Tuesday, April 11, 2017

he's no isabel: a trail story in pictures

I've known for a few months now that there ARE actually little trails around Charlie's barn. And in driving by on the road and around campus (he lives on a school campus, remember), I've noticed through the trees things that look like trails and trail heads.

The story was that they're not extensive trails but you can probably eke out a 45 minute excursion. And it's reportedly difficult to get lost out there. All the same, I had hoped to get our introduction to the trails with the benefit of a companion, both for navigation and social purposes. 

Alas, convincing anyone to go out there with me has been tricky. My likeliest riding partner has spent the last few years working hard to maintain her elder statesman, who has a storied history of various lamenesses from which he should not have recovered but yet somehow continues to thrive. She's therefore very picky about footing. Also she's wary of the long stretches of the trail that are asphalt, as visible above.

Finally tho, I got tired of waiting. This past weekend was gorgeous. And Charlie was feeling a little off - seasonal changes with spring grass coming up, and apparently a new shipment of hay had his belly a little bothersome - so I didn't want to actually school him. Felt like the perfect opportunity for a low key trail outing! 

So I confirmed with mgmt where the trails began and ended, and whether I was likely to miss any important land marks, and off we went! Naturally I did in fact miss the first turning - incorrectly crossing the above bridge when I should have turned. Nbd - the trail just dead ended at a road, but I could see a much nicer (non-asphalt) trail just on the other side of a small creek and started looking for sections of bank that looked traversable by horse.

I found one - right next to a pedestrian wooden bridge - but Charlie showed his greenness and was ultimately unable to make the crossing. Isabel wouldn't have blinked an eye.... And I'm pretty sure Charlie would have followed another horse. But oh well. It's saved for another day. Pictures further down. 

Getting back to the turn that we had missed, i was a little worried that Charlie would be reluctant to turn off the path towards home again, since the attempted water crossing had upset him a little. Shouldn't have worried, tho. He was fine. And this new section of trail was much more pleasant - broad smooth earthen path. 

The horse was maybe a little unsure of what we were doing, but he mostly walked out pretty nicely. Tho a much nicer, marching walk when he thought we were heading towards home, and more of a slow shuffle otherwise.... But that's fine. He basically stayed on the buckle and felt quite safe.

So when we very quickly came upon the back of the campus residences (with the above gazebo!) and I thought our trail might be coming to another fork (one of which seemed like an end point), I decided to stay on the fork that looked like it would take us back to that path I had seen earlier on the other side of the failed stream crossing.

And that's where things went a little bit sideways (not joking - this picture shows that little tree in the bottom left corner just moments before Charlie ran me into it - knee, elbow, everything. ouch!). We had to go down a very steep section, which doesn't translate well on camera but you can basically see how narrow the trail is here, and that it disappears in vertical descent just behind that tree.

Charlie was.... very very reluctant. And not without reason! This was a VERY steep trail and he's a big awkward horse. Good soul tho, he made it work without getting us killed.

Then things opened back up again into nice friendly smooth trail. Ahh. That's better! And we were right where I thought we'd be - on the other side of the little pedestrian bridge we had seen earlier.

Other sections of the bank were very steep, but I had tried to cross right next to the bridge where it was flattest (tho still quite steep, hard to tell in the shadows). Charlie got allll the way down to the water's edge, but was very uncomfortable (snorting and head shaking) and started dancing around a little bit - including getting a hind leg a bit under the bridge in a way that I decidedly did not feel safe about. But he offered to shift into a controlled and purposeful reverse (actually turning his head to watch where he was going!) to pull back out of the area.

While I would have preferred that the horse cross the water when I asked.... I also did not feel like this was the right situation to insist. Especially since he offered to extricate himself so carefully and calmly. Oh well. We will handle the stream crossing issue in a more safe schooling soon enough!

Anyway tho. It was also right around this point that it became glaringly clear that we were on a trail designed for humans, and NOT horses. On flat sections all was well, but the more technical sections (think ascents and descents) were VERY narrow and VERY steep.

Shortly after passing that little bridge we were headed basically straight up and around the side of a hill, on a very narrow ledge of trail with a wooden railing that we barely fit within. It also had bonus mushy edges that Charlie's hind leg punched straight through in one harrowing moment. 

