The epitome of trail riding is when a man or woman travels on their horse fearlessly into unknown territory enjoying the elements and the wonders to be seen in the land that they are travelling through.
Western riding was born on the trail over thousands of miles of undeveloped country. Few of us can match that when we ride out.
To-day the training of a western horse attempts to develop in him complete obedience and willingness to be guided. Most Western equine disciplines, however, are set in a more or less protected environment. Competitions are set up in an arena. This is an environment in which the horse has practised and performed many times over. There are relatively few surprises for him in the ordinary run of things. The environment is conducive to maximising the performance but can restrict the horse’s experience and inhibit his worldliness.
Out on the trail, on the other hand, things are new to the horse. He can be surprised, and surprised at any time and by anything. To cope with those things the horse has to be confident that his rider knows what he or she is doing. The horse has to be trained to trust in the rider’s guidance. The rider must respect the horse’s misgivings in some circumstances, protect him from real dangers and help him past imaginary ones.
The best trained movie stunt horses are trained to trust their handlers to the extent that, if asked, they will gallop through a window made of toffee and papier-mâché without hesitation. They don’t know it’s not made of glass and concrete. They would gallop into a brick wall and kill themselves if asked to do so by the handler they trust. We don’t expect our horses to do such things but we do need them to trust our judgement.
In an arena environment we can lay the foundation of obedience and willing compliance but the possibility of re-creating a range of circumstances likely to be met on a real trail ride, is limited. So, you might say, we should go out on a wide range of trail rides every day. This is not really a practical proposition for most of us.
One solution is to build a trail-trial course on several acres of land which is designed to replicate a range of scenarios to be found on an average trail ride. Practising in this “large arena” where the elements of surprise due to changing seasons, weather conditions etc can happen randomly, means that the experience is more closely related to real trail riding. A trail-trial course, if you like, can be a halfway house where horse and rider can further develop the trust in each other which they initiated in the arena.
The Blackford Glen Western Riders Club have enough land available to them to construct such a course ranging over 15 acres and beyond through the Hermitage Valley and over the Blackford Hills where horse and rider can test themselves against the trail obstacles and other riders.
We hope that, through time, the use of this course will allow horses and riders to test themselves against known standards for this course, somewhat like playing to the par for a particular golf course.