Before you hit the trail, there's one minor thing you have to learn, and that's
jumping. Trees might have fallen across the trail, and carrying a chain saw
with you just isn't a good option.
Don't get too excited. You're only going to negotiate some poles on the
ground and cavalletti (poles that have been raised a few inches). After that,
it's off to try your skill at navigating ditches and logs.
Trotting Poles and Cavalletti
The key to riding over trotting poles and cavalletti is to keep Guinness going
straight, get into half seat, and look up and beyond the poles to where
you're headed. By getting into half seat before you reach the poles, you'll
be secure when you feel the minor jolts as Guinness sails over these
obstacles. Grab some mane, too, just for good luck.
Here you go. Trot Guinness straight over the poles. Feel the shock? Did
you flex your joints and stay level on top of the horse while in half seat? If
so, good! Go over the poles several times until you become comfortable
with this exercise and can easily maintain your balance and your seat.
Now you're going to do the same thing over cavalletti raised three inches off
the ground and then six inches. Guinness will start to jump a little, which will
cause a little jostling for you! You must keep your body position by flexing
your joints and staying level.
Next, try a real, live, dead log, which is just a little higher than the cavalletti.
(Don't forget your half seat). Guinness trots along nicely, but when he
comes to the log, what does he do? He hops. It was an awkward little
jump. You lurch backward. Then you whip forward.
This is common. Some horses will walk or trot right over little poles or logs,
but others hop or jump. Later, you'll learn more about how to encourage a
horse to take a smooth little jump, but in the meantime, your half seat will
help minimize the shock. Also, keep your reins short and hold onto
Guinness's mane. A handful of mane will help counter that backward lurch.
Otherwise, your whole body weight is going to pull on the reins and
Guinness will get it hard in the mouth.
Ditches and Ravines
Horses tend not to like to step down into ditches or ravines, and Guinness is
no exception. If it's a small ditch, he'll prefer to hop over it. Treat the ditch
as if it were a log. Get into half seat and hold the mane.
Again, let me stress that you hold the mane and keep the reins short. If
your reins get loose, you won't have the control you need if Guinness
speeds up after hopping the ditch.
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.
Trail riding is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable riding experiences
you can have. In teaching books, including this one, authors talk a lot about
what might go wrong and how to fix it. But trail riding is actually relatively
safe if you ride in a controlled situation. You get to relax, take in the peace
and quiet of nature, and do it all from the back of a very good friend.
For this lesson I'm assuming you have an instructor leading the trail ride as
part of a class, but I'll also include some information that pertains to trail
riding in general.
A horse like Guinness will keep you on your toes on the trail.
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