The Sweaty Equestrian
by Tamara Baysinger
It’s easy to get caught up in conditioning your horse for endurance and forget that he also needs to be trained to succeed in the sport. Those annoying, little misbehaviors that are easy to overlook at home can become a real headache when you get to a ride. Besides, focused training is a great way to spend time with your horse on his rest days.
Here are a few things to brush up on:
1. Trailer Loading
Having a horse that loads willingly not only makes traveling to and from rides less stressful, it could also save your horse's life. You don’t want a loading battle on top of an colic emergency. If possible, practice loading your horse in different types of trailers (stock, slant, and straight, with different door styles). This could come in handy if he gets pulled at a vet check many miles from camp and needs to hitch a ride in someone else's rig.
Even if you have a portable corral instead of a hi-tie, you never know when you’ll need to leave your horse tied. It’s really nice to be confident that he won’t pull back, even if another horse gets loose in camp while you’re saddling up at your trailer. Blocker tie rings can be helpful for horses that struggle with this.
3. Being Handled by Strangers
Make sure your horse isn’t going to freak out when someone with a clipboard and stethoscope looms in to listen to his heartbeat. The vet will be happier if you’ve prepared your horse to have his lips handled, his tail lifted, his back and legs palpated, his skin pinched, and his belly tickled with a stethoscope.
4. Hoof Handling
In addition to the possibility of emergency farrier service, you may need to do some last-minute rasping or reapply a hoof boot out on the trail. This is a lot easier if your horse is standing still.
Most horses (not to mention many riders) will feel compelled to keep up with faster horses on the trail. Some will lose motivation and poke along in the absence of a buddy. Your life will be much easier if you’ve worked in advance on quietly passing, being passed, going out solo, and settling down in groups. The idea is to get to a place where your horse will maintain not only the gait, but also the speed, you request.
6. Standing Still for Mounting
Not only will obedience in this department make your start smoother, you’ll be extra glad you put the time into training when you have to haul yourself aboard after yet another gate or vet check.
7. Trotting in Hand
This is an easy one to forget because it isn’t necessary for most of our daily horse handling. However, a nice trot-out looks great for the vet -- and having to drag an unwilling or confused horse along is frustrating for all concerned. (Pro tip: Practice trotting in circles, as well as a straight line, in case you want to show for Best Condition.)
Of course, it’s possible that despite your best efforts, your horse will still forget all his lessons come ride day. Don’t be embarrassed – we have all been there, and most people will be sympathetic. The one thing that folks find really tough to overlook is behavior that endangers other horses or people. If your horse has an aggression issue, be sure to deal with it thoroughly in advance, then take extra precautions at the ride, just in case.
The Sweaty Equestrian