View Full Version : Conditioning the pleasure trail horse

May. 19, 2006, 04:23 PM
I've always believed that pleasure trail riders need to condition their horses much the same as those doing competitive trail and endurance, but at a lower intensity level. I've never been a "weekend warrior" when it comes to riding my horse. But, I know quite a few people who think nothing of riding all day (6+ hours) on both Saturday and Sunday, covering up to 20+ miles each day, much of it over hilly/mountainous terrain with no riding during the week days. And, these are horses that usually have about 5 months off every winter. They may start the spring with a couple of weekends of shorter rides or 3-4 hours, but then it's kicked right up to the long rides very quickly.

Any time I voice my opinion about believing that the horses need to be slowly built up to even do 3-4 hour rides and the need to ride several days a week for conditioning, not just long rides on the weekend, I get told that since the horses are not travelling at a fast pace, they can start right out with long rides in the spring.

I don't plan to change anything I do, but some times I start to feel like I'm the only one who thinks this way and that I'm on another planet. I wouldn't expect to be able to go hiking in the mountains for several hours without conditioning for it; I don't expect it from my horse either. Am I the only one who thinks the way I do? What do you pleasure trail riders do as far as conditioning? Do you just start with long rides, and am I just too concerned about my horse?

May. 19, 2006, 07:40 PM
I'm with you, dm. If nothing else, the horses' backs need to be conditioned to carry a rider for that length of time. Do these same people throw themselves into a 2-3 hour hike with a full backpack without working up to mileage? After all, they are only walking. How would they feel about doing 6 hour hikes with a full backpack? They'd be looking for a spa by the end of the day!

I remember reading a long time ago about fox hunters who used to start their horses walking before the hunt season began. This program talked about walking for 10 minutes for so many days, then up to 20, and so on, just to get the horses' backs in shape to carry a rider for that length of time a hunt takes. For 30 years now I've always begun to condition my horses at a walk before taking longer rides on them. If I don't have the time to condition them properly, then I don't take them on long rides. Period.

I guess maybe I'm very sympathetic to the horses, because I used to run 6 miles several times a week and work out with weights on the off days. Or, I'd swim two miles several times a week. I couldn't jump in the pool and do 2 miles or take off on a 6 mile jog without a lot of conditioning first. Why would I expect my horse to be any different?

I'm guessing that people who don't take the time to properly condition their horses never engaged in a serious exercise program themselves. They lack empathy for the horse, I guess.

May. 20, 2006, 12:12 AM
Ooh, I share your concern, exactly. Mine now get the winter off (back east when hunting they got part of the summer off) and they aren't completely unfit as they are out moving all the time, but I always start back after a layoff of more than a couple of months with a 15-30 minute walk depending on the horse (in my experience a really fit horse will hold most of his conditioning for six weeks, but that decreases incrementally depending on fitness level). I do get mine conditioned so they could do a day of hunting or a 25 mile ride w/o issues, can't help it, just what I'm used to doing and truly not hard to do. But those that I ride with (as you mention, pull the horse out of the paddock after 4-5 months off and just go for full day of riding) are amazed that my horses can just cruise on up a 1000-foot ridge where theirs have to stop and blow several times. It is hard even for the vets to convince folks in these parts that conditioning is important- as you note, the rationale is 'we're going slow' but even going slow a little basic muscle tone is needed!

May. 20, 2006, 08:30 AM
Yes, I've never understood how people can rationalize this in their head. I read an article recently written by Bob Avila (performance QH trainer) where he wrote that he feels it's borderline abusive for people to just ride their horses on long weekend rides without preparing them for it by conditioning gradually and doing rides during the week for conditioning.

It always made sense to me that my horses needed to be in condition for what I was asking of them. I remember a several day campout trip I did with friends where we did 4-6 hour easy going trail rides with some significant hills for 3 days straight. My horse was coming off an eye injury and I had to borrow a horse. A friend lent me her horse, a bulldog QH that was conditioned gradually and used to being ridden 1-2 hours a couple of times during the week and a longer weekend trail ride by the time of our ride. I knew this horse had a solid conditioning base, or I never would have taken her on the ride. She finished each day looking fresh as a daisy, a little tired, but nothing major. Whereas, I've seen the "weekend" horses do rides and they get through them, but they are pretty tired afterwards and have this "haggard" look about them. But, the weekend people think that's OK. I guess as long as their horse doesn't have a major injury, it's OK with them. I just don't like my horse to feel that fatigued and tired when there is something I can do about it to prevent it, by conditioning properly in advance.

I used to be an avid hiker. I thought nothing of going for a mountainous hike for several hours on a Saturday because I was conditioned for it and did hikes during the week too. Yes, I was tired after the longer ones, but not excessively so. Then I backed off my hikes and a couple months later went on a weekend day hike of about 3 hours in the mountains. OMG--I felt like I was going to die! Even coming down the mountain was difficult because my muscles were so weak and it was causing me to be uncoordinated. So, I know how it feels. I think matryoshka is absolutely right on about weekend warrior riders not being able to feel empathy for their horses because they haven't experienced strenuous exercise themselves. It really does change your perspective.

May. 22, 2006, 02:15 AM
These weekend warriors who don't believe in conditioning their horses are also the ones who wouldn't know if their horse was lame unless the horse's leg fell off. Unfortunately, there are tons of people out in the world that think it's no big deal to just ride whenever, however long etc just because they want to. Tired, unconditioned horses are at much greater risk of injury to themselves and you. I have to admit, I don't do many long rides, the average for me is about 3 hours.I do ride almost every day though for about 45 min to an hour.

May. 22, 2006, 08:07 AM
Good Point. :(

Mtn trails
May. 22, 2006, 03:17 PM
I do most of my riding on the weekend but I ride all winter and try not to let them sit for longer than 2 weeks at a time. I start my horses doing short rides (under 2 hours) on flat terrain at a walk if they are out of condition and gradually increase the time and demand over a longer period. By the time summer starts and riding season really kicks into gear my horses are prepared and ready to go. Unfortunately, the DH thinks nothing of letting his horse sit for months on end and then expecting them to put in a full day's work. I try to encourage him to ride more during the winter but he's more consumed with fishing and if it's raining, forget it.

