Monday, March 16, 2009

Book Review: Trail Riding

I spent part of my winter reading Trail Riding: Train, Prepare, Pack Up & Hit the Trail by Rhonda Hart Poe. Right off the bat, this book put a smile on my face. In the preface, Poe writes, "Every time someone says 'Aw, he's just a trail horse,' I want to scream. The best horses I have ever known have been trail horses. They have been sound, smart, and willing."

Having had show people make that comment about my horses, I know the feeling. Most horses can look pretty and go in circles in an arena where it is sheltered from the elements and unwanted surprises, but it takes a special horse to withstand the rigors of the trail. Poe echoes my thoughts in writing, "When a horse that 'cleans up good' and prances around an arena in circles is perceived as more valuable and 'better' than one that reliably carries his rider through all kinds of terrain and obstacles, forward, backward, and -- yes -- sometimes even in circles, our perception of 'value' needs some fine tuning."

The book includes chapters about evaluating yourself as a rider as well as evaluating your horse to see if it is suitable for the trails. It covers conditioning and training a horse for trail riding, trail tack and gear, how to handle traffic and various trials, trail vices, a survival guide, trail-riding competitions, and camping with horses. There are little nuggets of information throughout the book that I found to be extremely useful.

For instance, the author recommends split reins or reins that can split easily with Velcro attachments over loop reins, since you or your horse can get hung up in loop reins should you be involved in a wreck. Attaching a bell and reflectors to your horse's tack will make it easier to track down should the two of you get separated. ID tags on halters help others who find your horse know who to contact. Carrying a whistle on yourself will help people find you should you end up on the ground with a broken leg, or should you simply get lost. The shrillness of the whistle also helps ward off wildlife that might be interested in eating an injured rider or horse.

Poe recommends desensitizing your horse to bicycles before hitting the trail. I worry so much about ATVs and motorcycles that I hadn't even thought about the surprise of having a quiet bicycle whiz up from behind my horse while riding downhill. She discusses the various maneuvers that your horse should master before hitting the trail, and explains why you will need them. She includes checklists of items you should carry in your saddle and pommel bags.

She covers trailer training and the rules of trailering out of state. My favorite section talked about personal liability, something you don't really consider when you simply want to take a nice, quiet ride to commune with nature. What happens if your horse kicks a person or another animal on the trail? She also discusses manners, so that others who use the trails will feel good about sharing them with horses. Hikers aren't particularly enthused about having to side-step manure, so it's a good idea to back your horse's rear off the trail to do its business, or dismount to kick the offending pile off the path.

She touches on all those "what if" scenarios, such as encountering bears and mountain lions, dealing with shying, bolting, bucking, balking and rearing. She even includes an index of poisonous plants. It's not a good idea to let your horse snatch at whatever happens to be within reach. I never considered coming across a swarm of bees, yellow jackets, hornets or wasps, but that sounds like it could be more disastrous than running into a bear. She discusses various health problems that can affect you or your horse, including everything from sunburn to dehydration.

The book is loaded with valuable information, and I certainly feel more prepared for the trail than I would have been otherwise. However, I must admit that I am also more intimidated than ever. I had an idea about various troubles one can come across while trail-riding, but now I realize there is way more out there waiting to ruin your ride than you might think. Ignorance is bliss, until the unthunk happens.


Cheryl Ann said...

I stopped by my cousin's Friday afternoon and visited her for a while. ALL of her horses are WONDERFUL trail horses, are right! It takes a horse with confidence to go out on the trail. Since she has 4 horses, she alternates taking them with her. She actually works on cleaning up some desert and mountain trails with them and often they are tied while she works removing rocks or cutting down pine tree branches! I'm going with her on spring break one day! I can't wait! Good idea about the bell and whistle as there are areas here with NO cell phone coverage!

Kate said...

Sounds like a useful book and one I want to own. Thank you for pointing it out, and for your thoughtful review!

manker said...

thanx for the heads up... sounds like endurance 101... lots of great advice

happy safe trails

fernvalley01 said...

Sounds like an excellent reference guide

Mrs Mom said...

This sounds like an excellent book!! Thank you so much for bringing it to everyone's attention here!

I *hate* that condescending, "Oh, he's JUST a trail horse", or when someone hears my geldings breeding they say- "He is too well bred to be 'just a trail horse'. You need to SHOW him."

Show him? Sure. I'll show him out on the trails... waterfalls, creek crossings, hills and valleys.... that's plenty of showing for us both thank you very much!

Leah Fry said...

Our horses try to tell us there's bears in them thar woods. Oh, what they don't know!

