Building a Better Trail Horse

I have been taking Nori’s training and development in teeny-tiny steps, trying to emphasize calmness and confidence. I know there are plenty of 4 year olds doing much more sophisticated work, even jumping courses and competing in horse trials, but for Nori I think the fastest approach to get where I am going will be the slow road.

Spring Hollow Or Noir, better known as Nori to her friends, has had an educational 2021 season furthering her groundwork both in the ring and the round pen. Thanks to the assistance of our summer intern Tiger Lily, I was also able to lightly back Nori– a process she found a little exciting.

Nori finds some new skills, like wearing saddles, extremely ho-hum.

I purchased Nori with the hope she will develop into a long distance competitive trail/endurance mount. When I first began to learn about distance riding, one of the most important concepts I learned is that you must ride your own ride. Each horse is an individual and depending on where they are at in their distance career, riders can and should have different goals for their horses. For example: not every horse in an endurance ride is ready to race, and some horses at a competitive trail ride need to use every single minute allotted to them to finish safely. Getting caught up with a pace, training methodology or conditioning system that your horse is not ready for will only cause setbacks and discourage your horse.

While I had hoped to be hacking Nori under saddle this fall, her reaction to being backed showed me that she still needs a little more time to mature before we tackle that task. Instead, I have been busy hand walking her on trail– and she really seems to love it. Earlier this year, through the Warhorse Endurance Conditioning Challenges, we completed ten miles of trail hand walking to earn her Valor medal (a portion of all entries was donated to the Last Chance Corral). Currently, we have almost thirty miles completed toward the Valkyrie 100 Mile Challenge. I had hoped to finish that Challenge before the end of the year, which may be overly ambitious, but at the same time having that goal helps keep me motivated.

Nori with her Valor medal.

Overall I have been SO impressed by Nori’s attitude out on trail– she crosses brooks and rivers, stops to sip out of puddles and snacks on grass along the way. We have met up with deer, herons and turkeys, climbed up hills and navigated muddy puddles. By and large, she handles common trail challenges with confidence and interest. This is the attitude I want to see in her work under saddle before I ask for too much more.

In 2019, I had the opportunity to interview the multi-talented Michelle Grald, formerly trails coordinator at the Green Mountain Horse Association, on the subject of “Building a Better Trail Horse”. In Part II of this three part series, “Essential Leading Fundamentals”, Grald discusses how important it is for trail horses to learn how to safely lead from both the left and right, as well as to politely walk directly behind a leader (for a single track trail situation) or tailing from the back. If you are interested, you can review the article below (it ran originally in the August 2019 issue of Equine Journal).

This is my goal for the rest of the year, until the trails freeze over and it becomes time to hunker down for winter– to continue to develop Nori’s foundation so that I can build a better trail horse.

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