Guinness is named after the ale because of his personality. If he were a
man, he'd be loafing on the sofa, sipping a Guinness, smoking a cigar, and
watching Monday night football.
When he walks out of his stall, he unenthusiastically ambles along. Some
days, you'll think he might not make it to the ring. But then every once in a
while he'll surprise you with a burst of energy.
Guinness is an especially beautiful, traditionally bred Quarter Horse.
Muscular and sleek, he has sturdy legs, a bold head, and the classic
Quarter Horse butt, huge and powerful. Guinness, however, also happens
to be a cribber: He has the bad habit of hooking his front teeth on his stall
door and arching his neck. It sounds like he's sucking in wind.
Most of the time he's calm and steady, but like most horses, he'll shy at the
unexpected. He also likes to snatch at grass and trees if given the
opportunity, so you've got to be on your guard and let him know at all times
who's in control.
Guinness makes no fuss about being led out of the barn, but when you
cross the yard to the ring, he goes for the grass. Keep his head up. Let
him know he's not going to pull this stunt on you.
On the Trail
It's time to head out onto the trail. Other obstacles and things that could go
wrong are hard to replicate at the barn. Besides, after all that riding in
rings, you're probably anxious to tackle nature's course.
You'll have to adjust your riding position a bit for the terrain. Guinness
might also act a bit differently as he negotiates obstacles.
When climbing hills, keep your upper body in line with the trees. Most trees
have enough sense to grow straight up from a hill, and you should emulate
them while riding. If you were walking up this hill, you'd lean forward just a
bit to stay straight. Do likewise when you ride.
So you reach the top of the hill and oops! Guinness speeds up! Don't
panic. He's trying to get up onto level ground, where the going is easier.
Use a half halt if he goes faster than you're comfortable with.
Warning: On a really steep hill, Guinness might even try to canter up. It's
easier for him to get to the top if he's got momentum.
Now go down a hill. Lean back just a bit to stay straight with the trees. (I
think it's uncanny, by the way, how many of my students manage to find hills
to go up, but ways to avoid coming down). As the horse descends, he may
speed up to reach level terrain. Or he may mosey down most of the hill,
only to shoot out at the bottom. Half halt as necessary.
Some horses, including Guinness, really hate to get their feet wet and
muddy. Be forewarned. A tiny creek lies ahead.
The key to negotiating this obstacle is preparation. Get into half seat.
Keep your reins short, and grab mane. What's Guinness going to do? He
jumps it. But you were prepared, so you managed this little jump just fine.
Another, much wider stream lies ahead. Guinness can't possibly try to jump
this, and he doesn't. What he does do, though, is stop to take a drink. Now
he's playing, pawing the water with his feet. How funny, how sweet.
Alert! Get Guinness going and do it now. You're holding up the riders
behind you. Not only that, but Guinness is thinking about taking a bath with
you on him! He's pawing with his feet to splash his tummy so the cool water
won't be such a shock when he rolls in it. So get Guinness moving through
that stream or suffer the consequences.
Now you encounter a wide, muddy, shallow ditch. Guinness steps right in,
but his feet start to sink. This muck is deeper than you realized. Guinness
is sinking up to his fetlocks, and he's starting to panic. He thrashes a bit to
get out and starts backing up.
You know that if he'd just get through this mud hole, the footing would be
okay on the other side. But Guinness's survival instincts are kicking in and
he wants to head for home. In this situation, let Guinness back out. Give to
the horse. Then help him find a better crossing. He just might know more
about this muddy ditch than you do.
If you encounter a muddy area where the horse doesn't sink much, treat it
as water. Get into half seat, grab mane, and encourage Guinness to move
on through to more secure footing.
You shouldn't be riding in heavy underbrush at this point. But if Guinness
somehow manages to get his legs caught up in underbrush or branches
from a fallen tree, and if he starts to act jittery about it, dismount. Do it
Make sure you take the reins over his head so you have more control from
the ground, then allow Guinness to work his way out of this jam. You don't
want to do this while sitting on his back, because he may have to go through
some pretty violent gyrations to free himself. You and most other riders
simply don't have the ability to ride this out. Horses, by the way, usually do
manage to extricate themselves from such tangles.
