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Utah’s horse world – Gaining confidence on the trail

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Last week’s article discussed the fun of venturing out on the trail for some summer time on horseback. While guided rides and outback tours on seasoned, well-practiced horses can be extremely relaxing, taking one’s own horse into unexplored territory – if that horse is not particularly experienced with trail excursions – can be a little more exciting than many of us would prefer.

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So how do you become a more confident trail rider and help your horse feel comfortable with such adventurous outings?

Going outside of your usual setting for a brief and entirely relaxed trip is the only way to start out. Beginning your excursions away from home with very short and non-demanding experiences will help ensure that you personally remain cool and calm, and also reduce the chance that your horse will become too rattled by the new sights and scents.

At home you can first introduce, thoughtfully, new stimulus. Accustom the horse to tarps, water on the ground, trees and branches if possible, the sound of a crackling water bottle or his rider removing or putting on a jacket. Watch one of the helpful trail riding DVDs for more ideas on how to ready your horse and prepare yourself. Parelli Natural Horsemanship has an excellent series of helpful how-to information!

If you don’t have a lot of friends who are trail riding experts, take some lessons. Seek out instructors who can lead you out on a few short trail sessions so you can get comfortable. Take baby steps if you need to. A brief walk down a local trail will eventually lead to a longer trek on less urban terrain.

You may also want to have a trainer help with your horse. Many riders feel far more confident climbing aboard a horse that has already been introduced to the trail. Cliff Tipton of Flying T Acres, located in nearby Erda (out west in Tooele County) is a respected expert who does wonders with gentling wild horses and getting any horse used to outdoor adventure. His wife, successful endurance rider Janet Tipton, partners with wonderful Cliff-trained horses on her many miles of outback rides and races.

Riding lessons and professional training for your horse are priceless investments that will go a long way to enhance your safety as well as your long-term enjoyment of your equine partners.

If others do accompany you, make absolutely sure that the handler and their horse are experienced, confident and that their presence does nothing but add to the positive impression you want to impart upon your horse. Horses, being herd animals, will take cues from the other equines in their group. Two (or more) green horses can easily become quite panicked.

Your first few outings should be in a peaceful setting, with a short and easy trail (avoid too-steep hills or challenging terrain) that is unlikely to impose too much fear-inducing stimulus on the horse. If you feel yourself becoming unduly tense for any reason or get the feeling that your horse is getting a little out of control, it’s okay to get off. The last thing you want to deal with is a run-away, bolting, bucking, rearing, reactive, terrified animal in a strange and uncomfortable environment. The Parellis, expert horsemen who’ve been riding and training far longer than most of us, remind us that there’s never any shame in just getting off the horse and working to regain their composure from the ground.

Don’t be in a hurry to pressure yourself or your horse to take on more than you’re realistically ready to tackle. If you’ve never been on a successful one mile ride, don’t expect to enjoy a five mile ride right out of the gate.

Surrounding yourself with other riders who have far more experience and whose older horses take everything in stride will help build your own confidence and instill an easy-going sense of calm in your new-to-the-trail horse.

Patience and proper practice are the keys to building on your abilities and giving your horse the experience he needs to turn into a steady, reliable mount.

Trail riding can be oh so fun and exciting once you and your horses gain the confidence to get out there, explore and enjoy!

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