Charlie was a good sport tho and kept climbing. Phew, good pony! We got to the top of the hill and I let him just halt and take a breather, and regroup. This was turning out to be.... not quite the easy relaxing trail I had expected! While stopped, I took the above two pictures, which kinda give the sense of where we are with respect to the hill - ie, on top of it.

This section of trail was fairly good - not too steep a drop off to the left. Tho it was a bit steep up to the right. And Charlie showed that he doesn't quite understand "staying on the trail" yet and jumped the shark here as soon as I asked him to walk forward. He quite unexpectedly went sideways further up the hill on the more uneven ground, and managed to run me into yet another tree, the one indicated by the arrow. Ouch dude.

We righted the ship tho and got back on the trail just in time to see that what goes up must come down. Our trail would be very rapidly taking us right back down the other side of the hill.

And again - the camera doesn't do the steepness full justice, but you can kinda see how we're basically traversing a hillside, and the trail is very VERY narrow, on soft ground, only very shallowly carved into the hill side. That red arrow is pointing to our trail. Which is also about to rapidly descend. Gulp.

Charlie did it tho. And didn't get us killed. The above shows the path we came down looking backwards. This horse.... he's a very good boy. But he is neither comfortable nor confident going downhill like this yet. I can't blame him tho.... We just need more practice. And maybe a buddy haha bc I think he would have felt better with another horse around.

As it was tho, I was fairly sure we would be on moderately level ground from here out, just following the road (on our left) back to the campus. 

The trails are actually quite pretty - and this section had another little stream (maybe the same one as before? idk) running alongside it. Plus all around the trail were these interesting wooden railings. But again it was pretty clear these were people trails, and designed accordingly. 

Like when we got to this wild cut away section of a giant tree haha. Actually we approached this log from a turn, and I didn't immediately see the cut section. I thought it was newly fallen wood that was blocking our path entirely. I had zero confidence that I'd be able to get Charlie to bushwhack a path around it, but my heart absolutely sank at the thought of turning around to retrace our steps back up that damn hill when we were so close to home!

Luckily there was in fact the cut away section. And while it was narrow and I felt a little guarded about what Charlie might think about it all, he was fine. Scooted maybe a liiiittle bit through it, but didn't bash any of my body parts into anything in the process so I was cool with it. 

And finally, not very long after, we emerged through the above mini meadow type area behind some campus buildings. This section being particularly notable for not at all accommodating a 17h horse, let alone one with a rider. I got quite acquainted with the finer details and scents of Charlie's mane as I basically just had to lay flat out on his neck and hope he stayed on the trail lol. Which he did just fine, good boy.

And then, voila! Like magic, our familiar civilization materialized around us again. I can't claim to be entirely unscathed by the adventure, as my elbow and knee bore the marks of their brief but forceful encounter with a tree.... But for all intents and purposes we survived. And the horse was pretty fine.

I'm not sure it was as confidence-building for him as I had hoped, in that idk if he was thrilled to tackle some of those technical trail elements. Izzy was always such a beast out in the woods - it was like, the more complicated the terrain or brush or whatever, the better she was. Almost like she viewed it as a puzzle, and you could just sit back, hold the buckle and some mane, and let her figure it out. 

Charlie was good about the "letting him figure it out" part mostly, but he's no arab that's for sure. And I'm not sure he relished those moments or took as much joy in them as Izzy did. On the flip side tho - he really is a lovely trail partner. He's green and inexperienced and it shows.... but he was also totally safe and manageable despite being by himself.

In previous outings he's definitely shown what appears to be enjoyment of trails - so I think in this case it was maybe just a bit harder than either of us anticipated. Next time we'll try it with a buddy and see if that doesn't improve Charlie's feelings about the trickier spots. 

post trail snacks for a hard working pony
So. Charlie's first solo trail outing is a success, even with some qualifications haha. And now I have a pretty clear map of our trails at home. They're definitely not the most horse-friendly... but they're nice enough and we can get used to the bad spots, I think. So we'll probably try again, esp if I can get someone else to go with me haha.

Do you have a preference for solo or group trail rides? Does it depend on how experienced your horse is?