One time particularly comes to mind when you mentioned the horses looking haggard after a ride. I was riding with some friends down at Crystal Mountain which is near Mt. Rainier. We went for the full day ride and this is very challenging where you are continually climbing for the first half so horses need to be in very good condition. The ride is a minimum of 5 hours not counting rest breaks and a lunch stop.

At the end of the ride, my friend's horses looked like they had been through the ringer and were all drawn up. They immediately fell asleep when they were untacked even though they had hay in front of them. My horse was still fresh and looking around for something to do. He wanted to keep on going and wasn't ready to call it a day. I really felt badly for those other horses that were clearly not in shape for this ride and, unfortunately, you see it everywhere.

May. 22, 2006, 07:34 PM
I agree that a horse outside 24/7 can be in a certain amount of "condition" compared to a horse that is stalled part of most of the day - but any horse needs to have their back conditioned to support a rider and tack.

I had not ridden in the last 4 months. In addition to asking my horse to carry my butt around for 20 minutes the other day, I had hauled him 40 minutes and then 40 minutes home. The hauling time and their need for condition to do that has to be considered as well. Since my horse is 19 this year, I think it's going to be a little longer conditioning each year...

As Matryoshka said...
If I don't have the time to condition them properly, then I don't take them on long rides. Period.

Yup. Once he's in adequate condition, then I don't worry much about longer hauls for camping either. Sometimes a few of us will haul 3 - 4 hours away but only ride 2 - 3 hours a day once we arrive - so the horses have rest time each day and time to compensate for the hauling.

Mtn trails
May. 23, 2006, 03:10 PM
"Yup. Once he's in adequate condition, then I don't worry much about longer hauls for camping either. Sometimes a few of us will haul 3 - 4 hours away but only ride 2 - 3 hours a day once we arrive - so the horses have rest time each day and time to compensate for the hauling."

That's what we do too when we haul a long distance. Hauling is hard on horses what with having to constantly shift their weight to balance. We'll let them rest for a few hours after arriving at camp and if there's enough daylight left, take them out for a short 1 hour ride to stretch and then let them rest until the next day with a full hay bag in front of them.

May. 23, 2006, 03:30 PM
My coming 23yo (next week!) mare pretty much had the winter off. I handwalked her on the trails when I could and took her for shorter rides (20-60min) through deeper snow. She basically got out once or twice a week. But she is also on 24/7 with a stall.
This spring when we started back, I'd ride for 20 minutes (walking only), hand walk for 20 (usually during the steep hilly sections), and ride for 20.
This occurred two to three times a week.
On the weekends we'd go for 40, 20, 40 with a little bit of mounted hill, and a little bit of trot.
Now on the weekends we head out for 3-4 hour rides, usually taking a 20 minute break halfway. We mostly walk and trail trot, occassionaly canter/hand gallop, and sometimes jump a few logs and obstacles I set up in the 'near' woods.
On the weeknights I try to ride at least twice for an hour or so - often it's by moonlight (course we haven't had much of that lately here in the northeast!).

May. 25, 2006, 03:57 PM
since I once went on a trail ride with a "weekend warrior" and had her horse collapse two hours into the ride, I share your opinion. These folks are abusing their horses. How many people do you know who can get up off the couch and walk for six hours without suffering all sorts of painful problems? My SO walks an hour a day routinely, and the other day he ended up walking around a convention center all day and the next day was practically crippled with a severe case of shin splints.

May. 30, 2006, 06:43 PM
My reply when told this, after expressing concern is to weekend warrior riders is..

Fine, how about you go hike 26 miles but make sure you walk slowly, and then get back to me on monday and tell me how great you are feeling?

My bad:)

RTM Anglo's
Jun. 1, 2006, 10:42 AM
Talk about grouping many people into a bucket and stamping everyone with the same stamp. But then this thread was written to vent on persons that understand a little more about horses being animals, and not foo foo pets for the people that seem to think animals are humans.

Horses have survived centuries with humans using them for transportation and work…they are beasts of burden. Ok, ok…don’t go and group me in your abusive owner list because I feel different than many of you…there are gray areas. Not everyone is unfeeling if they choice to feel horses are not humans. Horses were used by humans because they are able to work…to pull to be exact. I guess all the people that owned horses all those centuries back were abusive. Were did this attitude start?

I choose to believe that different breeds of horses were bred to succeed in different sports…this would give credence to the fact that breeders seem to know what they are doing. My point being…you can’t expect a heavy draft, or even quarter horse to do what an Arabian, or TB can do on a trail. That being said I can give many of you your empathizing point for these horses that were NOT designed to do hours in the saddle on a trail. Understand what I am saying is that a Quarter horse bred for roping, or a draft designed for pulling will find it exhausting to do hours of trail (too much muscle mass and heat). Then let me add…horses that are kept in a stall 20 hrs + have muscles of Jell-o. But then I find that cruel in another subject. Talk about convenience for owners and uncaring for horses!

What I am saying is…horses that are allowed to be horses and are bred for that vocation, such as Arabs, TB’s, Morgans, and the like - when kept in fields and used all year round (winter off is acceptable) can jump back into shape and knock off some serious trail with lower amounts of conditioning. Sure the OP is talking about pleasure riding, so I will say that is different than an endurance or Comp horse…but still, if these people are true weekend warriors and ride every weekend…I can make a guess these horses do get in shape at some point in their lives and are not ABUSED animals because their owners chose to ride them at their leisure. After all…many people buy horses to ride and not just wash and put in braids. And factually, horses get in better shape with several hours in the saddle and several days off more so than horses ridden 45mins a day.

There are many forms of abuse in horses….riding them I feel is one of the lower ones. How about leaving them in stalls all day, in the heat, the cold, and stuffy barns with no fresh air…there’s abuse! How about not understanding they are part of nature and not little puppy dogs that enjoy being blow dried and nails polished.

