Trail riding, to my mind, is such an art form. I always laugh to myself when I read comments from riders who flippantly throw comments around like “oh me and my horse are just happy hackers” or “we only ride out on the trail” as though it’s some inferior state of being to riding in the arena or competition.
Little do they know, I think to myself, that half the world craves being able to simply open the gates and happily ride off down the road.
Personally speaking, I’m a pretty methodical trainer and if in doubt, I always err on the side of caution rather than risk. I spent longer than most working with my horses on the ground and in the saddle in the arena before I ventured out with him on the trails- and even that I have done in a very progressive way.
My mindset is such that I’m happy to be on and equally happy to be off. The question is not so much making it from A to B as much as it is being able to create good experiences in between those two points. As my start point was essentially sitting on board a big, green, sensitive horse, if I was met with challenge or tension, I would be assessing the best and safest point for me to deal with that from. Sometimes it’s staying on board but equally so it could be hopping off and walking beside him until whatever tension we held had dissolved.
When I think about time frames around this, I’m not talking days, weeks or months- I’m talking years. Developing confidence in different situations is so individually dependent. Just as some humans develop confidence and aptitude faster than others in some situations, so to do our horses.
I was on a group trail ride recently with a really mixed group, a first for one of the lovely horses who was with us. She coped well for most of the way and then it became obvious that her cup was overflowing. Her rider got off but was a mixed bag of emotions; frustrated, upset, embarrassed, maybe even a little angry.
I mentioned to her that I thought she’d done a good job, that I’ve been many a times in situations where I’ve jumped on and off, where I’ve walked on foot the same number of miles as my horse.
Expectations and the feelings of pressure (especially in group situations) can often get the better of us and leave us with an emotional hangover that’s of our own doing. If you are doing what needs to be done in the moment, there’s no need for shame or embarrassment. It’s not a predictor of the future.
It really is just dealing with presents in the moment and moving from that place.
Sometimes it’s on board and sometimes it’s not. And both are equally valid.
It just takes time. And we have that, if we let ourselves have it.