Do you even like trail rides? Does your horse? Is your horse more like Isabel or Charlie out there? Or are you a dyed in the wool, distance loving rider? If that's the case, do you have criteria or methods for how you introduce horses to trail riding? Or specific types of trails you seek out or avoid? Or is it more like, 'whatever falls upon our path works for me!'

55 comments:

  1. Tesla just tolerates trails (but is always looking back...are we done yet? LOL) but Porsche loves off-road! I've taken her out solo all over back-country, water, traffic, deer, you name it - she's seen it. She is so brave, sure-footed, and game for adventure, Idk - I never thought about systematically introducing anything o_O

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    1. Porsche sounds like Izzy haha - and with a horse like that they almost need no introductions I think!

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  2. He was very good and I suspect will learn to really enjoy it. A barn on a school? I did not realize that!

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    1. Yup he lives at a private all girls high school. It makes for a very different but not altogether unpleasant barn environment

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  3. Aw, what a good guy! Downhill is hard and he is a very big guy. I love how thoughtfully he tackled it though. And no need for me to comment on my trail riding preferences other than to note that I guess I'm a professional trail rider lol

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    1. Haha yup! I'd say 100 miles qualifies you as such ;) and yea I appreciate how thoughtful Charlie was too. We can smooth out the details later

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  4. Nancy is a trail riding boss, she happily goes alone or in company & leads or follows like nbd. Kika as I'm sure you've guessed is another kettle of fish; I no longer ride her on trails alone as tbh we wouldn't get very far before homegirl would either stop moving or spin and hightail it homeward. However she is great with company, so long as she doesn't have to lead - although boy does she stride out and leave Nancy in her dust when she does lead. Now if only I could get that kind of walk in an arena 😍
    Nancy is also a boss and happily strides along with Kika on a lead for company like a pack horse. Honestly I'm truly blessed

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    1. Omg that's exactly what I was thinking about the walk too - like damn Charlie, where is this walk when we are working?!?!? And yea I've known horses like K too. Sometimes I guess they're just not that into it?

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  5. Sounds like a sucessful first trail to me! Best way to build confidence. :)

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    1. He's been out a couple times already with other horses on a variety of different trails - this was his first time alone. The reason I'm not sure it was as confidence building is bc compared to his outing at sweet air, where he finish the ride absolutely attacking anything that fell in his path, bush whacking like a champ, and going up and down and all around like it was the most normal thing in the world, compared to that outing, this time felt a little less like it pumped him up and empowered him. He did everything he needed to do tho and that's all that matters!

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  6. Some of the trails by my barn devolve into what are basically deer paths. They can get pretty sketchy. Pig is the master at hauling my ass up wicked steep inclines, but he'll say no to any rocky. He was really opinionated about water crossings of any type until recently (as in, full of the NOPE). Now he'll march through just about anything with a little encouragement. Not sure what changed

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    1. Who knows. Tho Wick was very very shy of water crossings on his earliest trails too, so maybe it's a TB thing? Wick worked thru it tho and obvi Pig did too so maybe there's hope for Charlie yet!

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  7. Gem...well she is an odd bird in general I suppose. She likes the trail better than anything else, but she is so scared of everything eating her. On good days we fly over anything solo and both have fun. on bad brain days everything is a mess. In a group or with a single buddy she is amazing though. She will go up, over through and around anything. Single track, narrow twisty trails with obstacles are her favorite.

    She wasn't always like that though. It took an entire spring and summer of hand jogging on trails to let her sort out her feet and figure out footing and obstacles without me on her to figure it out.

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    1. Ugh yea I hear ya. Taking that time to slowly build her up and show her it's ok definitely seems to have worked for her. Esp that she's so awesome in a group too! While I love a good solo trail ride, nothing beats a great ride with friends!

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  8. I love how willing Charlie is to try things, even when it's kind of scary for him! Dino is a badass trail pony. That's pretty much all he wants to do. He's great alone or with a group, though I haven't done much technical riding out alone since I'm not super comfortable hauling out to ride in the state park by myself, just for safety reasons. He's a lot like Isabel: loves a challenge on the trail! I just drop the reins and let him work his way through the tricky stuff. I never really systematically introduced trail riding... we just kinda started doing it and he ended up being awesome!

