Training on the trail. 

December 3, 2016

Not a whole lot to report lately with team green. When it comes to training vs. conditioning we are in a training and rest/rebuild period. 

Khaleesi is young still (6 but started at age 4 so only 2 years under saddle) and giving her joints, tendons and ligaments some time to rest and harden is an important part of not overworking her early on and regretting it later. 

One of my greatest concerns with her has always been not burning her out on riding. I want a partner who is as invested in our ‘job’ as I am. I want her to value our relationship and look forward to seeing me and going out together- not wasting our time in arguments and a sour attitude with me having to forcefully assert my leadership because she has a negative opinion developing of me. 

Because I so ❤️LOVE❤️ this mare and enjoy her it’s a challenge not to ride her too much to far and too hard for her development. 

I have tried to learn from others advice to me as much as I can, and so far it appears that most people notice too late that they’ve overridden their horse. 

There isn’t a rule for this- it’s different for each horse and it takes a sensitive rider to see early signs before creating a long term chronic problem either physically with odd quirky nagging injuries at first often hard to explain or mentally that range from becoming hard to catch to spooking, trouble tacking up and general grouchy behavior that stems from a deterioration of relationship. 

And this has to balance with appropriate conditioning so your horse is prepared for the distances you want to compete in. 

That balance thing once again. 

The problem in overworking is that horses are strong animals and can seem to handle the load…. until things start to break down. By then the damage has been done. It’s sooo much harder to rehab an injury or fix a damaged relationship than to keep a good one strong….

this is one of those things that is applicable just about everywhere…

I believe that if I put my horse first she will put me first as well. I do that by trying to see everything from her perspective… not always easy as I’m not a horse, but I try. And then the balance is understanding her needs vs. letting her take over… that’s when you get hurt. 

As Buck says first you make a winner out of your horse, then they’ll make a winner out of you.

I’m still learning myself day by day and am painfully aware of my own shortcomings… even more painfully aware that there are things I don’t know yet that I don’t know! I’ve certainly had a few close calls where I’ve wondered if I’d crossed the line already myself. 

But after literally running her feet into the ground in August and a pretty busy but successful first season, she’s been on an easy schedule since mid-September and I plan to keep it that way until the New Year when we begin looking toward our first ride of her second full season in March. 

One of the most vital steps in keeping her from burning out is with shorter rides close to home commuting to focus on energy and mental connection and tuning in together. 

Too often I can get into autopilot mode on the trail where unless something goes wrong I basically ignore my horse for miles just expecting her to be perfect and carry me along. 

Taking her for granted…..

My friends and I have tossed the idea around about training on the trail before but for me this has been a whole new level. It’s truly dedicating to specific work and exercises while riding the woods. 

I still struggle with getting her to stand still for me after I mount. She is so impatient to go go go. It seems likely it’s me somehow but I’m not sure. We are now in a pattern and it’s hard to fix this one for me. 

She will stand but not until she’s taken a few steps, and sometimes I have to ask her over and over to stay still at the stool as I move my weight into the stirrup and over her back. 

This looks good! Only… as I go to put my foot in she does one front leg step. Almost every time…
So this is a better spot? Ok fine with me, just stand still!
Foot in, slowly with low energy (so my body language is not screaming: go go go!) I lower myself into the saddle lightly with balance…..
… and you can see her hind has already taken a step… and after in in the saddle two steps forward before she stood still.

I am determined to get to the bottom of that one!

I ordered a bareback pad with stirrups and if I only have an hour or so to ride we use that. It’s great for my balance and it’s also good for me to really feel all of her body movements. 

It’s amazing how what I do affects her and I can’t feel it the same in a saddle. I can feel when her back lifts more underneath me and how her hind feet pick up and put down. It becomes a kind of meditation when we walk with energy down the trail alone imagining her feet and how they move underneath me. 

Susan came over for a great ride where we climbed the mountain and then ‘ran’ some flat trails with intervals the ride was less than 10 miles but had a little of everything and we used the time to focus. 

