Your Turn: Happy trails

Venturing outside the sandbox can strengthen your relationship with your horse and bring a fresh perspective to your training. Haley Ruffner reflects.

Top photo: HN

From Haley:

No matter how creative one is, riding around in the same rectangle of sand day after day ultimately becomes dull for both horse and rider. My solution? Trail riding. I am very lucky in that there are miles and miles of trails accessible from my barn (just don’t remind me of this when I’m four hours away from home and hopelessly lost, please). I’m a firm believer that trail riding is an excellent way to strengthen the bond with one’s horse–trust is required to overcome obstacles one wouldn’t normally encounter in an arena.

Aside from being beneficial to my relationship with my horse, some of my best memories were formed on trail rides–they will stay with me forever and hold precedence in my heart over any recollection of a ribbon or trophy. Whether it was the perfect summer morning, galloping headlong through the lifting fog, or any of the numerous times my friends and I were caught in a sudden and unexpected downpour, we always returned to the barn with clearer heads and lighter hearts.

Small adventures (or, occasionally, misadventures) also serve to acquaint oneself with the personality of his or her horse. The time I decided to canter–inconveniently forgetting about the giant mud puddle that lurked around the next bend–served to teach me that my late horse Bebe preferred to launch herself over 10-foot-wide puddles rather than get her hooves wet. This knowledge (though it would’ve been nice not to learn it the hard way) was helpful in our next shows; I learned to steer around mud at all costs so as to reduce the risk of unexpected aerial maneuvers. Such occurrences can also lead to the discovery of just exactly how bomb-proof one’s horse is; in my case, a near-collision with a porcupine (read: closely averted disaster) resulted in the realization that perhaps Bebe was a little too fearless.

Regardless of whether it’s just a five-minute hack through the pasture or an all-day expedition, it is my opinion that any horse and rider pair can benefit greatly from trail riding.

What are some of your trail riding adventures, Horse Nation?

Haley Ruffner is a 15-year-old junior at Allegany-Limestone high school in the small town of Allegany, NY. Since catching the “horse bug” at age five, she has competed locally with her own horses and recently joined Alfred University’s hunt seat and western IEA teams. She is the owner and trainer of a quiet but very green five-year-old Quarter Horse, At Last an Invitation (“Cricket”). An avid reader and writer, Haley’s current plans for the future are to attend Alfred University to major in English and minor in Equestrian Studies.


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