I've never been much of a recreational trail rider. I respect those that do it, both the weekend-warriors and those who actually have the ambition to camp somewhere with their horse, but it's never really been my "thing" per say. I'm more of the type of rider to have a set plan of goals when I tack up, go into the arena or work area, and I accomplish those goals. I've always been of the mindset when training that once those goals are reached, we end it on a good note and call it a day. One brick at a time to build a castle, right? Some of my workouts have been a simple 20 minutes learning a canter depart on a youngling for the first time, some end up 2 hours or more when teaching a flying change. It all depends on the horse. Regardless, I always try to end on a good note. When I ride, I do productive things.
Lately, since I'm not doing much of anything in the way of productive horse-related activities, I've found myself venturing into this trail-riding thing more and more. I have a few very close friends in Goodrich who trail ride religiously, and quite frankly, they're a riot. They're slowly venturing into the horse-showing world thanks to their children who want to do more and more with the horses, so I help them. In return, they've taught me this whole "relaxation" thing which I wasn't too familiar with. Apparently, it involves significant amounts of booze, which works for me. Thankfully, I own 3 phenomenal horses that have made the adaptation from show-toys to "hooved ATVs" rather smoothly, and I suppose this has helped shape my new outlook on the whole adventure, I'm not really sure I'd feel the same if I had a group of chicken-shit bastards.
Here are a few of the handy things I've learned while trying my hand at this whole trail riding thing:
1) Put the slowest horse in front. This eliminates your need to trot every 10' to catch up to the others. If the slow horse is in front, the others will simply push him along, or the whole ride will be slowed down, leaving much more time to drink. Either way, problem solved.
2) When cars pass, its is completely appropriate to scream offensive names and profanities at the driver if they choose not to slow down for the horses.
3) If you choose to do this, make sure you're riding with a police officer.
4) Wave and yell "THANK YOU!" to those drivers courteous enough to slow and move to the far right of their side of the road for you to pass.
5) Your horse does not care how tall you are when on their back. Overhanging branches are your problem, not theirs.
6) Horses don't come with cup holders for your beer. Make sure you can neck rein.
7) They also don't come with a restroom. Plan ahead. Make mixed drinks stronger so you don't have to consume as much mixer.
8) Don't ride in homeowners' yards, some of them get quite pissed. Stick to the shoulder of the road, if at all possible. If your horse manages to wander onto the grass before you notice, imitate a struggle with said horse, cuss repeatedly ("God damnit, Seabiscuit! I thought you could STEER!") and make it look like the horse's fault. People don't get angry when you obviously can't control your 1,200 lb animal. They just prefer you keep it as far from them as possible. Leg yield back onto the shoulder of the road and apologetically yell "I'm sorry!".
9) Neighborhood kids will want to pet your horse. Don't be a dick, it'll take a minute and a half of your life and probably make their day. However, if your horse views children as appetizers, it's probably best to wait from a distance and let another horse from the group entertain them.
10) Sewage drains eat horses. They smell funny and make wierd growling noises and should be leaped away from at every opportunity. Even from thirty feet away. Everyone knows this, so be prepared.
11) Dogs are not to be messed with, under any circumstances. The little ten-pound dogs that are safely confined behind their fenced yard talk a lot of shit, but can't do much about it. The loose, aggressive dogs are the ones to watch for. Be prepared to run if need be. But if running means you'll spill your drink, all bets are off. Pick the boldest horse and charge the dog if it comes after you and you obviously can't get away safely.
12) Again, make sure you're riding with a police officer if you have to run over someone's dog. It helps considerably.
13) Yes, its true that horses have been considered a mode of transportation long before bicycles were invented, but give them a break. These people are riding around peddling their asses into oblivion with lycra wedgies and are probably sweating a whole lot more than you. They can have the right of way. Teach your horse to deal with it. Take this opportunity to drink more.
14) Having a horse that can back on command is a wonderful asset for trail riding. Occasionally you'll run out of trail and have to back fifty yards to be able to turn around. If your horse cannot back under saddle, put him in the front of the line, so he's the last horse out. He'll figure it out quickly.
15) Following the theory behind #14, the last horse in line is the first horse to get eaten by the forest-monsters. This indicates that the most obnoxious horse should be last in line, preferably behind a boss mare that has no problem letting a kick loose if it gets too close. Manners are manners, folks. No one likes a tailgater.
I hope this has been helpful. Stay tuned for Trail Riding 102: Off-Roading