I was raised to love all horses, all breeds and all disciplines. I rode English, Western and bareback. We had a variety of horses in the barn — Arabs, Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, Shetlands and crosses. I jumped, did gymkhanas, combined training, trail riding, learned to drive and worked with racehorses for a while — and loved every minute of all of it.
I wasn’t unusual. It was the norm at the time. Most shows included several disciplines and a multitude of breeds. Those of us from this era ended up pretty well-rounded riders. I’m not so sure this is always the case anymore.
I see too many riders target the show ring and do little more than that. They become one-track minded, thinking English and Western have no similarities whatsoever and that somehow what they do is ”better” than what the other guy is doing (how wrong they are). Admittedly, I, too, am currently riding in only one disicipline, but I do sometimes ride bareback or put a different saddle on my horse and just enjoy her. The most fun of all, however, is when you’re able to get out of the ring and go trail riding.
Safety first, of course, so if you think your horse wouldn’t behave out of a ring, you need to do some training. Second, if you don’t think you can stay in the saddle on a ride through the woods, then you definitely need more work in the saddle, possibly on a longe line without your hands on the reins. Finally, since you probably aren’t going to ask your horse to negotiate the steep, rocky terrain of the Tevis Cup (many trails are actually ”groomed” for riding and walking) simple boots/wraps can be placed on his legs for added protection (get him used to them during turnout first).
I’m not suggesting you set out to do something that might result in either you or your horse becoming injured. The story on page 11 of this issue discusses desensitizing your horse to the hazards of trail riding, so you can get out of the ring. Without question, roadways are risky places to ride, and speedy ATVs on trails probably scare as many riders as horses. You do need to be prepared. However, in getting to that point, you’ll find yourself a more well-rounded, confident rider. Remember, a ring-bound horse will become a ring-sour horse and eventually lose that show-ring sparkle.