Sorry to not understand much of what is said here, but I believe a happy horse is a used horse. I have never seen a horse standing in a stall 24/7 as happy, nor a horse that isn’t’ allowed to blow off some steam from time to time. I see depressed, and rude horses that just wish they could act like a horse and not be some person’s foo foo pet.

Lastly, sure there are owners that can’t even look at a horse and see issues; poor conformation, poor saddles, poor health, or not designed to do the sport there owners chose. Please lets not assume that all these people are weekend warriors – as I feel many know and understand what their horses can and can not do.

Flame away!

Jun. 1, 2006, 12:50 PM
LOL...I was waiting for someone to present that viewpoint! My Arabian is able to maintain her condition very easily...I still ride her 2-3 times a week, but if I go out of town for a week, she still performs the same when I get back, and would do well as a "weekend warrior" horse as long as she could be a horse on her days off. She doesn't want to be babied, coddled, fussed over...

OTOH, one of my Paso Fino's (the lazy one ;)), needs constant riding to stay in condition..don't know if I'll ever get her to the point where she won't need that...and this horse loves to be groomed and fussed over. I respect each individual's abilities and personalities. Having experienced such drastic differences, I could never generalize and say that weekend warriors are hurting their horses...but I can agree that the potential is there, depending on the horse.

Hmm there've been a lot of "it depends on the individual horse" threads lately...

Jun. 1, 2006, 02:36 PM
I think that was the point actually no?:)
There is a distinct difference between horse/people who ride a conditioned horse once a week, and those who haven't been on their horse for 5 months and then simply take it out for a 6 hour strenous workout and wonder why their horse suddenly ties up and ends up on an IV drip. Those are weekend warriors.
Horses keep their condition for a fairly long period of time, esp long distance horses, who yes..can sit for a few weeks and then happily go on a jaunt no probelm. The issue being, they already are conditioned well.

Jun. 1, 2006, 03:06 PM
I wouldn't expect to be able to go hiking in the mountains for several hours without conditioning for it; I don't expect it from my horse either.

Neither do I. I think - could I do this? I'm more sedentary than they are, so I figure it's a decent litmus test. They are out 24/7 on pasture, and they get around -up and down hills, etc...

What do you pleasure trail riders do as far as conditioning? Do you just start with long rides, and am I just too concerned about my horse?

We take it easy. We do haul to some areas around here to ride, but we ride only 4 hours or so, on average, with lots of stops and rests, usually a lunch break, too. If we go to FL, where it's flat, we might ride some longer rides, but not usually. We also ride year round, save for August -too damn hot.

The 'weekend warriors' of which you speak are the same ones who just plain don't care. They don't. No point fretting it. They won't learn until and unless they want to.

RTM Anglo's
Jun. 1, 2006, 03:10 PM
It generally happens to horses that are in Top condition…called the Monday blues. Reasons are several, and usually have nothing to do with being out of condition at all, quite the opposite.

Many issues deal with the consumption of food, more so than a horse out-of-condition. Horses that are high impact...race horses, endurance/comp horses, and the like.

Sure, horses that have No muscle (or poor, or weak muscle) can pull, or rip tendons and muscles, but hardly ever do they tie-up. It could be the rider is assuming a tie-up.

A tie-up demands no movement at all when happening and the horse is completely uninterested in any movement. Whereas torn, pulled muscles the horse will still try to move, but display distress.

Honestly, a tie-up is a complete different ballgame caused by completely different reasons. The reason you get an IV is to dilute the destroyed muscles that poisons the blood stream and threatens the kidneys and such…NOT because they are dehydrated.

Just clearing up a misconception here.

Jun. 1, 2006, 03:58 PM
RTM Anglo, you make many good points, I think what some of us were thinking was those who pull a horse out after some months off and expect it to do some pretty strenuous climbing in the mountains, for example. A horse that's ridden every weekend would be fine in many situations where I have seen horses close to crashing. I guess the point I'm trying to convey is that 'just walking' is not all that easy on a horse if you are in steep, rocky terrain.

RTM Anglo's
Jun. 1, 2006, 05:15 PM

Yes, I agree with you about the walking up steep hills is stressful. Many people seem to feel it is easier on the horse than a trot or canter. I have used heart monitors for years, and have used them to prove this. Still, many people disagree.

I too have seen many owners ride their horses completely unaware of the stress and hardship their mounts are going through. I have seen people that have had horses for years and years still unaware of the simplest issues. It is only the observant persons that care who notice and make changes.
So, what is abuse? Is it the horse that is starved and never wormed or shod and has an owner too cheap to buy good food? Or the owner that doesn't understand not to tie a horse by it's bit - or too long - or too short of line? Is it then the rider who feeds, worms, and cares for their animal only to not fully condition and take out on a strenuous ride once or twice a year?

So, what is abuse, and who has the right to label another with it? Where do we draw the line between helping another, and plain interfering in their rights to own an animal? Ok, I love the horse, and treat my horses very well indeed, and sure I get a little peeved when seeing horse owners do stupid, or neglectful things – But is persecuting another the answer?

Sometimes I get so annoyed with people that have to label another for not having their good sense (or so they think). Would it be better to give these horses to neglectful owners than to have them over worked now and then?

Ok, not advocating stupidity...just trying to be realistic in a world full of people. Just trying to understand not every tool in the shed is sharp. I guess I just see so many other things that are more damaging to horses than this.

Jun. 1, 2006, 06:05 PM
RTM Anglo, correct me if I'm wrong, but you are the person who brought up the term abuse. The OP was questioning conditioning--I don't think she called it abusive not to condition our horses properly. Stupid, yes, but abusive?

I'm not sure what group you think we are putting people in. I believe we were talking about people who overuse their horses for their level of conditioning and don't think there is any problem with that. I'm still not calling it abuse. I wasn't aware we were doing anything more than discussing proper conditioning and likening it to humans exercising.