While trotting along at a leisurely pace, you approach a low log. Guinness
whacks the log with his hind feet, and bees start swarming. They're after
the horse in front of you, Guinness, and the horse behind you.
The horses start jumping around a little bit and flinching. If your instinct is to
try and run the horse away from the bees, don't do it. Bee stings are minor
compared with hitting a tree. However, moving briskly away is certainly in
order. But keep the ride tight. Make sure you have perfect control of your
horse. If Guinness begins getting out of control or you feel like you're about
to come unseated, let everyone know right away.
Suppose the swarm is really big, the bees attack fiercely, and all the horses
in the ride start to act up. All riders should dismount and fend for
themselves. You cannot, at this stage of riding, control a mounted horse
that's getting stung by bees while you're also getting stung. It's better to
dismount and escape the bees with your feet on the ground.
You've survived hills, water, mud, and bees on this trail ride. What else can
You're moseying along and come to a part of the trail where the branches of
some small trees have grown out at the rider's height. The rider in front of
you grabs the branch and pushes it out in front of her as she passes. You
prepare to do the same, and whack! The branch whips back and smacks
you in the face.
Part of trail etiquette is not grabbing branches. You can use your hand to
move them aside, or perhaps lift them up and over your head, but don't
grab them and certainly don't turn them into whips that will smack the rider
or horse behind you.
The trail narrows with a lot of underbrush protruding. Guinness suddenly
lurches forward, as if he got goosed. Briars scratched him. Maintain a
good posture, not a sloppy one, so you'll be ready for the unexpected.
Guinness is acting panicked again, lurching forward periodically and tossing
his head around. It's time to dismount. Your instructor will help you figure
out what's wrong.
It's a burr stuck in his tail. Every time he swishes, he get stuck in the butt
again. The poor guy feels like he's whipping himself. Get out that burr as
quickly as possible.
Beware! The 14.2-hand pony and the 5-foot rider on him made it under
that tree limb up ahead. But your horse is 15.1 hands and you stand 6 feet
2 inches. You might not make it under that limb, so be prepared to duck.
Some of the basics for a first-aid kit include rolls of gauze,
gauze pads to stem bleeding, antiseptic, antibiotic ointment, adhesive
bandages for abrasions and minor cuts,
and those ready-to-use ice packs for strains and sprains.
Trail riding etiquette is important for all riders' safety, comfort, and
pleasure. It can mean the difference between a good riding experience and
a bad one.
You're trotting along again nicely on the trail, and suddenly you feel nature
calling. "Instructor, can we stop so I can go to the bathroom?"
Avoid getting yourself in this situation. You might find it difficult to remount
on the terrain, or your horse (or the other students' horses) might get antsy
and try to head for home while you're on the ground.
The only reason to dismount in a class trail ride is to deal with an
emergency or to make a tack adjustment. And you should've checked your
tack carefully before you even left the barn.
Right of Way
The class has ventured onto multipurpose trails. Hikers and bicyclists also
use them. Because you're on a big animal that can move quickly, you
yield. It's the polite thing to do.
To yield the right of way, always back your horse off the trail at an oblique
angle. His head should face into the trail, with his butt directed toward the
You've come upon a field marked "No Trespassing." The field looks as if it
would provide a wonderful ride. You bet the owner wouldn't mind if the class
took a little jaunt across the property. After all, you're not hunting or riding
It if doesn't belong to you, if it's posted, if there are crops planted, if it's a
turf farm or a putting green, you can bet you don't belong there.
Bad behavior by horseback riders contributes to anti-horse sentiments. It
just works against you in the long run. So respect the property of other,
and especially "No Trespassing" signs.