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    1. I feel like Dino and Charlie would be perfect trail buddies. Charlie is laid back and thoughtful and not easily spooked, but also understandably unsure of unfamiliar terrain. But he does GREAT with a lead horse (he actually legit will watch the horse and mirror them completely!) and would probably learn a lot from Dino!

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    2. Well OBVIOUSLY this calls for a trail outing, then!

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  9. wow you have those riding distance from you?? im jealous. theres not a whole lot in the way of trails near me.

    you're brave and I'm glad you guys had a good ride even if charles was a little "omgz woman, i am le tb not le endurance arab"

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    1. Lol I keep trying to tell him that as Le TB he must now shift his mindset from Le Racehorse to Le Sporthorse. And as such, I would like him very much to do Le Everything. Hopefully he catches on!

      And yea I was happy to finally discover these trails, tho I'm still pining away for the much bette ones I left behind at Isabel's barn. Oh well.

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  10. My TB, my 50-miler TB, hated trails. HAAAAAATEEEED. Hated. She was terrified of EVERYTHING. Ditches, mud, creeks, steep slopes, deer, shadows, cut trees. All were horse-eating terrors. I hated riding trails with her as much as she hated being on them. The only reason why we ventured out of the sandbox was because I was sick of the arena after her long rehab post-ligament injury and I was going to scream if I had to continue going around in circles for one more minute. And our barn had really nice trails. Because I was so determined by then, I made it work. I would initially dismount for the more technical parts because I knew she would follow me over/through anything, but I discovered that her spookiness was greatly minimized if we moved at a trot vs a walk. So we trotted lots and she gained confidence. She is a weirdo, but that really worked for us. You can't let Lily look at objects or she thinks it is an acknowledgement by you that she *should* be worried.

    She did best with one other horse starting out. I would let her follow and then for the next outing she would have to lead. If she could lead on trail, she could then go out solo without a buddy. Leading = self confidence. Once she was able to go solo with just me, she learned to trust me on her back as much as on the ground, and the rest is history. She loves the trails now, which makes her story that much more remarkable.

    I used a similar system for introducing solo trail riding to Gracie, with equal success.

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    1. Seems like your system paid dividends in a big way!! It can be so hard to introduce nervous or unsure horses to the trails.... But IMO it's so worth it for them to learn to use the trail as a brain break and mental refreshment, a chance to use and stretch out their bodies in ways different from how they work in the ring.

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  11. I would love a horse like Charlie in the future. I'm not a huge trail riding enthusiast but it would be nice to have the option with a brave, willing horse even if inexperienced. I'd like a horse that would be game for riding around the farm property- not on any kind of challenging trail. Mostly I'm fine being in the arena, but on those gorgeous afternoons it sure would be great to explore a little.

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    1. Oh man yea Charlie would be perfect for that, as he's pretty much king of the "wander around the farm" explorations. At present the technical stuff isn't really his favorite either haha but I'm hoping he will change his mind with strength and experience. But yea. Charlie is brave willing and quiet, qualities that can approximate "gameness" in the right situations.

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  12. Charlie, you are just the best ever!!

    My last horse spent his whole first year of trail riding going down any sort of slope completely sideways. It wasn't even a panicked, rushy, bad horse thing--he just really thought that was the best way to go about it. I was actually kind of surprised when I first started taking Bobby out that the less riding I did the better he navigated. He hates it if you try to pick at him and tell him how to put his feet especially down hills.

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    1. ugh yea. isabel had me pretty trained up to just sit back, cross my legs, and sip a cuppa tea while she just did her thing complete unimpeded. i had a slightly harder time allowing charlie that same freedom on this particular trail bc he wasn't good about staying on the actual trail and was running me into trees and getting himself into nasty footing situations. in bigger wide open areas tho he's allowed to go downhill however he sees fit basically

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  13. Scarlet is the quintessential arab. Spooky as F***. I would love to go out on trails and I'm sure he would like it as well. But I don't think he would be able to stay inside his skin if we went alone. And its a bit difficult to coordinate buddies at a new barn. Maybe someday!

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    1. aww, that's a shame! my arab wasn't spooky at all. like, ever. sure if some deer flushed under her nose she might startled.... but other than that she didn't really care about anything. hopefully you can get some buddies together!