I LOVE your final statement!!

HorseOfCourse said...

Nice blog!
And some nice things to pick up there going trail riding too.
I go trail riding often, but haven't thought of carrying a whistle.
And a bell on the horse is a good idea too. We carry it during the hunting season for moose, so the hunters won't mistake us for moose, lol!
And I don't like bicycles.
We have some small mountain roads, and during sommer time there are lots of people on bikes around. When they silently hit you from behind in one of those slopes going at an insane speed (and they can't use the brakes as it is gravel road) then you can get some extra, unwanted entertaninment...

Lulu said...

Bikes! I've had several horses spooked by bikes on a trail. Bike riders are so quiet they sneek right up on you. ATVs are much lounder, therefore you get more notice to their arrival.

Sounds like a great book. I show horses, but I also trail ride. I've found that my show horses really like to get out of the arena; it makes them happier.

Flying Lily said...

I have that book and I love it. I did get Johnnie a bell necklace, and put a luggage tag on his saddle with my contact info. I like how the author is so considerate of the horse.

OnceUponAnEquine said...

Thanks for the review. I'm hoping to start trail riding with my horses this summer and this book sounds like a must read.

My mare has been desensitized to bikes, but I'm sure they will look much scarier on the trail when they come flying over a hill. And we have to worry about encountering folks hiking with Llamas and Alpacas around here, which will really freak out a horse.

Katharine Swan said...

The part about "just a trail horse" made me smile. My horse gets bored easily with arena work, and is happiest on the trail. I agree -- being a trail horse requires intelligence, so having a horse that prefers the trail over an arena isn't necessarily a bad thing!

It sounds like the book has a lot of good commensense tips. I will have to check into that one. Panama is surprisingly pretty good about bikes, as we used to see them all the time on the trails near our old barn. He jumped the first few times one passed us, but when he realized the horses we were riding with didn't care, he adopted the same attitude. :o)

dazey said...

Sounds like this book has covered a lot of territory and information about riding trails with your horse. Want to add a little more information? My book suggestion is Basic Training for a Safe Trail Horse with subtitle of Eliminating the Fear Factors. It is a small paperback with a small price available on, but it can provide additional information about how you can teach your horse to be a true companion.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Dazey - Check back tomorrow. I've already got a review written for your book and it's scheduled for posting then.

C-ingspots said...

We do a lot of trailriding with our horses each summer and fall. We are members of a nationwide club with local chapters all over the Pacific NW. Adventist Horsemen's Association or AHA for short - wonderful group of people. There might be a local chapter near you to investigate, if so, I'd recommend checking them out. A plastic collapsible bucket is always a good idea because at times you may be able to get down to water but your horse cannot. A handgun is another essential. Not just for scaring away wild animals, but to put down your horse should that become necessary. EVERY trailrider should be educated in exactly how to shoot a horse to kill one immediately if it ever becomes a necessity. Not a very pleasant thing to think about, but not having one if and when you need one is a much worse scenario. We've only had to use our gun once in many, many years and it wasn't our horse, but I thank God that we had it because there was no other recourse.
Another thing to remember for those hikers who don't enjoy stepping around an unsightly pile of horse manure is that those very trails that they enjoy using wouldn't even be there had it not been for dedicated men and women on horseback who build and maintain those trail systems.
The trails are for everyone's enjoyment and trail etiquette dictates that horses have right of way almost always, then hikers and thirdly bikers. If everyone remains polite and mannerly then everyone can enjoy the wilderness for years to come.
Oh, one more thing that is very scary to horses - a hiker with a backpack - horse eating monsters to be sure!! Say hello and get the hiker to respond verbally before they get too close. Always good to remember. These are things we've learned the hard way.
Good post!!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

As you already know, I have this book. It's one of my favorites. I feel like I've gotten a lot of helpful useful information.

But, it's true about not ever being truly prepared while out on the trail. There's so many variables and things you wouldn't think might spook your horse, do.

Case in point was my own accident. My mare tended to always spook in place and rarely spooked at all. I still don't know for sure what caused my mare to spook and jig sideways. Maybe Val's horse being nervous about an inflatable snowman on the ground, or maybe the sun glinting off the snow.

What surprised me the most is how my mare caught me so off-guard and how quickly I ended up on the ground, even though I tried to stay on.

Now I'm going to be even more concerned about getting back out on the trails again when my body is not as strong as it was before I fell. Because I'll probably be less able to stay on and ride out the spook or be prepared for it.

Yes, a good trail horse is truly woth it's weight in gold and should never be said to be 'only a trail horse'.


ps, Excellent book review, by the way :)