Horse Preperation For A Long Trail Ride
A day long trail ride is an idyllic, enjoyable way to spend time with your horse in a natural environment. Most horses that spend almost all of their days in barn stalls or arenas thoroughly enjoy the freedom that comes with being outside, unencumbered by fences, arenas, or walled in areas. But the reality of taking a domesticated animal and returning to nature for a day long trail ride requires genuine preparation. To make the transition from barn to trail and get your horse ready for a day long trail ride, there are three areas of preparation to consider: mental preparation, physical preparation and equipment preparation.
Mentally Preparing Your Horse for a Day Long Trail Ride:
First and foremost is mental preparation. Is your horse mentally ready? Has your horse ever been outside an arena’s safe boundaries? Has your horse ever seen trees, experienced bright sunlight or felt the wind? Has your horse ever been exposed to small animals scurrying around them or encountered larger wild animals in its path? Has it heard the sounds of nature, birds, streams or leaves rustling in the trees? If the extent of your horse’s training experience has been limited to moving around in an arena or other fenced in area, the great outdoors will present some new, unfamiliar and possibly startling stimuli.
Gently and slowly introduce new natural objects, sounds and experiences to your horse in a safe and familiar environment. Bring in tree branches and rustle the branches, brush them against the horse’s flanks gently until the horse becomes comfortable with the sound and feel of the leaves and branches. Tie plastic bags to the round pen and turn the horse out on a windy day. The wind will create sound and movement similar to the wind in the trees on the trail. Introduce small animals such as puppies that run, jump and bark until the horse is no longer startled by the sudden movement or sounds. CD’s with recorded natural sounds of the forest and forest animals may help acclimate your horse to the sounds it will encounter.
Can your horse keep its mental focus while walking a long distance without becoming distracted by squirrels, chipmunks, ground hogs, snakes or other wildlife? Work on mental endurance by reinforcing training commands. Your horse should be able to follow your commands even when startled.
Physically Preparing Your Horse for a Day Long Trail Ride:
Physical conditioning is as important as mental preparation. Health is a serious matter. Preparation for a day long trail ride means increasing the horse’s endurance and stamina gradually. Few people go from walking around the block to running a marathon in one day. Although horses are strong by nature, even the healthiest horses need gradual conditioning to do well on trails. Runners who compete in marathons will tell you that cross country races on a trail are completely different from running on a paved course. One does not prepare you for