Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Book Review: Trail Training for the Horse and Rider

I know I've been doing a lot of book reviews lately, but Trail Training for the Horse and Rider by Judi Daly is really worth some attention. After reading it, I was dreaming of going on a trail ride up the carpeted stairs of my parents' two-story house, into their bedroom closet, and through a tiny hole in the back of their closet, which led to the most beautiful, quiet, peaceful scenery on earth. You know that a book leaves an impression on you when it seeps into your subconscious like that.

The first printing of this book was in 2004, and Daly admits that her motive for writing it was the fact that she looked for information on trail training, and found nothing at the time when she first began riding the trails. Daly routinely rides more than 1,000 miles on her horse each year, so I think it is safe to say that she has become an expert on the subject through experience.

What I loved most about this book was the way that Daly explained why we should follow her advice, giving specific examples of when the training could come in handy. She blows a lot of old wives tales out of the water and takes a more logical approach to training your horse for trail riding. I do tire of people saying "always do this" and "never do that" without even knowing why it has to be that way. So much of what we know about horse training has been regurgitated on down the line without any real understanding of what is behind the belief.

For instance, many people say to always mount of the horse's left. Or the negative flip-side of that statement is to never mount on the horse's right. I've heard these statements made over the years, and the people who deliver them say it with such fear, as if the horse will go nuts or self-destruct if you do something slightly different from its routine. I have felt that it is wise to practice mounting from both sides, because if you injure your left foot, ankle, or leg, you will need to put the brunt of your weight on your right, thus mounting from the right side of the horse. You may as well make your horse get used to being mounted from both sides.

Daly also brings up the example of the way in which we mount. We are taught to not jab the horse in the side with our toes, and not kick the horse in the butt while swinging our leg over, because that is what is polite to the horse. Yet if we get injured out on the trails, we won't be able to pull off a smooth, perfect, polite mount. We probably will be unbalanced and sloppy due to the pain and lack of coordination, so we may as well teach our horses to tolerate a sloppy mount in the round pen every once in a while so that it won't be such a shock to them out on the trail.

Everything we teach ourselves and our horses needs to have a functional purpose, and Daly has had so many bizarre experiences in all her years of riding that she knows what can happen out there and what skills would have been useful for her and her horse at the time. She's got that 20/20 vision that comes with hindsight.

One story she told in her book made me feel better about my own lousy luck. I used to think that flukes only seemed to happen to me, but one time when she and her sister were out on a ride, they had the ultimate happen to them. Her sister had dismounted to lead her horse across an obstacle, and just when she was about to mount her horse, she paused because she felt a sneeze coming on. In that instant, a tree fell in the forest just 50-feet from them, causing their horses to spook and bolt. Had her sister been in the process of mounting just then, she could have been seriously injured. What are the chances that a tree would fall right where you are riding your horse, for Pete's sake? I think trail riders and trail horses have to be some of the most tested individuals on earth. Of course, Daly felt that her sister was saved by a sneeze, and therefore lucky. All I can think of is how unfortunate they had to be to have a freakin' TREE fall near them.

Daly says, "Don't make the mistake of letting anyone talk you into doing something you don't feel you or your horse are ready for." Some of you may remember that I had a riding partner for a short while last summer. Her goal was to get Bombay out on the trails by the end of the week. However, by the end of the week, he was still jigging and spooking violently in the arena. I knew he wasn't ready for the unpredictability of the trails. He was still trying to get used to being out of his comfort zone away from his home and his herd. I resisted the pressure that this riding partner put on us, and she hit the road. I think her rush had more to do with her own desire to be on the trail instead of in the arena.

What I didn't realize at the time, which Daly explains in her book, is that jigging or prancing is a precursor to rearing. The horse has all this nervous energy and is directing it UP rather than forward. It's a dangerous habit to let your horse form. She devotes an entire chapter of her book addressing this issue, and other chapters explaining the mechanics and psychology behind spooking, bolting, balking and bucking. It's information that we all need, since any horse can spook, bolt, buck, balk or rear if triggered.

Another point she brought up, which I wish I knew when I owned my first horse, is that a horse's second and third years are a critical time for introducing them to new situations. Young horses are curious and willing to explore their environment. However, if you keep them in the same space for ten years, and then suddenly ask them to take you out on the trails, they will be resistant and probably develop vices. I wish I was more willing to trailer my horses places when they were young, but half the time I always thought, "What's the point? I can't ride them. It's just one more body I've got to get in and out of the trailer."

I did take Gabbrielle on a few escapades, but that was only when I had help. I never felt confident to handle two horses off the property by myself, so I always took the horse I could ride. Had I realized just how beneficial it is in shaping your horse's personality and confidence, I would have taken both Bombay and Gabbrielle on more field trips when they were 2 and 3 years old. Trail riding is good for your horse's mental health. That alone should be motivation to hook up that trailer and hit the road with your horses.