I do believe the term "weekend warrior" to be derogatory. I implies people who don't care well for their horses during the week and ride them for hours and hours on the weekends. I don't think it applies to owners who care well for their horses and only ride on the weekend with an eye to how the horse is handling the level of exercise. Good horsemen are good horsemen whether they ride all week or just on the weekends. You can be a good horseman and not ride at all, for that matter.

So, I certainly wasn't labeling anybody. Were you?

RTM Anglo's
Jun. 2, 2006, 12:11 AM
No, I am not the first person to bring abuse into the thread.
And Yes, I completely agree with you that people who wish to ride only on the weekend are not as you say “weekend Warriors”.
No, I am not labeling anyone…quite the opposite, as my posts more than make clear.

Hey, I didn’t point out anyone’s post and slam on them for their opinions, but you did. As I said….flame away.

And yes, I agree with you on levels of conditioning should be reflected in the amount of use owners expect from their equine friend…but I add…this really depends on the breed of horse, age of horse, conformation of horse, and health of horse.

· Many people own horses that no matter the amount of conditioning will ever be able to do trail because of breed.

· Many horses will not be able to do trail regardless of conditioning because of age.

· Many horses will not be able to do trail regardless of conditioning because of poor conformation

· And many horses will not be able to do trail regardless of conditioning because of poor health… I.E. never wormed correctly, poor food, poor living conditions, past injuries, and many many more.

· And lastly, people own animals as they feel fit. Owners are allowed to be stupid and make their own priorities of what they feel in important. We all can’t be expected to have the same sense. I too become peeved at people’s ignorance of what is a “good horseperson” and what is not…But add – there has to be a line between what is factual and what is assumed.

Note. I use the word many and not all….this is because I understand that generalizations don’t fit every situation. I find many people loose site of this. Did I single you out? Or was I responding to the flavor of this thread? It is not hard to see what this thread was pointing to.

So, please don’t feel I am slamming against you in particular or anyone else. I responded as I said…to the flavor the thread was going. I voice my opinion as anyone else is allowed to do…it is a public forum…and open to all.

Jun. 2, 2006, 12:16 PM
Regarding breed specifics and trail riding, I will feel more comfortable if we have empirically validated evidences in front of us. For example, some breeds are not suitable for trail like - drafts as per one person's claim...However, drafts were also known to carry knights out into battles - they've got to carry really heavy load for quite distance before they go into battles. HOWEVER, I do need to see more evidences that this was widely observed in the past. This breed can do this or that...without any supporting documents is something I need to consider.

I am not at all interested in flaming away. I am much more interested in learning and sharing what we learn.

Jun. 2, 2006, 01:30 PM
Hmmm, I have pretty much seen all breeds doing all disciplines at one point or another. There are plenty of drafts and draft crosses foxhunting so I don't know why they wouldn't also do trails, the only qualifier being that a big draft wouldn't fit on some of the skinny mountain trails I sometimes traverse (in fact my oldenburg/qh cross is a tight fit on some of them). To me, personal preference of the rider is a bigger factor- I tend to prefer quarter horses and tbs but on the trails, many of my buddies prefer the gaited horses, and a ride on a Paso Fino is very pleasant!

As for 'abuse' or bad horsemanship, that's a whole 'nother interesting discussion. I spend much of my time holding my tongue- when I see a horse with the bridle improperly adjusted/ bit hanging too low (frequent occurrence in these parts) I don't feel I can 'volunteer' my advice unless asked. I did speak up once at a judged trail ride when a teenager was getting after her horse for what she perceived was disobedience. The horse wouldn't side pass because she wasn't giving it the correct aids, in fact the horse was doing exactly what was being asked of it by her leg aids, but she was whaling on it anyway. After observing this for ten minutes I waltzed over and suggested she get off her horse, take it home, cool off, and do some schooling another day-the result was a stream of cusswords but when I threatened to call the animal control folks on her then and there she did disappear mumbling something about how her Mom was a trainer and "I" couldn't talk to her that way! (Funny thing, I invited her to go get Mom and bring her over for a chat and that didn't happen).

I guess I would say, trying to keep it as short as possible, that abuse or bad horsemanship are certainly not the exclusive domain of 'weekend warriors,' or novice owners. One sees it everywhere, even at the top levels of competition. I'm not saying one sees it 'frequently' at top levels, but one does see it, and zero abuse of animals is my overambitious goal.

I can recall a long-ago project horse that took us two plus years to reschool to a safe and sane show hunter...AFTER he had been AHSA Working Hunter of the Year (trained and shown exclusively on the needle). On the other hand, I can tell just from perusing the various fora here that what some consider to be abuse, I do not, so I can assume the opposite also applies. No easy answers!

Jun. 2, 2006, 01:49 PM
Gee RTM, I didn't mean to flame you, sorry. :no: I just didn't see this thread as being very negative, so your post surprised me.

I disagree with you on a number of points, but I disagree with lots of people and don't think I'm right every time. That is the beauty of discussion--learning new things from other people. You bring up points I hadn't really thought about.

What breeds can't ride the trail? I always thought of it more as a temperament limitation than a breed limitation. Some horses are unsafe on the trail because of their temperaments. I've never thought of a horse having a physical limitation to take on the trail. There are enough trails out there for just about any level of abiity, from easy to challenging. I've a friend who trail rides her aged draft horse. I also led a whole group of Blue Roan Belgian trail riders on a ride-a-thon last year--they were a blast. I've never enjoyed a group trail ride more. If you are talking about unsound horses, they shouldn't be ridden at all, depending on the unsoundness.

Maybe not every breed is cut out for competetive trail, endurance, or judged trail. My OTTB does not have great manners unless he is moving forward. He'd be a nightmare at a CTR or judged ride. Wait his turn with the rider mounted? Yeah right! So I wouldn't put him in that position until I thought he could do it without hurting somebody. I may try him endurance, but I'm the limitation there. I don't know if I have the stamina for it. I also don't care much about winning--the participation would be the fun part.

Again, sorry I offended you. I didn't mean to. I was just wondering at the negative tone--but perhaps I misunderstood your intent.