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  14. Ooo that's a nice trail! Although it did have a "horse whisperer" vibe to it on that hill...with that road below. Ugh.
    He was such a good boy though! I feel like the best way to get a horse to get used to trails is to go with a more experienced companion to show them it's fine...and then eventually they become the more experienced companion! I usually wouldn't go alone on a green horse...but if that's all you have, I'd rather do it than not do it!

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    1. omg haha the "horse whisperer" vibe was strong... in not a good way lol. agreed about going with more experienced partners tho. charlie's a pretty solid citizen and is not particularly herd bound.... but he definitely can improve his own confidence by watching other horses go!

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  15. And the jealousy of where you board continues...I'd kill to have trails on the property! Even if they aren't exactly meant for horses...

    I've never taken P out on a trail ride by myself because I don't think he'd do too well. We always go with friends and he's great. He likes to either be in front or towards the front, unless there's poop. Then another horse must walk by it first. Sigh.

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    1. lol i mean, poop can be super scary!!

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  16. So nice to have trails connecting to your barn. Maybe next time (If you're still by yourself), get off and walk across the foot bridge and ask him to cross the water. Or walk in the water yourself. I have had several horses that would refuse to cross water, but if I led them immediately act like it was no big deal and march right across.

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    1. eh, getting off to lead is like a last resort for me imo, and is reserved for situations where there really isn't an alternative (like, gates, for instance, or if i dropped something). and it's not really a habit i like to get into on trails. i'm fine with horses learning to get a lead from other horses tho.

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  17. Nice! I'm glad you made it back alive and well! I have no idea wtf I am going to do.. I want trail riding once a week to be part of Mr Dante's training plan and we have trails but I really don't know if I should expect a 3yo to be okay going out alone and who the fuck am I going to ride with?

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    1. If you're nervous, maybe try previewing the trail by hand-walking or ground-driving it with your horse? You can see how he does out and about by himself and then he'll have seen the lay of the land, as it were, so that when you ride out the next time it won't be so new for either of you.

      I take pretty green horses out and about by myself on trails but (a) I have done enough baby green horses that I've lost my ammie standing on that front and (b) they're mostly under 15 hh so the ground isn't very far away and (c) I have good healthcare. There's nothing about being 3 that makes a horse somehow less able to go out and about. It's a young age, certainly, and they're gonna look at stuff, but so will a hot and fretful 10 yr old. If he handles an in-hand walkies tour of the test trail OK (not dancing, not calling for other horses, not ignoring you or shouldering you out of the way, able to stand quietly in-hand for a count of 20 without trying to yank lead rope out of your hand for snax, walks quietly beside you on a draped lead, etc.) then you can probably give it a whirl.

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    2. aw i'm sure you'll do great with Dante - you've got a good sense for how to handle the young'uns and what lessons he's gotta learn first

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  18. Seems like a pretty great first solo trail ride! Good on Chuckles for keeping his wits about him.

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    1. frankly even tho he didn't handle everything perfectly, his composure throughout could not have been better!

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  19. It's the trails for us! We do 99.9% of our riding solo with no problem but I've been looking to ride with a bigger group since we need "controlled chaos" for her mental training as well. Since introducing some jumping into the mix, I think both Quest and I are enjoying arena sessions a lot more.

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    1. variety is the spice of life, they say!

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  20. I am more 'trail boss' than 'arena queen'. :) I start green horses on straightforward, familiar routes that the horse has seen previously, by being ponied or led or ground-driven there. (When I say the horse is green, I mean we're on ride #3 or #4, lifetime. Go, whoa, and steer barely work. This is not green like "needs some seasoning", it's green like "barely understands the gig, still doing the drunkard's walk and trying to find balance while carrying a rider".)

    Like for example, if it's not pouring thunderstorms after work, Zipper is taking his first solo expedition (time #5 that a human has thrown a leg over his back) to The Buckwheat Field (contains no buckwheat) this afternoon. The trail we're doing is a logging trail kind of a thing -- you can drive a pickup down to the bottom if you go slowly and don't care too much about brush scratching the paint -- but again, the horse barely rides. The challenges for today are not Super Difficult Trail Obstacles but rather "go forward sensibly and calmly" and "practice carrying a rider on various terrain". Super Difficult Trail Obstacles is not appropriate at our current skill level. I fully expect that he'll be fine to go to the buckwheat field, though.

