Time To Unwind Or An Adventure Sport For Adrenaline Junkies??
A beautiful day, blue skies, no wind and you’ve been training hard in the arena all week! You decide it is the perfect type of day to go for a casual hack out around the local trails and unwind. As you saddle up, your mind relaxes and you switch off from the busy work week, running kids around or whatever it is that makes your life busy!
OR; you haven’t had time to ride this week, you are more of a pleasure rider and you feel it would be nice for both you and your horse to have a casual stroll around the countryside….
(13 year old me *cough..a LONG time ago* on my 5 year old Thoroughbred who carted me around the hills of the Yarra Valley in every spare moment I had..)
Horse riders and equestrians alike tend to have a romantic and emotional nature where we fantasize about a love and unquestionable friendship with our horses as depicted in block buster movies. You know the ones? Where the horse’s loyalty to their human is more akin to that of a working dog, protecting them from all danger and where they gallop up the paddock to greet their human! The movies where the rider climbs aboard bareback, no helmet and gallop through the green rolling hills or white sandy beaches with not a care in the world exhibiting a freedom that is intoxicating to witness (along with the romantic music the producers pair these scenes with) and a freedom all of us in our repetitive lives crave! Check out the original Black Beauty, National Velvet or even our own Australian The Man From Snowy River to see what I’m talking about…
However, the TRUTH about the relationships we have with our horses is generally a far cry from the romance and loyalty depicted by the likes of good old Warner Brothers!
Let’s return to our example riders above… with the first one having spent the week schooling in the arena, she tacks up in the beautiful sunshine, not a breath of wind and her horse waits patiently, content in an environment he knows well, where there is nothing new, nothing to be on alert about and a place he trusts no predator will jump out to harm him. Our dedicated equestrian is lulled into a false sense of security, sinking into a relaxed state as her horse emanates peace and tranquility. She thinks to herself, “This is exactly what we both needed, some down time to unwind and stretch out the kinks.” She throws a leg over and heads towards the gate to leave the confines of their everyday familiarity.
About ten meters from the gate our dedicated equestrian feels her beloved equine friend become a little tense and drop behind the leg, resisting her request to keep a steady march on a nice loose rein. She picks up her reins in anticipation of requiring a little more control as the euphoric sense of love and peace is replaced with slight tension and apprehension…
The further she gets down the road and onto the trail, the further away from the comfort and familiarity of home she takes her horse, the more electrified he becomes. Our rider talks out loud (as most of us do to our horses) “Come on, what is wrong with you? Don’t you want to have a nice day out of the arena and see the sights!?” At this very moment she feels her body get whiplashed like a crash test dummy as her horse leaps twelve feet sideways with a speed to rival that of his racing cousins launching out of the start gates! He hasn’t intentionally tried to dislodge his human or make her feel like her hips are no longer aligned with her spine… BUT he did need to tell her how that slightly different colored blade of grass that he’d never seen before was surely going to eat him and best he escape the danger as fast as possible!
Regaining her composure our equestrian is driven by her frustration at her horse’s reluctance to relax on a nice casual, low intensity hack out! She gathers her reins, grits her teeth and decides he obviously needs to burn off some energy before he can relax. Pushing him into a very tense frame and driving him forward with the force of power squats from her seat and legs, our determined equestrian fills with adrenaline ready for the next giant, dramatic and unsubstantiated spook her beloved horse might feel is required!
They proceed along the thin dirt trail that runs alongside the road, at a cracking trot, full of determination, power and intensity. The horse’s eyes are bulging as he tries to take in all of the new scenery at the current speed… his own adrenaline is continuously building as the pace they’re travelling doesn’t allow him to assess each potential danger and give it the distance he believes is required to stay safe.
Our dedicated equestrian can hear the rumblings of a large truck barreling down the road towards them. She takes up an extra tight rein in anticipation her beloved equine friend may take offence to the speed, size and sound of the truck.
The horse feels his rider take a stronger hold with her energy intensifying. To him she is clearly stating loud and that danger is on the way… he can hear the rumblings of what is surely a sky monster swooping down to eat the pair of them. Clearly his rider has lost her mind and is no longer capable of making sound decisions to keep them both safe… it is up to him, the horse alone to get himself and his rider out of this madness…this extremely dangerous situation his rider has put him in where they are both surely going to die and be eaten..
The rider feels her beloved equine friend turn into what can only be described as an electrified piece of concrete, so she takes an even stronger hold, yells at him and kicks him hard to get going. At this moment the truck with all its loud rumbling, rattling and shadowing size aligns with our dedicated equestrian and her beloved equine friend, for a mere moment, as it passes on the road next to them.
The horse fully believes his rider has completely lost her marbles as she holds him tight to stop but kicks and yells at him to go. Both of their hearts are racing like they’re in a sprint race and he decides he must act, it is now or never and they will both surely die if he doesn’t rectify the situation… Rearing high, standing on his back legs to force his rider to release the pressure on his mouth and give him the length of rein required to turn and bolt for home is his first move..
