Once upon a time I was incredibly spoiled by a barn which backed onto a service road that was about 50 miles long and was all public land. This was awesome because I could go on long trail rides without having to deal with trailering a horse anywhere. In addition, Molly LOVED trail riding. She would keep trekking along a trail as long as I wanted without a complaint. She was also incredibly brave and was totally fine trail riding just the two of us. It is ironic that she was so brave considering that she was blind in one eye and so couldn't see well and she was very out-of-shape so if something were to chase us (like a cougar - which do live in Oregon) she would surely be eaten.
Needless to say, it is very rare to have this perfect combination of amazing access to public land plus the best trail riding buddy in the world and it is very likely that I won't ever experience this again (especially since my riding focus is in hunter-jumper world right now). That being said, my current barn has a teeny tiny trail system on the property and since I now own a horse I am determined to make an occasional trail horse out of her.
Since I got to ride Casey before I bought her I did experiment with trail riding her. The attempts were varied in terms of success.
Attempt #1: Casey was a little bit nervous about walking away from the barn. She went very slowly at a walk and stopped to hang out with the other horses who were out in the pasture. Towards the end of the ride, a flock of birds got startled by us and flew out of the grass. Casey was startled but did not spook. Overall, I thought that this was a very good omen and thought that Casey would make a good trail horse.
|Good first trail ride|
Attempt #2 (or Casey decides that the log is a monster): For the second trail ride, Casey was acting very confident in herself. Trails aren't scary! And she's a big, strong, independent horse! She marched right past the horses in pasture and all was going well... until she saw the log. Now, this log hasn't magically moved. We were on the exact same trail and she had passed this exact same log the time before, but at that moment Casey decided that this log was a big scary monster waiting in the grass to pounce on her and eat her. When I asked her to walk forward she pranced sideways, she tried to back up, and she tried to circle around and head back to the barn. When I insisted that she walk past the log, she basically jumped forward and past it. I gave her lots of praise and love and then asked her to turn towards the log. I wanted her to sniff it and see that it was not a monster. She did look at it with a mistrustful eye and refused to actually go near it, so as soon as she was calmly standing I counted that as a win and we finished our trail ride.
|The log monster|
Attempt #3: I made a terrible mistake this day by deciding that we should go the opposite way on the trail (it is a loop so we just did the reverse of what we had done the first two times). I was assuming that because we had done two trail rides at this point Casey should be used to this and it would be a quick ride. Oh man was I wrong. Apparently, going the other direction made everything terrifying (the log and the birds and the grass - oh my!) and Casey decided that walking was beneath her. She literally tried to walk-trot, or as I call it - jig, her way through the entire trail ride. If it were just the jigging than maybe I could have lived with it, but she would jig her way into a trot and then try to trot back to the barn. I, on the other hand, wanted a nice quiet and calm walk. This lead to an epic battle between the two of us. Casey would jig, I would ask her to turn around and walk the other direction. When she was good we'd turn back towards the barn and Casey would immediately start to jig again (cycle repeats). Eventually, we were about twice as far away from the barn as we were when we first started. I was tired, but wasn't willing to let Casey win the battle, and Casey was just frustrated. At one point she just stopped walking forward and tried to give a few tiny bucks (which she completely failed at - I am not sure that this mare can even buck). At some point. Casey's brain must have clued into the fact that I just wanted a nice quiet walk and so she gave it to me... until we got about 30 feet away from the barn and she trotted in. It was not a fun ride.
|She can be bad on the trails, but she's cute at least|
Attempt #4: After the terrible trail ride I decided to mix things up by just trail riding on the gravel driveway/road at my barn. I thought that Casey and I needed a mental break before dealing with the trail again. She was very well behaved, in spite of her hooves being sore from the gravel (I walked her on the grass shoulder as much as I could). Eden came along with us and Casey didn't try to kill him, so all in all, it was a very successful ride.
|Eden joined the trail ride|
Attempt #5: Casey was really good for this trail ride. We went back to the actual trail around the barn and had just entered the wooded section when all of the sudden there was a really loud revving sound and Casey took off trotting. It was the neighbor kids on their ATV and I hadn't been able to see them through the trees. It gave both of us a scare, but other than trotting away Casey didn't react badly. And I wouldn't really have blamed her for acting much worse than she did because the sound even startled me!
Attempt #6: My barn has a very intricate electric fencing system and I am totally incompetent at dealing with the electric fence without shocking myself. So when I wanted to take Casey on a trail ride and found my normal path between the arena and the trail was blocked by the fence I thought I was being oh so smart by just walking Casey through the barn in order to get to the trail. The only mounting block on this side of the barn is currently the home to a wasp's nest and so I tried to mount her from the ground. BIG MISTAKE! Casey freaked out, sidestepped away from me, and was all bug-eyed and breathing hard. I gave her pats and love, tried to desensitize her by just lifting my leg and then rewarding her, and punishing her by yelling at her if she tried to sidestep away from me. I literally spent 30 minutes just trying to get on my horse from the ground and she was not having it. When I gave my last effort to try to hop her on she literally sidestepped her way into the manure pile. Which then acted quick-sandy and every movement made her sink a little bit more into it. The poor horse finally scrambled her way out of the manure pit and then gave me the most betrayed look a mare can give her human. And so I gave up and found a mounting block and hopped on her and she acted totally fine. I have no idea why it was freaking her out so much, maybe she's just never had a human try to mount from the ground? I'll just add it to the list of things to work on...
Our adventures trail riding up to this point show that this is definitely not Casey's strong suit. She could potentially become a better trail horse, but she has much more natural talent in the jump ring than a trail.