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
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
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 immediately.
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
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 happen?
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
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
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
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 woods.
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 off-road vehicles.
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
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 instincts).
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. No question.
You're on track if you can:
- Take the half seat position and stay steady in the saddle while negotiating poles, logs, ditches,
and water holes.
- Maintain proper spacing on the trail.
- Ride responsibly, both to protect your safety and the safety of others, and to respect other
people's rights and property.
- Keep your head and act appropriately when the unexpected happens.
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
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
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
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 switch mounts.
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 ready.
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 it happens.
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 indeed.
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
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 students.
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.
|Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905
301-421-9156 fax: 301-421-9049