a nice break for both if they are principally engaged in other kinds of equine activities that require more focused training. You can cover a lot of ground on horseback and most horse owners do not own enough acreage to have the trails needed for lengthy rides. We are lucky in that we have permission to ride on our neighbor’s land and have a network of trails around our own home. There are equine communities that support common riding trails and there are many riding opportunities on publicly owned land. Most of our rides are at public parks that are less than an hour’s distance by horse trailer from our home.

Horsemen are competing with other users of publicly owned land, and it is important that public officials do not forget us. Organizations that support and promote trail riding are important in the political arena. Equally important are the volunteer groups that help maintain riding trails on public land. I make an effort to turn out during trail maintenance days at the sites we commonly ride and also to dismount and clear those obstructions that we encounter during our rides.

I know we need to share trails with other types of users, but I would rather not ride on trails where there are large numbers of other people. I would encourage parks to develop trails with certain types of recreational use in mind. The hard surface of a regular bike path is not good for horses’ hooves and I hate to leave a pile of manure in the middle of a trail that other users need to dodge. I am sure that other users would rather that we police manure similar to what dog owners are supposed to do but unfortunately the volume a horse produces is not easily carried off unless you are in the trailer parking lot. In most locations nature takes care of horse manure rather quickly.

Riding in Ireland
trail ride 3
Horses and dirt bikes or four-wheelers do not easily share the same trails. Needless to say, it is problematic to ride in the woods during hunting season. I find other users to be very courteous when I encounter them on a trail. Four wheelers usually will pull over to the side of the trail turn off their engines while we pass. Similarly, I slow down or stop and give a wide berth to pedestrians and dog walkers who find a horse intimidating when it is too close. Dog walkers will also usually leash their animals and move to the side. Occasionally, I have had them say things like, “My dog is used to horses.” However, that owner should have considered that maybe my horse is not used to a dog sniffing around its feet.

Learning the trails at an unfamiliar site can be a problem, and it is good to go in the company of someone already familiar with the site. Trail riding can be a group activity, just between friends, or as part of an organized group. It is a nice way to get to know other riders in a totally non-competitive environment. For those who like a little bit of competition there are organized events like judged pleasure rides and endurance trail rides. I have done both and had an enjoyable time with each.

There are also equine riding vacations that feature trail riding at locations far from home. Some people do long-distance trips with their horses and stay at equine bed and breakfasts or campgrounds. One Western rider we know traveled the West with his horse. He discovered that local stockyards would often agree for a small fee to have his horse turned out in an unused pen for the night while he slept in a nearby motel. We traveled to a very nice equine bed and breakfast at Kelly’s Ford, Virginia. We made a couple of riding stops on the way down and back, and it was a nice long weekend of riding in new places. We have also done trail riding while on vacation trips. Some of these were just unplanned day rides, but others where planned equine vacation trips. Tour groups, like Equitours, offer opportunities for trial rides all around the world. We have had variable experiences with the equine vacations we have done. Just like there is nothing quite like sleeping in your own bed, there is no substitute for riding your own horse, but who can afford to fly a recreational animal 1000 miles? Often, but not always, you find yourself with a sub-par mount. However, the deciding issue for our enjoying a riding vacation has always been the other riders and the group leader. Our inn to inn trip in Vermont was particularly enjoyable because we were with a very compatible group of experienced riders and a leader who appreciated the abilities of his group. We had a great time going for long canters, jumping logs, seeing beautiful scenery and at the end of the day having great meals with good company.

The Group in Vermont
On the other hand at other times we have found ourselves in groups that have novice riders who are challenged to remain on their mounts even at a walk. I have the greatest sympathy for beginning riders and understand the predicament of the riding establishments who find themselves saddled with a person who has signed up for the trip but cannot handle the riding. However, do not spoil my vacation by forcing me to walk with a group of novice riders or by having rides that last only brief periods of time. It is similar to taking a hiking vacation with a group of people on crutches. One owner of an Irish riding establishment confessed to me he had to shorten the ride times because too many of his patrons were returning to the airport seated on cushions with sore rear ends. However, both my wife and I are accustomed to spending hours in the saddle and expect to have rides of a reasonably long duration. You do need to be cautious signing up for trips and pick a reputable company. One of our friends, who is fluent in French, was disappointed to discover that her French tour guide was siphoning off small sums of money that he was collecting from the group supposedly for incidental expenses. Had she not been able to follow his conservations she would have never known.

Trail riding is very different from what constitutes the rest of my existence, that is to say my modern existence. It is as if one is transported back to another era. Your horse is under you and walking along a dirt path through the woods with its wildlife, fresh air and vistas unspoiled by the hand of man. You wonder how many other people have never taken the time to experience such bliss and beauty. Maybe someday you too will pass my way and share the trail of
The Accidental Horseman.

I have included a description of parks in which I like to ride on the link page.

Good Times: End of the Trail
trail ride 2

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