Our dedicated equestrian is smacked in the face by her beloved equine friends neck, slightly concussed and a bit wobbly she releases the tension on her rein. Suddenly all four feet are back on the ground and they are travelling at a gear of speed she had never before discovered her beloved equine friend to possess. Realizing she was no longer in charge and was now being charioted towards home by a 600 kilogram wilder beast she had not met until now, she regathers her reins, jams her heels down and attempts to regain some form of control over her ‘beloved equine friend’.
The horse now blinded with fear and convinced the rumbling, rattling shadowy monster will return to catch the prey lucky to escape the first time, completely ignores the tugging and weird noise of “whoooooahhhh woooaaahhhh” coming from his rider at an octave he’d only ever heard excited birds in spring exhibit..
As the gate to home nears our dedicated equestrian breathes a sigh of relief knowing her beloved equine friend will start to slow down. The horse does not really want to slow down until he is safely back in his paddock where his fences will protect him from any monsters but he starts to entertain the constant tugging from his rider and adjusts his speed to a slow canter and eventually a trot.
Our dedicated equestrian and her beloved equine friend enter the gates and the security of home with all its familiarity. Instantly the horse drops to a walk as he realizes he is no longer terrified but exhausted. He heaves heavily, gasping to get oxygen in and his rider feels his legs taking steps like unstable sticks of jelly and a noticeable limp. Our dedicated equestrian knows she needs to cool her beloved equine friend down but she’s so exhausted from the rapidly large volumes of adrenaline coursing through her system she dismounts in a heap and collapses on the ground next to her beloved equine friend heaving heavy breaths in synchronization with the horse. She looks at the horse, rolls her eyes and calls him something not fit to repeat while the horse half closes his eyes, ignores the presence of his rider entirely, sticks his nose out a little and focuses on catching his breath as he confirms in his own mind that the only place of safety is within his home property confines!
Our dedicated equestrian lets out a groan as she notices her beloved equine friend has also pulled a shoe in his antics and stabbed himself in the sole with the toe clip…. There goes the training schedule for the next week….
Moving onto our pleasure rider, who loves her horse more than her family and has more of a friendship with her equine buddy, not a great deal of leadership, she pretty much lets him do whatever he wants and he responds to the lack of pressure by generally plodding around happily at his home for 30 minutes or so.
BUT… It is a nice day and our pleasure rider decides it would be lovely to go for a ride through the hills with her equine buddy. Saddled up and going out the gate she turns the first corner onto a fairly steep hill. Her equine buddy slows to a stop and goes to turn around. Right now he is so fat he could be mistaken for a broodmare pregnant with twins and the sight of the hill is enough for him to decide that was enough of a stroll for today. Our pleasure rider asks out loud, “Hey, where are you going, that’s the wrong way!?” Then she tries to haul her equine buddy around back onto the base of the hill. With some heaving and wrestling and arguing between the two of them they end up facing the bottom of the hill. Begrudgingly the horse walks slowly forward, head right down as he drags himself up with his shoulders and front legs, puffing more heavily with every stride.
Our pleasure rider feels mild concern about her horses struggle up the hill and leans forward trying to make it easier for him. In turn her equine buddy stops again and attempts to turn around but is so fatigued that he loses a bit of balance on the steepness of the hill and stumbles. Our pleasure rider becomes unseated and unbalances her equine buddy just that bit more and they dangerously teeter on falling and rolling down the hill!
Choosing to dismount in a hurry, our pleasure rider walks to the top of the hill leading her equine buddy. At the top she is heaving just as heavily as her horse and must sit on the ground to recover. Her equine buddy is relieved, rests quietly on three legs, eyes almost completely shut and takes a much needed nap! Our pleasure rider looks up to her horse, mumbles something along the lines of “Screw this bud, lets go home” gets to her feet, decides getting back on is mean and leads her horse the 2km trek back home. It takes a solid ten minutes for the pair of them to stop puffing once they’re home. Our pleasure rider and her equine buddy decide to find a good patch of green grass for rider to lay in and horse to add to his already bulging belly. They’re both happiest just chilling out!
SO what is the point of this little tale of two riders? Well… apart from poking a little fun at a few of my friends who will generally tell these tales themselves with a whole lot more colour, it is to point out to the masses that a casual trail ride is not always…ahem…casual!
While you do get your lovely rare gems of horses who will accept any new situation like it is the norm, the majority are not really happy with too much change. If you do want to turn your horse into the type who likes to have a ‘relaxing’ trail ride out, then make sure you ‘train’ for it. Small rides, not too far from home to start and preferably with another rider who has a seasoned, confident trail riding horse who will give your horse a sense of calm.
What are your trail riding stories? The good the bad and the ugly? What are your tips, tricks, fail safe methods for enjoying a day out or a few days out on a mountain ride? I’d love to hear your stories! As a teenager I used to ride for hours and hours with my friends around our country roads, swimming in dams, going through the drive through in Macca’s…. I’m sure there are many of you with some entertaining stories!