The Return Trip
You're finally headed home after an exhilarating ride on the trail. You've
jumped logs, forged streams, and cantered up hills. As you reach the
halfway point, Guinness may begin acting more energetic and walking faster.
Hurrying Back to the Barn
Half halt frequently and be especially careful not to let big gaps form
between you and preceding rider. In general, the ride should be tighter on
the way home.
If Guinness persists in walking faster than you want in his rush to get back
to the barn, remember never to fight him on a straight line. Turn him left for
four or five strides, then right for four or five more. Repeat as necessary. If
the trail is so narrow that you haven't got enough room to work him left and
right, keep his head just off center. If you don't, here's what will happen. As
Guinness gradually speeds up, he'll push his nose out to the front and take
an inverted posture. The snaffle bit will no longer work. You might as well
be riding him with only the cheek pieces. By turning his head to the side, he
can't evade as much.
The instructor meant to take a short trail ride and get you home before
dark, but with everyone having so much fun out in the woods, time has flown
by and the sun's going down. Don't worry, because Guinness can see
much better at night than you can. Trust him to take you home, and just be
careful not to bang your head on an overhanging tree limb.
If you find yourself at a point where you think you should go left but your
horse thinks you should go right, go right. Chances are your horse is
correct, especially if you're headed toward the barn. (Otherwise, trust your
You won't get lost if you trust your horse. Mind you, Guinness might graze
all the way and take hours to get there, but he'll eventually get you home.
You're on track if you can:
negotiating poles, logs, ditches, and water holes.
- Take the half seat position and stay steady in the saddle while
- Maintain proper spacing on the trail.
safety of others, and to respect other people's
- Ride responsibly, both to protect your safety and the
rights and property.
- Keep your head and act appropriately when the
Getting Help on the Trail
Carrying a cellular phone on the trail is a smart thing to do, and I'd
recommend that all instructors taking out trail rides carry one. It's the best
way to get help.
If no one has a cellular phone and a rider gets hurt badly enough that she
or he can't ride or walk, then whomever is the most well versed in first aid
should stay with the injured person. The rider that can ride the fastest and
the most safely should head to the barn for help. The other riders also
should turn back, at a steady calm pace. The goal is to get help as fast as
possible without endangering anyone.
If you're the one going for help, make sure you know how to get back to
the injured person; watch for trails with the closest access and for places
where emergency personnel with a gurney can get through.
Whether on the trail or in the ring, do not walk your horse near anyone
sitting or lying on the ground. If the person moves, your horse may shy,
and being stepped on may mean further injuries. In general, keep the
number of people around the injured person to a minimum. Use basic,
sound first-aid procedures.
Gaps and the Accordion Effect
Suppose you're fifth in the line of six riders. One instructor leads and
another brings up the rear. The one in front controls the speed of the ride
to keep the horses behind her from galloping off. She can block the path
if need be.
An instructor also will often make it a point to ride a safe school horse
herself so that if something goes wrong with a student's horse, she can
The third horse in line starts to trot. Soon, the fourth also begins to trot,
and suddenly a space opens up in front of you. What does Guinness do?
He starts cantering. He feels left behind and wants to catch up. Now the
fourth horse hears him coming, and he begins cantering, and before you
know it, the entire trail ride is cantering. This is not a good situation.
You can prevent this from happening by keeping a steady pace. Don't let
a gap develop between Guinness and the preceding horse. Stay about
one horse length apart.
Communication among riders, particularly about changes in gait, will also
help prevent gaps. Pay attention. If, for instance, your instructor says,
"Let's trot," follow through. If everyone adopts the same gait and pace,
gaps don't form.
Unfortunately, there's usually one rider in every crowd who wants to make
the ride more exciting, so he purposely hangs back so his horse will canter
to catch up. Your instructor is trying to keep you safe, so listen to her.
You'll have plenty of riding excitement soon enough.
You're riding along peacefully, enjoying the scenery, and suddenly a deer
jumps out of the woods on the right. Guinness dips and spins to the left.
