Have you ever become tired of seeing the same four walls of your indoor ring? Chances are so has your horse.
While structure and consistency can be ideal for learning new skills, so can the occasional change of scenery. What better time to incorporate some variety into your training rides than when the temperature starts to drop and the leaves begin to change? Trail rides can be a great addition to your routine for many different reasons. Check out our top five reasons to trail ride this fall.
1. Prevent Your Horse from Getting Ring Sour
A ring sour horse can present itself in a variety of ways. They might behave as simply as showing hesitation going into the ring or not wanting to go forward once they are there. In more extreme cases, they might show dangerous behaviors like bucking or bolting during normal schooling.
Any changes in behavior might seem innocuous to a rider or trainer, but they are likely your horse communicating that something is off. Sometimes these behaviors might indicate a health problem, but if you have an all clear from a vet then you may want to consider ring sourness as an explanation.
A ring sour horse will most certainly impede any improvement of performance for horse and rider. A horse that is reluctant to move forward will negatively impact performance in any discipline, whether it be jumping or dressage, barrel racing or reining. Additionally, more dangerous ring sour behaviors like bucking and bolting can be harmful to you and your horse.
A ring sour horse might need the same kind of mental health day you need from your own job or schoolwork. Taking a horse outside of the ring will bring new challenges, and make their day-to-day jobs more enjoyable in the long run.
Not to mention that biologically, horses are designed to travel straight and cover terrain. Constantly going in the same circles and patterns can cause a sense of discomfort for our equine partners. While it’s the nature of sport that practice makes perfect, we also can’t discount that occasionally a horse needs to be a horse.
2. Give Yourself a Break
We as riders can hit the same walls as our horses. The constant pressure to perform can cause us to have stressful—rather than enjoyable—rides. Whether you are working towards competing or just a personal goal, you can occasionally get overwhelmed by internal and external pressures. Chances are you generally live for the barn, but there may be days where the idea of hearing “heels down, eyes up” could get on your last nerve.
This kind of stress can affect how you perform and that will undoubtedly affect your horse. Horses make such great partners due to their sensitivity to their riders, but this sensitivity can backfire when a rider is carrying too much stress. The more tension you hold in the saddle—whether it be nerves or stress—will make its way to your horse and you’ll be setting yourself up for a less-than-stellar ride from the start.
If your stress comes from a negative experience like a fall or accident during a previous training session, then chances are you are going to be a little nervous during your next ride—it’s only human. If that’s the case, think about making your next ride a trail ride. You might want to get right back to the ring and immediately conquer whatever got in your way, but making your next ride enjoyable and not stressful might go further in the long run and be more productive for you and your horse.
Whatever your reason for stress when it comes to riding, if you find yourself less enthused than normal to get to the barn, consider taking your ride out of the ring. A trail ride will be the perfect way to get yourself in the saddle and riding for joy, not show.
3. Physical Benefits of a Ride Out of the Arena
Taking your ride out of the ring doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice the progress you are making in your training. While trail rides can be leisurely, they also have a host of physical benefits for your horse that can improve their performance in the ring.
Horses are naturally more forward out of the ring, and a more forward horse is a more trainable horse. Ever heard the expression “work the walk”? The walk is an essential gait to build muscle and habits. Sometimes, the hardest gait to get any forward movement with can be the walk. On a trail and out of the ring—even walking—your horse will be more willing to move, and that momentum is something you can work with to build muscle and better habits.
Another wonderful muscle building benefit that you won’t find in the ring is hill work. Horses can be as lazy as we can, and not using their butts is one of their favorite ways to get through life. Hill work is a great way to get your horse to engage their hind end, which is essential for performance in any discipline—so try trotting a few hills on your next trail, and reap the benefits when you get back to the ring.
You might assume that a trail ride means an interruption in your training routine, but this isn’t always the case. While going out on the trail can serve as a break for you and your horse, if you are looking to get a workout you can’t get in the ring then including the occasional trail can actually advance your training.
4. Make Your Competition Days a Breeze
If you travel to shows or competitions, you know that introducing a horse to a brand new environment and asking them to perform is a tall order. Horses are naturally uneasy in new surroundings, which can be detrimental to having a good show day.
By taking your horse out of the ring—and even off the farm—for the occasional trail ride, you can make it part of their routine to adapt to new situations. While there’s nothing quite like the hustle and bustle of the showgrounds, even taking your horse on a local trail will be good for their brain. Conquering different sights and sounds, from deer in the bushes to water in your path, can go miles in giving you a consistently braver horse.
If you don’t have access to a trail from your farm, check out local places where you can trailer to. This will have the added benefit of trailer time for your horse. Some horses have trouble with the trailer, whether they start with it or learn it. By introducing trailering into your routine and getting a fun, functional ride out of it, your horse will have time to acclimate to the trailer without the pressures of the trailer meaning only showtime.
While showing and competitions are a fun and challenging way to enjoy the sport, they often mean a high-intensity day for your horse, compounded by leaving the comfort of the farm. By taking your horse off property to trail ride, you can expose them to things out of their routines and put some variety in their trailering patterns, making show days a breeze!
5. Get In a Great Ride, with a View!
Fall is a phenomenal time to take a trail ride. The temperatures are getting more bearable, the bugs are less active, and the scenery is full of bright colors. Trail rides can be phenomenal workouts and great breaks from the ring, but they have the added benefit of coming with a great view.
If you are planning on taking a trip this fall, take a look to see if you can grab a trail ride in a new location and enjoy the local change of season. Fall in Colorado is a wonderful time to see the aspens turning a bright yellow and in New England you can find the leaves turning red, yellow, and orange. There’s nothing better than getting off the beaten path and enjoying fall between two fuzzy ears!
Taking a trail ride (or two, or five) might be the perfect way to enjoy your time in the saddle this fall. Whether you or your horse need a break, you need a new experience, or just want a ride with a great view, a fall trail ride might be the answer.
Will you be trail riding this season? What’s your favorite part about trail riding? Let us know in the comments!