Trail Tails – Road and Trail Exercises

If you’re a small farm owner like me and have your horses at home you probably don’t have the luxury of an indoor arena to keep you and your horse in shape throughout the winter.   Instead I’m stuck doing my spring conditioning on the road side until the field and trails dry up.  BORING!

Road riding doesn’t have to be totally boring though.  Here’s what I do to keep both my horse and myself entertained for our 1 hour workout.

Going away from the barn

  1. I always start out the same way.  Mount up, flexing exercises both ways for a few minutes, and then walk off for ¼ – ½ mile as a “warm up”
  2. I then proceed to pick up a trot and once we trot we don’t stop until I get ½ through my “planned ride.”  Clint Anderson calls it cruise control.  No matter what I do in the saddle the horse is to stay in gait (no faster, no slower) unless I ask them to.
    1. So, let the reins droop and ride drunk.  I reach up rub their ears, pat their neck, slap their butt, grab their tail, rub their sides with my hands, reach down touch my toes, swish my legs back and forth (just don’t touch them with your leg), do anything and everything I can think of to ride like a total idiot.
    2. The only time I give my horse a command is …
      1. They break to a walk – squeeze/cluck/spank back to a trot
      2. They break to a canter – 1 rein stop, do a few flexing exercises and ask for the trot again.
      3. You need to correct their direction because you’re about to get run over by a car or end up in a ditch otherwise let the reins hang loose.
  3. I keep up this trot for 1-3 miles depending on the fitness level of my horse.
  4. Why do I do this? Because I want the horse to ignore everything I do in the saddle unless I specifically ask them something.   I hate being on a horse where I go to scratch an itch and they take it as a queue to gallop off.

Turning around to come back to the barn

Unless you have the ability to go around a 3-6 mile block chances are you will be turning around to come home and horses know home.   I hate a barn sour horse so the trip “home” is always a cruise control lesson at the walk.

  1. I do all the same drunk riding activities at the walk as I do at the trot. 
  2. Got a jigging horse? These exercises often work for me. 
    1. 1-reing stop, flex a few times, ask for a walk again.  (I found most horses respond to this after a few stops)
    2. Still have a jiggy horse?  Try half trot circles.  You’ll notice they trot slowly in the circle when going away from the barn and fast when going back.  Push/cluck/spank when they are slow, ask for a walk and relax when heading back. If they don’t slow down repeat.
    3. Still no luck? Fine.  Make your circles more like large ovals and really push for a trot away from the barn.  Always breathe out and fully relax with loose rein when heading back home.  If you’re tense you’re just making your horse tense.  Always expect your horse to do the right thing first and correct them with “work” if they don’t. 
    4. Just remember make the wrong behavior hard and the desired behavior easy.
  3. Unless you’re frustrated by a jigging horse you’re probably looking for other things to do on your walk back to the barn. Here are some other exercises I do on my road rides.
    1. Ditches – Down the ditch, up into the cornfield, back through and up to the road. 
    2. Leg yielding – The highway department often puts this awesome double yellow lines in the center of a road and it is a great tool.  Leg yield to the left of the line, back to the right or even side pass over it as if it was a pole in an obstacle class.  Just be conscious of road traffic of course.
    3. Whoa  (halts) – Not just for carriage horses but any horse should be able to stand still until you ask them to move.  Same thing as with cruise control, wiggle, rub and be totally annoying even at the halt.  Your horse should stay put unless you ask them to go forward by squeezing their sides.  The key is to quit them before they quit you.  If you think they will walk off in 4 seconds than you ask them to walk off in 2.   A good carriage broke horse will stand indefinitely and there’s no reason why a riding horse can’t do the same
    4. Backing up.  Sometimes I’ll ask my horse to back up instead of walk after a halt.  Heck, maybe that jiggy horse should just walk his butt backwards all the way home if he wants to be there so bad.
  4. Home sweet home.  Finally back at the barn, but I don’t end my lesson there just yet especially on a barn sour horse.  This is where I take just a few more minutes and do productive lunging exercises.  Not just around in circles but with lots of change in directions or sending over/through obstacles.   It’s also a good time to desensitize to scary objects since they are probably tired and really want to stand still.
  5. The last exercise I do is tying.  If I have a horse who doesn’t like the trailer then I let them rest on there, or I tie them to a tree, post or even leave them in the cross ties.  I try to let them stay tied for at least an hour if I can manage it.  Any time is better than no time to teach a horse how to tie.   Got a horse that tries to dig to China?  2-words “rubber mat.”  They can’t dig through the mat and it won’t wear down their hoof. 

Well there’s my road training 2 cents.  What exercises do you do on a trail or road ride?

Stay safe and Happy Trails.

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