I am finally getting reliable at feeling when he back feet pick up (in saddle) and loose enough to allow my hips to move along with hers. I asked susan to get some video of stepping over with me asking for her to cross over her back legs. ​​​​

We did this on the way home when K and her fast buddy Levi wanted to ramp up the energy (we’d done a fair amount of trot and canter before turning back toward the barn and they were ready to go). 

We made the decision to pull down the energy all the way and keep them in a relaxed (but forward) walk. When I say relaxed I don’t mean slow- I mean not pushing me to trot and her body flowing easy with long strides – not stiff from pulling on me. Mentally with me in my relaxed zone yet still forward in speed. 

This is a great time to distract both us and the horse’s brains from “home” by doing crossovers, playing leapfrog, and when they were mentally truly with us: walk-trot transitions to test if they will change with the least amount of aid using energy not legs and hands whenever possible. 

I had a conversation recently about how to control speed. My goal is to have a ‘push button’ horse where I set a speed and we stay with it until I ask for a change and I am not using legs or hands to control speed. We aren’t there yet, but I do not continuously control her speed- I ask for a speed and increase my ask until I get it and then release yet try to keep my mental energy there imagining the walk, trot or canter steps in my mind. If she slows or speeds when I didn’t ask for the change I insist she return to where I was but I will not nag her to walk or trot with my body. If I ask her to stay in a trot and she slows I grab my rope and drive her on but release as soon as she gets back into mode. 

She needs to take responsibility for momentum or I’ll be exhausted- either from pulling her back or driving her on. And this isn’t perfect but the consistent energy I put toward expecting her to do this has put us in a good place. If no other factors are there (big group rides or the smalls of monsters in the woods) we are getting pretty good!

Playing with asking for crossover in the hind while walking on the trail.

Not only is it good for me, but I find my horse becomes more connected to me which is relationship money in the bank. By the time we were walking the last miles we were in sync: relaxed and forward. We get into the barn and you just feel that connection to them… their eyes and ears on you as you move around the barn untacking and cleaning up…it’s completely worth the time away from how fast, how far, and what’s our heart rate work we all get sucked into when a 50 mile tough course is breathing down your neck. 

When we finish those rides she seems very content and so am I. Relaxed and light. Happy. Peaceful. Soft. Balanced.  Connected. 

My favorite thing even more than riding is when we walk to or from the field as a pair in complete sync… her front feet moving with mine (forward or back) and us both looking forward together. Truly a team. Friends. 

Published by JaimeHope

Violin teacher and endurance rider living in a rural mountain county - one of the least population dense and without a single stoplight.

3 thoughts on “Training on the trail. 

    1. She was bred by a local guy who really knows his horse stock. He used to do papered (valuable) saddlebreds and then would occasionally cross breed two nice horses for his personal farm use. Over time he found he preferred the horses he crossed over the ones that were ‘valuable’.

      Her daddy is a black and white pinto Racking horse X Saddlebred and her mama is a gray TN Walker X Arab.

      She is the only of those two to come out straight bay (her siblings have gone gray or pinto).

      Since he is really a gaited horse guy – the fact that she didn’t just gait naturally probably is why she made it to 4 years old without anyone really doing much with her. She lived in the herd basically feral with about 20 other horses on the massive property. But her parentage and being a pretty nice mare he also hadn’t exactly ‘sold her off’ as he did sometimes when he had a handful of youngsters running around.

      One of my closest friends is his sister and when I asked for a young mare with a decent head on her… this is the horse he thought I might like.

      He was right. I like her a lot!


  1. Amen sister!
    “The problem in overworking is that horses are strong animals and can seem to handle the load…. until things start to break down. By then the damage has been done. It’s sooo much harder to rehab an injury or fix a damaged relationship than to keep a good one strong….
    …this is one of those things that is applicable just about everywhere…”

    Also, constantly having to encourage your horse move on with good impulsion and yet still not have to keep checking the speed can be super tiring. You’ll get there!

    Liked by 1 person

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