Last week Rain Dance spent the entire week out on the trail. We spent time in tree farm across the street, the corn fields behind the farm, Valley Forge National Park, and the Lands Trust Trails of Wissahickon. After doing arena work, I find it a great change of pace to do work out on the trail. But one thing I like to tell my clients and students, is that a trail is not just there for you to follow. It can be a great educational tool to practice everything you would work on at home, just somewhere else. A good trainer friend of mine once said "an arena or roundpen fence is there to keep you from going to Kansas." Pretty much what she meant was, don't limit yourself to following a fence line. Once you have enough control to keep you in the same state, it does not matter where you are, your horse should be able to perform any maneuver, anywhere.
I used each trail area to work on something different. The tree farm across the street is great to practice sharp turns. Going in between the trees, disengaging the hindquarters, and coming back around is a great exercise to help with changing direction more softly. There is a large expanse of corn fields behind our farm as well. Sections have small narrow paths between the corn and the fence, and others have large wide and flat gaps. There is also a nice inclined section underneath the high tensile wires. These wide expanses were great to practice our circles, and leg yields. The rows of corn also serve as a great tool for working on roll backs when you don't have a high enough fence at home. Valley Forge National Park was our longest ride this week. We spent about 5 hours on the trail that day. We conquered everything from large open fields, to train tracks, and water crossings. Valley Forge can also get quite busy, so Rain Dance got to see bikers, baby strollers, runners, and dogs. This is also where we went swimming, and boy did he love that! The last place we practiced was the Lands Trust Trails of Wissahickon. This was our first ride out with another horse, and where we practiced our bridges! On this two hour ride we crossed about 15 bridges. He hesitated the first one, as it was about 4 1/2 feet above an 8 foot wide ravine. But, he followed his new trail buddy Mocha over it and did not bother thinking about the rest of them. He was fine behind the mare in front of him, weather she was jogging or loping away or just in front of his nose. He also led a good portion of the ride as well, and did not get upset with Mocha riding next to him or eventually passing him.
After all of our work on the trail over the past week, it was time to apply all we had worked on back in an arena setting, and boy did it all translate well. He is now picking up his leads on the first try, and our transitions are greatly improved. And after a week of moving out on the trail, when asked to pick up and collect himself, he was much less stiff and more willing to follow through with his whole body in his turns.
So, next time you seem to be stuck on something. May be instead of drilling it over and over, make a change and come at it from a different angle. As always, check out some photos below, and the YouTube video as well! Oh and PS, we took out the English saddle for the second time in the video, does not change a thing with this horse. A saddle is a saddle, the horse underneath it only changes if you treat it differently. The clanking at the end is another horse who was tied to the inside of the roundpen. He picked a convenient time to itch himself!