Just a Trail Horse?

Many equestrians are unaware, rather naive about what it truly takes to be a solid trail mount.  The mental and physical skills required for both horse and rider to navigate trails are complex and require a great deal of skill.  Each time you navigate trails on horseback, the variables will be unique to the moment.  In disciplines such as dressage, jumping or reining, navigation takes place in a space with more controlled variables and set patterns of movement.  This controlled type of environment provides opportunity for the horse and rider to hyper focus on movement and body mechanical demonstrations.  The emphasis is on muscle memory through repetition.  It could be argued that as a horse advances in muscle memory disciplines, there is less attention to cognition.  This is not suggested as a negative point, but rather a note on the differences.

The point is to create awareness of the skills involved in trail riding.  Quite often, when someone inquires about a horse I have trained for sale, there is this notion that a 'trained' horse should walk, trot, canter in both directions on a circle picking up a correct lead.  From my perspective, this is not an indication of a trained horse.  Navigating trails requires muscle memory, body awareness, coordination AND complex cognition.  This means the horse must gain knowledge and understanding through thinking, experiences, and sensory input.  

Successful trail mounts have excellent communication skills with their riders.  This means they are both good listeners and communicators or their thoughts.  Anybody riding or training a good trail mount will have the understanding that the horse can smell, hear, and see much better than its rider.  Good trail mounts will take responsibility to properly communicate to their handler what their senses are telling them.  Good handlers will listen to their horse and work towards making decisions together as to the best way to proceed.  A good trail horse trainer knows & teaches the importance of proper carriage, cadence, body mechanics, balance, thoughtfulness, and coordination.  The trainer will also emphasize clear communication, striving to build confidence and understanding through the learning process.

The great thing about trail riding and trail disciplines is just about any horse has the potential to be a good trail mount.   Don't expect an advanced dressage or jumping horse to just automatically be a good trail horse.  The skill set will need to be developed just like any other discipline.