RTM Anglo's
Jun. 2, 2006, 11:12 PM
OK, I must admit I am an endurance rider and used to working trail at a relative speed. I set that aside when I say this and think only of trail riding for fun, and social reasons.

I have found that many persons that I have ridden with who chose to ride heavier bred horses can not even do a trot for more than 10 mins in a hour. Not to slam stay with me here…I don’t really consider that trail riding. I have gone on my share of “toddy” rides, the ones that start and end with a drink in hand and do not go over a walk…if that is considered trail riding …then my bad.

When I speak of doing trail I make the assumption of doing at least a trot and canter half the time I would do a walk and or several hours in the saddle with several miles covered. Sure endurance is another factor, so I am not going to apply that to everyone. But honestly, don’t you feel moving the horse along in gait is expected when working a trail? If not, I am not saying you are not riding your horse; please don’t think that…I am saying it really doesn’t constitute “Working a trail”. Please no one take offense.

Then let me add, if you are only going to walk the trail…why would you really need to condition your horse to do it? I am speaking to people that would like to work a trail, see some pretty nice scenery, cover some ground, and spend the day. To do this, you would need to be in the saddle a few hours and know how to ride and have a horse that can do it without have difficulty.

With that being said, I find most heavier breeds can not do this. Sure they can walk the trail, and have fun doing it…they just can’t keep a good pace that is all. Then add 4+ hours in the saddle and these horses are shot. I am not saying the Arab is best…but given the same amount of work, my Arab is just getting started. So, in complete light of doing trail with an animal that can do it with ease…again, certain breeds can and do it better.

With the conversation of drafts doing trail…sure they can do it. But again…not like many other breeds. Yes, armored men used them as no other horse could carry them, but these men could only cover 10 or so miles a day on average – hardly a pace to get you anywhere. They had no choice, what other animal could carry the weight.

When someone asks for a breed that can succeed on trail, I wouldn’t say every breed - no! I would only state ones that would excel at the trail. Which ends me with…if you buy a horse to compete of perform at a certain function…wouldn’t you buy the one that does it best? Is it a crime to say what ones are better and to point out those that wouldn't?

Again, I only make generalizations…because the heart of every horse is different, and many can succeed where they love to be.

Jun. 3, 2006, 12:18 AM
I think that it does depend, like someone said, one the "level" of "trail-riding" one does with that horse. Like RTM, I am an Endurance rider as well, but I have also ridden "bigger" breeds in addition to my Arabs, and can see both sides easily.
For instance, muscling and structure on different breeds vary greatly and affect their ability to do such things.
Take for example, my Grand Prix Dutch Warmblood, he is in extreme top shape, excellent condition, etc. ( worked on the trails( hills, fields, varying terrian-what I condition my endurance Arabs on- ) 2x a week, worked in arena 4x, lounged occasionally, long-lined occasionally, etc. ), excellent muscling. Then, take for example, my Endurance Arabians. They too, are well-muscled, top shape, excellent conditioning, conditioned 15-20+ miles daily, varying work, a bit of Dressage cross-training, etc. Both types of breeds are conditioned to their peak, and yet, I would not ask my DWB to do a 100 miler Endurance ride. Why, because of his structure and variance in the muscling. His HR would not drop quickly enough, and while, yes, he would be able to negociate the hills and terrian easily enough without getting "tired" or "winded", his muscling structure is not built for 100 mile Endurance rides. The same applies to my Arabians. I would not ask them to show FEI and Grand Prix Dressage tests. While yes, they are conditioned and in top shape, and yes, could do some of the lower-level movements, no, they do not have the muscular structure to do so. Stay with me for a few longer, this is the point,........It is not a breed thing, however, ( I stress this immensely ) it is an individual thing- the horse him/herself- and their structure. This also will lead to the muscular structure, which I wont go into right now, but simply long strand and short strand muscular fibers, which differ in purpose and size, affecting the horse's performance.

Jun. 3, 2006, 12:30 AM
The OP was referring to pleasure trail riders and their horses. She thought that these horses should be well conditioned, even if they are just to walk. I agreed with her on that point because, if nothing else, a horse's back needs to be conditioned to carry a rider for any length of time. It was also noted that proper conditioning helps prevent injury.

Pleasure is in the heart of the rider. I enjoy walk-only trail rides. I never used to think of walk-only to be enjoyable. Now that I'm 41 and have restarted a number of OTTBs on the trail, I realize the value of just walking. Over the years I've helped a number of ring riders learn to enjoy the trail. Many were afraid to go faster than a walk out in the open--some were overconfident and found their skills weren't quite as good as they thought. So, we focus on trail safety, steering with the leg, balancing over obstacles, earning a horse's trust, and just enjoying the scenery. I familiarize them with how to handle spooks and all sorts of things that rarely happen in an arena. We don't move up to trot and canter until the rider (or if I'm on a very green horse--I) feel comfortable.

Draft horses are especially good for giving timid riders confidence. Few things bother a good, well-trained draft horse. They are solid and usually calm (I had a Percheron who was the exact opposite of this, though).

I agree with you about not all breeds being suitable for trail fitness and race competition. I've never been on a judged trail ride, but unless they have to squeeze someplace they can't fit, drafts should do all right. Much better than my super fit, super emotional OTTB who seems to miss the race track and can't stand still without bucking.

It is wonderful that the trails offer something for all of us. We can enjoy competing our favorite breeds without having an expectation to win. Or we can go with a breed that we enjoy and trust and trail ride to spend time enjoying them and scenery. I love to see fancy show horses hit the trail for a few fun-filled hours. I had a half-Arab mare that did everything from saddle seat, Western, and hunter to competetive trail. Of all the things we did, I enjoyed the CTR the most. That was about 20 years ago, though.

Jun. 3, 2006, 12:49 AM
Matr, I really liked your last paragraph; I think that the trails hold something for all levels, whether you are a walking trail rider who simply wants to be out for the scenery, or a dead-on dedicated Endurance rider out for the ultimate trail experience, we all can find "our place" there. Like I mentioned, there are varying "levels" of trails and "levels" of places for varying horses.