    I can ride out alone or in groups. You learn and teach different things on solo rides and on group rides... and that's OK. Solo rides: trust me, go where I tell you to go, we can do this. They build confidence and partnership between you and your horse. Group rides -- spacing, trail manners, politeness, patience. They help make a mannerly horse, especially if you can get people to work with you on things like the leapfrog game.

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    1. yup agreed that the greenies have so much to learn from trail riding! i definitely like to keep it as an integrated part of our regular program too!

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  21. Wow I am VERY proud of Charlie for tackling all of those elements! Steep and narrow and slightly terrifying!

    I like to trail ride in calm and controlled groups - one or two other quiet horses. If anyone else is silly, Murray feeds off that terribly and I'm as likely to end up walking as riding. I do really want to get more confidence out trail riding though, I just don't have a ton of opportunity at the moment!

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    1. i've been lucky that my horses tend to be the "calm or steady" horses of the group, vs the "will feed off silly" horses. isabel was like the best trail mom ever. she could get hot and really would speed walk along, but she was always able and willing to have a greenie or less certain horse attach itself to her for building confidence. so far charlie seems pretty steady too!

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  22. I LOVE ALL OF THESE PHOTOS. And the Microsoft Paint overlays are also very helpful.
    I've been on once trail ride (I'm a huge amateur) and it was great. Learned that squeezing my legs makes the horse go fast. Won't make that mistake again.

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  23. I love trail riding, but I HATE that are you going to jump the stream, are you not feeling. It's the WORST. I'm so glad you made it home safely and actually I am REALLY impressed with Charlie!! What a good boy!

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    1. ugh yea, and that's definitely the direction charlie was going in re: jumping the stream haha. except the landing side was very very cluttered. on a paper chase last year, my friend's green mare unexpectedly jumped a water crossing and my friend took a sharp branch straight to the face. luckily missed her eye, but still! but yea, i'm impressed with the big guy too and will hopefully be able to smooth out some of his concerns with streams soon!

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  24. Trail riding is my jam right now. Ruby LOOOOOVES them. Cinna is getting there, haha. When I was introducing Ruby to the trails at her current barn, first I started hand walking her on them, then I would ground drive her on them, and eventually we transitioned to riding on them. It really helped acclimate her slowly and made her super confident! I did something sort of similar with Cinna on our short trail at the house (hand walking before riding), and while she's not as confident as Ruby, she's getting there. She just needs WAY more exposure!

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    1. exposure imo is kinda the secret sauce to success, in almost everything we do with the horses. i'm sure Cinna will get there soon too!! at least she looks adorable in matching trail tack ;)

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  25. Oh good on him! Even besides the leg bashing part, he did rather well, all things considered. I love the trail and Ryon was a rockstar on them (except that one time he trampled me). I can't wait to see how Mae does on them. Can't say I'm not nervous about it but I think she needs the exposure. It'll be good for her brain

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  26. Sounds like Charlie did really well considering the first time solo and the rough terrain.

    One of my favorite things is to go trail riding with barn friends. Though for us, "trail" riding actually means going down the road or across the fields, so pretty flat open land. Kachina is an amazing trail horse, one of the reasons I bought her. I haven't gotten to ride her through any trees yet because trees don't grow naturally in this area, but we've ridden across open prairie, through rocky hoodoos, up and down steep coulees, through creeks and rivers, and she's tackled it all really well. She's also a great babysitter to horses who are less sure about what lies outside the arena. She's fine on her own too, but I don't feel comfortable about the risks of solo trail riding so I rarely go alone.

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  27. aww, good boy Charlie!!! I'm glad that you guys survived!

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  28. I love trail rides but haven't been on one in forever. They don't really exist out here in farm country

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  29. Seemed like a good enough outing even if it was complicated.
    As a general rule of thumb I never trail ride alone but I would if I felt I had a safe enough horse to ride alone on. Ben is more like Isabel. He charges through the terrain but like Charlie always seems to pick the worst ground and footing for his path. I have been peeled off by a tree before. Lol

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