Best Trail Pony

Let's go

A recent thread on a local equine message board centered on what qualities make a perfect trail horse. It was a good discussion and got me to thinking. What do I really want in a perfect trail partner?

Here’s what I wrote:

My ideal trail horse- Goes out alone or in groups, is content to lead, follow, or stay in the middle. Does not take off when the other horses do and waits for me to tell him to go. Goes, stops, and stands as requested. Ties patiently. He (prefer geldings to avoid potential hormone issues) must be brave, goes over water, bridges and other obstacles but is smart enough to let me know if something is too dangerous to keep going. Is able to compete in judged trail rides and obstacle courses. Comes when called. Doesn’t run off if I go off. Picks up things and hands them to me when I drop them (gloves for example). Enjoys learning new things – including tricks.

I finished with, “My current guy is almost there.”

I’m not sure the last statement is fair to Jigs.  After all, I can hop on him saddled or bareback, go out alone or with others, and feel confident.  Sure he is a little on the lazy side, but the truth is, with my limited riding skills and age, this is okay.  In fact, it is desirable.

I meant what I wrote about knowing “if something is too dangerous to keep going.” More than once he has stopped me from going forward when it was not safe. The few times I forced him forward, we got in trouble. In 5 years I have learned to know the difference between a lazy baulk and a NO IT IS NOT SAFE.

Today’s ride is a good example of the former. We took a three mile spin around the Pine Grove.  There’s about 8 inches of snow but the footing is pretty good.  Both glad to get out, we went around twice, enjoying the warm February sun.  As we approached the third round, he tried to turn and go back out the trail head.

“Jigs,” I said, “one more round.” He stopped and looked toward the road. I nudged him forward the other way, back into the woods. He sighed and moved forward.  The whole episode took less than 3o seconds.

There was a time when it would have been more of an argument, but Jigs and I have grown to understand one another. He was being lazy and I knew it. He understood by my response to his refusal that I was not going to accept it.

Someone on the message board commented on what I wrote about being smart enough to let me know if something is too dangerous to keep going. They likened it to selective disobedience in guide dogs. That makes sense.

When Jigs refuses because he senses something dangerous his demeanor is different than from a simple baulk. He gets stiff and unmoving. Not disobedient, but unyielding. I’ve learned to recognize it over just a simple no I don’t want to.

At the end of the day it is about our ability to communicate and trust each other. And it is about feel.

As for the other stuff about obstacles and the like, well, I want us to get there, but for simple trail riding, Jigs is the best trail pony I could  have.

Winter Trail

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