Jun. 6, 2006, 02:13 PM
I'm not sure what breed has to do with the original point? the original point was about folks who don't make any effort to condition their horse, and then every now and again decide to go for a multi-hour walk on trails. Even an arab might feel a bit sore after standing around in a pasture for three months, then being asked to walk for six hours.

Jun. 6, 2006, 02:55 PM
· Many people own horses that no matter the amount of conditioning will ever be able to do trail because of breed.

· Many horses will not be able to do trail regardless of conditioning because of age.

· Many horses will not be able to do trail regardless of conditioning because of poor conformation

I think there is some confusion here perhaps? I'm sensing that some of us are using the word "trail" to mean a leisurely stroll through a scenic park. Others are thinking of high speed, challenging terrain jaunts. And others are automatically thinking of Competitive Trail and/or Endurance as "trail".

I do trail on my large full-draft horse, where "trail" does not mean high speed but it might mean many hours in the saddle. I don't think any horse should be excluded from trail work as long as he/she is sound for riding. The key is limiting how hard that trail ride will be.

Maybe the problem here isn't the choice of breed or the exact number of hours of a ride... maybe the problem is the lack of awareness riders may have of the current fitness/energy levels of their horse throughout a ride. If people were better able to tell when their horse is feeling exhausted, they'd not be pushing their horse so much. So perhaps it just comes down to rider education.

Jun. 8, 2006, 06:02 PM
Pleasure is in the heart of the rider.

Yes... even if it's endurance; judged trail; other competitive or pleasure, I agree.

I never used to think of walk-only to be enjoyable. Now that I'm 41 and have restarted a number of OTTBs on the trail, I realize the value of just walking. Over the years I've helped a number of ring riders learn to enjoy the trail. Many were afraid to go faster than a walk out in the open--some were overconfident and found their skills weren't quite as good as they thought. So, we focus on trail safety, steering with the leg, balancing over obstacles, earning a horse's trust, and just enjoying the scenery. I familiarize them with how to handle spooks and all sorts of things that rarely happen in an arena. We don't move up to trot and canter until the rider (or if I'm on a very green horse--I) feel comfortable.

So far as trotting on the trail ... One thing that I have found helpful is that if the rider and horse are capable of a slow - even a posting trot, in the arena or dressage court, then sometimes the trot is beneficial on the trail to avoid the spook. When I know of an area on the trail that's a little bit worrisome (there is one trail where we ride under a 2 lane road. The overpass is very wide and concrete and the noise under it with cars going 60 mph overhead can be a little unnerving to some horses and some riders!!)... I have the rider put their horse into a working trot (Western or English) to make the horse and the rider focus on their gait... it also puts the horse into a controlled forward motion to get past the worrisome item. : ) The other time it is to move towards a moving object that they might feel threatened by... chasing a dog - at the trot- instead of running from it; chasing a car instead of turning from it, etc. I know it's all in what the horse/rider is comfortable, but hopefully, this entices someone else to give it a try. Trotting on the trail - doing up and down transitions to and from a walk, is helpful in conditioning and focus. But a nice forward walk, watching the scenary is pleasant too.

Jun. 8, 2006, 06:27 PM
I think trail riding gives a rider a more solid seat, too. I've seen ring riders improve tremendously after a few sessions on the trail. I haven't tried to trot up to or past objects that spook my horse. I usually maintain the same gait (or slow to a trot if we are cantering), look where I want to go, and ignore the scary object. Sometimes the horse gets so upset that I have to use a different tactic. I wonder if it is helpful to the rider to trot up to or past a spooky object? If the rider is more confident, so will the horse be, too. Thanks for the suggestion!

Jun. 13, 2006, 04:34 PM
It's true that sometimes moving at a faster speed reduces the zag in the horse's route of march...the risk is that the faster they are going, the bigger the zag, if it occurs, which could at times be a concern.

All of my Pony Express two mile legs on Saturday featured items that the ol' hoss questioned...from antelope to manhole covers to car dealerships festooned with balloons. On the first leg in the middle of nowhere I didn't have much need to worry about the zags, except for the one car going the other way at highish speed. In the urban and downtown areas, had to make sure we didn't cross the double yellow line on the one hand, on the other hand, had to make sure we stayed between the escort vehicles in the right hand lane even though the horse reallllly thought the next lane to the left would be preferable, farther away from all those car dealer balloons! However, as traffic was whizzing past in that lane, the left leg stayed in touch to remind hoss that that wasn't an option;). He trotted and cantered nicely with that little reminder (then the only issue was stopping for red lights!).

At any speed, I've discovered over the years that yes, first of all, NOT looking at the scary object(s) is essential. Looking straight ahead does work in many cases, but for really scary things in tight spots, what has never failed to work for me is looking down, on the opposite side of the scary object, on the ground just about where you want that foreleg to land next. Dunno why it works, but it does, keeps them from shying into a road full of traffic, for example.

Jun. 14, 2006, 01:31 AM
I noticed that some were commenting on the suitability of various breeds. Any breed is perfectly capable of trails for pleasure, IMO. The are certain advantages and disadvantages, however. Ride a draft, and catch a lot of tree in your face, but no problem barreling thru heavy brush or stepping over good size obstacles. Ride a pony, miss the face wiping, but may need to find a way around if he's not a jumper. Conditioning needs depend on your definition of pleasure riding. I'm done in maybe 2 hours, that needs not much more than for the horse to be sound. Climb hills all weekend, another matter. How much weight is involved? That makes a difference.

Jun. 14, 2006, 10:09 AM
Chiming in here... I think ArabianDreams had a good point about breeds and body types, etc. You don't see heavily-built football-player types winning the NY marathon or a bike race... their bodies are not designed for that. However, they are in high physicial condition, too. Maybe a few of these big-bodied types COULD do well in a marathon/bike race (compares to an endurance ride for a horse), but to generalize with body structure and athletic ability, long and lean is for endurance where stocky and strong is for bursts of high power strength. I ride a draft cross who seems like he could trot forever on the trail (if I was conditioned enough myself to last that long!!!), but a light horse in the same state of conditioning could outlast him, I bet. It's a matter of moving that mass along for an extended period of time - it simply takes more effort! (PS, I'm a mostly "walk" trailrider myself., with the occasional trot and canter.)