Another point the Daly raises regarding horse psychology is that we should not try to deter spooking by ignoring whatever our horse is pointing out to us. Better yet, when our horse alerts on something, we too should alert to let the horse know we see it too, and then relax to let the horse know that the threat has been assessed and determined to be harmless. If we ignore what our horses are telling us, they will just get more nervous, because they will think we aren't paying attention, and they will take the decision-making into their own hands.

Daly supports teaching your horse to respond to voice commands in addition to physical aids. Why? Because some day you might be out in the middle of nowhere, get hurt, and need your horse to carry you back to civilization. However, if your injuries prevent you from using the traditional physical aids to direct the horse, where would you be without those voice commands? Voice commands are also helpful when you drop a rein, lose a stirrup, or lose your balance.

Trail Training for the Horse and Rider contains a lot of delicious tidbits. Above all else, I don't feel intimidated to go trail riding after reading this book. I actually feel confident, better educated, motivated, and enthusiastic about seeing how far my horses and I can go on whatever paths we may take.


Katharine Swan said...

I probably need to get Panama used to me mounting on the right side. My trainer has done it a few times, and I didn't notice any sign of it bothering him, but I should probably do it more often. Not to mention I need more practice at it -- I'm much more comfortable mounting on the left.

I also like the advice on voice commands. I've always thought that would be a good practice, and I use voice commands much more frequently than my trainer and other riders I know, but it seems to work really well for both of us.

I would caution against assuming that the age rule is that rigid, by the way. I'm sure that just like children, horses all development emotionally at different rates. It sounds to me like Gabbrielle is still extremely curious, so I don't think you've missed your window. In my case, I think Panama does better exploring now than he did 6 months or a year ago, because he is still really curious yet he has lost some of his babyhood flightiness.

Rising Rainbow said...

I'd like to see that trip up the stairs and through the keyhole and such. Sounds like my kind of dream!

Leah Fry said...

It's funny, but I have actually gotten less confident about "trail" riding rather than more. I used to think nothing about taking my horses down our road, but lately I feel as though I need to find another place to ride. There are places where the road drops sharply into deep ravines. I've ridden it enough to know where I need to cross the road to be in a safer spot, but the fact is, it's not an ideal situation for horse or rider.

Andrea said...

That sounds like a great book!! I am with her on a lot of the things you touched on. With the mounting thing. The Knights used to mount their horses from the left because their swords were hung on their left hips. So, they could swing their right legs over. Isn't it funny how traditions stick through time. I mount my horse from either side. It doesn't really matter to me. I try to do different sides too, so my left stirrup won't get stretched out from always mounting on the left side.

And the jigging or prancing is defiantly a precursor to rearing. Anytime the horse lacks forward motion like that, there is nowhere else to go but up! Rearing is so scary, at least I think so.

I think that it's great for a two or three year old to go for walks down the road. The older a horse gets the more "set" in their ways they get. I mean with their mind set. Certain things are scary and certain things are not. Young horses defiantly have more curiosity and we should use that to our advantage.

I am going to check out that book. I agree, trail horses really have to be well rounded horses. Because really, anything could happen out there. Not like in a safe arena. A tree falling!! Oh my goodness!!

I am going to go to the bookstore and find that book this afternoon!! Thanks for the great review!!

Alex said...

what a great reviews... sounds like a book i need to check out!

He tree story reminds me of a ride I had a number of years ago. i was walking my older appy down the dirt road my parents live on. Some neighbors were clearing land to put up a house- they had been cutting trees/wood for DAYS! The chainsaw had been going non stop for quite a while, so when it was running as we approached i didnt think too much of it. That is, until with no warning the man dropped a large tree just in front of us! The worst of it was, it fell the other direction than he intended (it was meant to go away from the road) and landed smack on top of his BRAND new (temp tags still on) truck! Now, a tree falling would have been frightening enough- but the crunch and thud of a truck crashing in... that was too much! Needless to say I bailed- held the reins a second ot two, knew I wanst going to stop him... and let my pony run home! It scared the crap out of us both- and the guy was swearing up a storm so i quietly followed Poke's tail in the direction of home! I'm not sure he ever even knew we were on the road that day.

In hindsight- never ride along when you can hear a chainsaw!

Lulu said...

I absolutely agree with the Author's suggestion to expose young horses to as much as possible.
My best trail riding horses were all shown as youngsters. They were trailered, kept in strange places over night, and exposed to a zillion things they will never see at home.

jmk said...

I am one of those people who has had a tree fall about 10feet in front of the horse I was riding. Freaky!! I was maybe 16, with a friend, riding down a well used trail when whack! full grown tree came down across the trail in front of us. Thank goodness the horse I was on had balked for no reason, or so I thought. I'm sure he had heard something I didn't. Thank goodness the horse was "stubborn" and refused to go forward as I kicked and prodded him to go and kept us from being smashed! Sometimes ya got to listen to the horse....