He just shied. Shying, or spooking, means that something, either real or
imagined, scared the horse or that the horse is just playing around.
Sudden movements often will cause a horse to shy. So will unnatural or
misplaced objects. (I've never figured out why people haul refrigerators
into the woods, but they do). Old balloons, pieces of paper, and plastic
bags are other things that might set off a horse. So will shapes that do not
blend into the background, such as a jagged, blackened stump at the
edge of a green field. When you see something that doesn't blend in, be
Horses move away from whatever scares them. If something scares
Guinness from the rear, he'll move forward -- right into the horse in front of
you, if he's frantic enough. If the scary thing comes at him from the left,
he'll move to the right.
To handle a horse that shies, stay relaxed, sit down in the saddle, and
keep a low center of gravity. Maintain your posture. Do not lean forward
or back. Keep your feet under your hips and your shoulders down. The
lower your center of gravity, the better.
Your reins have a lot to do with staying on a horse when he shies. If you
horse shies to the right, you're at risk for coming off the left side. To
counteract this, push both hands toward what made him shy. In this
instance, you'd bring both hands to the left side of the horse. You'd also
put weight in you left stirrup and your right hands.
This accomplishes two things. First, since your momentum is to the left
when the horse shies right, you're supporting yourself in a way that will
help center you in the saddle. Second, shying to the right bends the
horse left and by putting pressure into your right hand and supporting
your weight on the right rein, you're straightening him and bringing him
back underneath you.
In my opinion, there is no such thing as a horse that will not shy. You can
have the calmest, must dependable horse imaginable, but something out
there will still be capable of frightening him. This is why you never want to
take what I call a sloppy posture. You must always be prepared.
What to do if...your horse becomes a runaway while on the trail.
This might happen if you're riding home toward the barn and you somehow
manage to get in front of your instructor. This is a big no-no, but suppose
Forget about all the movies you've seen where the knight in shining armor
rides up, grabs the reins, and stops the horse. It ain't gonna happen. In a
horse race, the chances of anyone grabbing another horse's reins is slim
Your best option is to use a pulley rein. Hopefully, your instructor will be
close enough to talk you through. If not, you're on your own. If possible,
turn your horse onto another path.
If that's not possible, you must use a pulley rein. Remember, it's like trying
to start the lawn mower. The quicker you can jerk the reins, the better
your chances of regaining control. If you have to jerk more than once,
keep the reins taut enough between jerks to prevent your horse from
pulling out farther and faster.
Too often in runaway situations, riders initially think they can handle
things, but too often they are wrong. If you let your horse stretch out like a
race horse, he'll just get more out of control. Stop him, and do it now! Do
it as harshly as you need to.
What to do if...the entire group of horses is out of control.
This is a more serious situation than a single runaway. Each horse's
behavior is feeding the others' behavior. Separate the horses, if possible.
Turn yours in a different direction -- down another path or into a field you
pass. There's another important riding rule to learn here: Never fight a
runaway horse on a straight line. So get your mount turned and follow the
same procedure as for the individual runaway.
The Emergency Dismount: Pro and Con
Almost every certifying agency for instructors teaches
a maneuver called the emergency dismount. I disagree with teaching it to
I've seen more students hurt practicing this move than
I've ever had injured in normal riding. You're supposed to practice the
emergency dismount at the trot, the goal being
to vault off the horse and land on both feet. This is supposed
to prepared you to dismount if a horse takes off at a gallop
and you can't stop him or if you're headed for danger.
But it just doesn't work that way. I've seen students suffer broken arms
and ankles because they didn't land
correctly while practicing. In addition, when the horse
sees you jumping off out of the corner of his eye,
his instinct may be to strike out with a hind leg.
Once you've slowed a runaway down to a slow trot or walk,
go ahead and dismount if you want to. But I do not recommend trying to
jump off a horse that's trotting fast, cantering, or galloping.
This is my viewpoint, based on my experience. Other people
may disagree, so listen to your instructor.
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|Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905
301-421-9156 fax: 301-421-9049