RTM Anglo's
Jun. 14, 2006, 08:51 PM
When trail riding, your horse should follow your lead the same as any other discipline. The direction you place your body is the direction the horse is being told you wish to go. Another reason hard trail riding with an accomplished trail horse can be executed correctly. The more you work with your horse at faster speeds; it forces you to have the correct balance. Much like jumpers, dressage, & the like.

Horses that have teamed-up with their riders are always on “queue” for any change. When the rider changes shoulder alignment & head, so should the horse understand you wish for it to “come back in-line” with you.

I say this in regard to the comments about spooky horses. If possible, the rider should maintain the same speed, but hold firm arms and inform your horse “you are on to him” and realize he is being stress. Make corrections immediately, and never look or face yourself at the object. Continue forward like you would if it wasn’t there. Praise your horse for his efforts if he is trying. Give negative enforcement if your horse is “making an excuse” and acting stupid for the hell of it.

If you have the time, and are riding the same area frequently, you might want to “end the argument” so you may ride the trail clear at some point. I find it is good to stop within their comfort zone and stand. Make them stand completely still (they should understand you are speaking with them and not their right to act stupid). Then move forward some and repeat. This works well with young horses, and horses that like excuses to act-up.

Just my learning.

If you want to train a horse well on trail - try doing this before the trail forks. You will surprised at what they do. With a little positive reinforcement at their correct reactions, you are on a great start to having a good trail horse.

Jun. 14, 2006, 09:34 PM
My version of trail riding is usually behind a cow. Sometimes at speed and at times a 20 mile mosey. If a healthy horse can't do a 20 mile mosey, then they are a sorry excuse for a horse. I guess you could say I cross train my ponies (welsh x QH) with driving and cowboy play. I would add that I am a lard a$$ and these little ponies haul me fine. Are they in shape? It depends. In April and May they are as hard as ponies can be. Right now they are soft as they have only been used an hour or two a week for a couple of months. I have no problem pulling them out of the pasture and doing 80 miles over 3 days in the mountains. One with a pack and the other packing me. When we get home and I turn them loose they usually roll and then do a buck and snort to the bottom of the field and back. If they were really abused, they wouldn't be that anxious to play.

The problem a lot horse owners seem to think their horses did somthing wrong and put them in jail (a stall) for hours on end.

But what do I know, I am just a weekend worrior that abuses ponies. :winkgrin:

RTM Anglo's
Jun. 15, 2006, 12:29 AM
Lost Farmer...You are refreshing!


Jun. 15, 2006, 08:15 AM
RTMAnglo, I second your suggestion about spooks. That's pretty much what I do. I seem to perpetually be on green horses, though, so we don't always get to the level of communication you describe. I'm keeping my OTTB (Butch) and plan to ride him into old age (for both of us), so we'll be at that point in a few more miles. ;) He's quite emotional, so it may take a while to get through to him. The general advice I've gotten from endurance riders is to keep going with him until he realizes there is always another mile of trail and galloping/acting emotional won't get him anywhere but more tired. The problem is that he's fitter than I am.

He only really spooks at running water--a reeking garbage truck could lumber down the trail (or an ambulance with its siren blaring) and he wouldn't batt an eye, but ask him to walk next to a large creek? What? He seems sure it will overrun its banks any minute and drown him, I guess. Either that or he thinks there is an alligator in it. I guess I need a horse psychic to ask him what scares him about running water. :D

There were quite a few Anglos at the OD ride last weekend. As a scribe, I would try to guess the breed (in my head) and then politely ask the rider the breeding of the horse. Most of the ones got checked through my vet had at least some degree of Arabian blood. There were a few Morgans, a couple of QH, and a few TWH, too.

Jun. 15, 2006, 08:16 AM
LostFarmer, my horse would consider it abuse to make him follow a cow. I don't think he's ever seen one. ;)

Jun. 15, 2006, 08:48 AM
Okay, another draft rider poking her nose in here. Like Matry, I'm 40, a re-rider and have two: a Clyde-X and a full Perch.

After coming out of the traditional hunter-seat equitation/"George Morris" crowd back in the 70s/80s, homey don't want to see no riding ring! I love the drafties for their good work ethic, their sensible brains and amazing memory.

Because of my work schedule and other responsibilities, it is rare for me to be able to ride during the week. Guess that makes me a "weekend warrior." (WW)

HOWEVER...., I would never take either of my mares out on the trail and ride for 3-5 hours after having most of the winter off. That makes no sense whatsoever and would leave me with achey/crabby mares. No one wants 2,000 pounds of Grump on their hands. :o

I have the benefit of boarding at a farm that borders The Silver Comet Trail and my mares are out 24/7. The designers of my county's portion of the SCT thought about horses and people when finishing it. As a rider, I have two options:

1) Easy -- riding just off to the side of the concrete bike/walk path; on the grass just before the treeline. Since my Perch is 17.3, I do run into ALLLLL the branches. ;) However, all the terrain is flat and even....a few rocks, a bench or two to go around and a sign here and there to skirt. That's it. So a two hour, mostly walking, some trotting ride on the side of the path is no problem for either of my mares. However, the first two months consisted of only 30-40 minute rides, mostly walking, to give them time to gain condition.

2) Challenging -- a separate trail, running parallel to the concrete path, was cut into the woods. It is NOT level. You go up and down hills, following the natural terrain. Some of those hills are pretty steep and rocky. Often there is a small stream at the bottom to cross. While it can be daunting to ride, again the designers/builders of the trail were smart. There are several places along the challenging side where you can cut back onto the Easy side. It makes gaining condition easier on me and the mares. I can vary my rides so that I'll do some hill work after the first 20 minutes and then do just flat walking to relax on the 20 minutes home. Plus it allows me to avoid the streams completely when I'm on my Clyde-X because she's totally convinced the boogie man lives in the water and will eat her. (She's 10 but, until I bought her, she had never seen outside of the ring....so she's still learning.)