Katharine Swan said...

So, NM, what does the book say about how to respond to jigging or prancing?

I know that with Panama, I would redirect that upwards motion by asking for something else, such as a turn on the forehand. We've been working on that lately and he's getting good at it, but it's still something that requires focus, because it means moving a step at a time and paying close attention to where he's putting his feet. So in addition to redirecting the movement, it also refocuses him on a challenge -- and he tends to like being challenged.

I think a lot of people would say to just keep him moving forward, but in Panama's case I don't think that would give him enough to think about, and might feel kind of like Mom is saying "Keep moving -- run away!" He is very smart if you keep his brain engaged and challenged, but he can behave like a real dumbell if he forgets he has a brain.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Wow! I didn't expect to hear more falling tree stories. I guess it's more common than I thought.

Katharine - For prancing, she says to pull and release the reins until the horse walks. Reward with a loose rein and praise. Prancers like to have something to push against, so maintaining a loose rein should be the goal. Once he's walking more consistently, move him up to an extended trot to get the excess energy out. Once the horse gets tired, he'll view walking as a reward. That's my summary of it anyway. Daly devotes several pages to it.

Katharine Swan said...

Oh, you're talking about horses who tend to prance, rather than a horse that is prancing in response to something. Panama isn't a prancer, so I was thinking about what I'd do if he started prancing in response to something specific. I'd give him something else to think about.

I don't think the walking approach would distract him enough. The way you describe it, it sounds like the purpose is to retrain a chronic prancer to walk on a loose rein, not for getting a horse over a temporary case of nerves. Panama is more prone to bolting or (as Lisa would call it) teleporting sideways than rearing, so I would take prancing as a sign that I needed to switch gears and distract him with something to engage his brain.

Donna said...

Andrea's explanation about the knights and their swords make sense. I once read a Western story that said cowboys could tell it was a Native American when a rider was spooted in the distance mounting on the right. Don't know if it's true or not.

Judi said...

I'm the author of this book. Thank you so much for the glowing review. It just made my day. I'm so glad you liked my book.
I had to laugh about the "bizarre" occurances I have! Would you believe that a total of 5 trees have fallen close enough to spook my horse over the years. Each time, it was with my horse, Cruiser. The last time was just last fall. We heard a crack, so I knew what was going to happen. I pointed him towards the tree so he couldn't run from it when it fell and waited. Fortunately, this one was just around the bend, and he couldn't see it through the brush. He backed up a couple steps when it fell, but then we rode one to investigate it. I suppose he is getting used to it by now!
If anyone is interested in my free e-newsletter, you can stop by my website and sign up. It is www.trailtrainingforthehorseandrider.com My list is sacred--I share it with no one.
Thanks again for the great review.

Judi Daly

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Judi - I'm so glad that you found the review and appreciate it. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to write books that help horse owners. You've probably saved a few lives over the years and don't even know it.

FIVE TREES? Holy cow. I'll be signing up for your newsletter. Thanks.

Jamie said...

I love it when someone comes out with a horse book like this...blowing "old wives tales" off.

My trainer trains - mouting on both sides. You never know when you are trail riding, especially like we do on mountains and such, when you can only mount on the left or the right.

I also love the voice commands, I use them everytime I ride, and Rio was trained with them. I can never touch her with my legs, and say "walk, whoa, ok...go on"
I love it and am able to use it in the show (ventriliquist style - LOL), but sometimes you can't kick if the judge is watching....Rio knows the voice commands and I love that.

Great post !!

Cheryl Ann said...

I agree about the voice commands. A couple of times Gigondas has spooked and I've had to use them and they work! She WILL think about them and respond. She still needs a LOT of work before she's trail ready. I'll have to buy that book!!! Seems like it has very practical advice!!!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I have this book, too and really like it. Like you, it really excited me for trail riding and for working with my horse in preparation.

You said: I have felt that it is wise to practice mounting from both sides, because if you injure your left foot, ankle, or leg, you will need to put the brunt of your weight on your right, thus mounting from the right side of the horse. You may as well make your horse get used to being mounted from both sides."

How true! I don't know how Baby Doll will do for mounting on the right, but when I dismounted once off the right (pretty sloppily I might add. I think the rider might need training for right side mounting and dismounting, too. lol!) my mare jigged sideways away from me. Thankfully I had already slid off her, though.

I hope to practice the right mounting once I'm able and Val is going to help me with that, too.
I'm goin to try practicing exercises and stretches to get me up there on that side, too.

How do your horses do with rightside mounting and dismounting?

I also agree with the voice commands, too. You know what is weird about my fall? Is that before I fell I never told my mare 'whoa'. She caught me so off-guard that my brain didn't kick in fast enough to say anything. If I could have said Whoa, she would have probably calmed and stopped jumping sideways.

Anyway, good book review!