"Trail" for me means being off the farm, out of the ring and in the woods enjoying God's creation from the back of one of His finest creations. I have no desire to compete anymore...got that out of my system doing jumpers in my late teens/early 20s. I can relax, de-stress and clear my mind. For me, it's a great time to pray, sing (at least to Tank, the Perch. She loves it.) and daydream.

During the week, my mares get to just be horses. Lie down in the sun, take a nap or thunder their way across the pasture. So the weekend rides are just an extension of their relaxed lifestyle.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

After all that, I will add this: I know of the "type" the OP speaks of, though. Weeks will go by without them even coming to see the horse at the barn and then expect the horse to tote them around the park for hours at a stretch in a collected canter. Horse returns to the barn soaked, lathered and exhausted. Owner washes him down and puts him back in his stall. Made for one miserable horse.

That to me, while not "abuse" per se, was unkind, uncaring and very much detrimental to the physical and mental health of the horse.

Jun. 15, 2006, 08:59 AM
It is good to hear how a draft rider is doing with her drafts.

Jun. 15, 2006, 09:03 AM
Thanks Prieta!

I also wanted to add:

-- I am no idiot. I have been involved in horses since I was 7. There is no way I would take either of my drafties on a trail ride in, say, Colorado for hours on end, over rough terrain. Nor would I ever expect them to do a CTR.

Like RTM stated, they are not the breed of horse capable of handling that type of a trail ride.

Jun. 15, 2006, 10:46 AM
The kind of trail riding I have in mind is this:

Many eons ago, I used to take my mares out for rides around country blocks - total distance of about 10 miles or thereabouts. I also used to take them out to rivers from our farm - total distance of about 15 miles. Now, I want to take Fairy, the Clyde out on those rides. Plus, we have many trails around here in Wisconsin. Most of the trails are "easy" ; therefore, I intend to take Fairy to those trails.

Abby, the Arabian will love more challenges - she has so much energy to burn off; thus, she will "help" me burn off many calories by going on many more challenging trail rides. BUT, she spooks easily at just about anything. I need to ride her often around here at the farm to help her realize that her ghosts are nothing to fear. :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

I need to speed up the conditioning program because my mares are becoming so FAT with so much grass growing. To make it worse, we do not have a dry lot! :no: I have not yet convert the dairy barn because I have to wait to fix the roof.

RTM Anglo's
Jun. 15, 2006, 11:40 AM
I would take a day and plan on spending it by some water sources. Get as close as you can and make them stand still. Keep moving forward, and have shoes you can stand in the water with. It might take hours...but will be worth it in the long run.

You need to get them to stand in it. And you might have to do this lesson 4 or 5 times until they understand that you are willing to go the long run. Once they figure out you will not allow them to act stupid, and you will be out of there quicker...they will get over it.

Take a sponge and wash them...on a hot day they will learn to love a stream. Many accomplished trail horses like to see water...get a drink...and understand their riders will get off and sponge them. Any excuse to stop.

Jun. 15, 2006, 12:43 PM
Unfortunately, we are far from water sources. Once Abby understands that she is to mind me all the time, I'd take her over to a river nearby.

My trick is to get my Arab to pay attention to me at all times at all gaits. In order for me to get her attention, I'd have to go at a faster gait. However, I want her to pay attention at walk. that is when she gets spooked at horseviores!

Jun. 15, 2006, 04:33 PM
Just thought of this as it deals with drafters on trails. My neighbor runs cattle on a forest range allotment. He also has a pair of 2100 lb pulling belgains that he feeds cattle with and pulls at fairs and the like. They are in shape working several hours most days tho be ready for the work they are asked to do. Last summer he had a cow die on the trail in the forest. The old girl needed moved off the main trail to where the scavangers could take care or the carcus and not stink up the trail area. He tried dragging her out of the way with a couple of riding horses to the saddle horn. They couldn't move her so he rode is arab morgan and lead one of his belgains. By the time they and gone a mile they had to let the belgain blow. After 5 miles he was a tired boy. The saddle horses were packing riders and the belgain packing himself and harness. When they got to the cow they hooked him up and he drug the cow some 250 yards over a little hill to the place the Forest Circus People had said to put her. He had quit sweating by the time they finished the pull. He wasn't breathing hard and it was like he had been cooled out. They unhooked and ponied him to the trailer and he was all lathered up again.

It wasn't about being in or out of shape it was the type of work that was being asked for. The big muscle bound boy had all he could do to carry himself at a hard walk. At a plodding mosey, he could drag 1600 lb cow over a hill and not even be working.

Here is a link to my little trail horses. http://www.drafthorsevillage.com/phpBB2/album_personal.php?user_id=23

Jun. 15, 2006, 11:38 PM
Cool pics LostFarmer!

I think you've got a good point about types of work. My OTTB cools out beautifully after a nice gallop, but lathers up at a walk. With him, though, it is training and emotional issues. He wants to race--he was bred to race. He's good on the trail, just a little quick.

Butch does cross streams, he just doesn't like WIDE streams (more than a horse-length) that may be hiding alligators or the boogey-man, or maybe even, gasp, a COW! I don't even want to tell you how long it took me to get him to put his feet into a stream the first time. I thought we'd be in the clear once he put his feet in, but he actually got worse. The last time we crossed a stream about 1 1/2 horse lengths, he pawed and played a bit, so I'm hoping he's better about it now. I can't tell yet, since I've been on the injured list for a month now since I last rode him. I can't wait to get back in the saddle, but I need to get over having a sore tailbone first. I HATE getting old!

RTM Anglo's
Jun. 16, 2006, 10:46 AM
Yup, you guys look like a bunch of big men picking on little ponies to me.

You bad bad boy!