Someone asked on a forum what made a great trail horse and the following was one of the replies. I thought it was terrific and is a good "check list" for Biscuit and anyone's trail horse. I asked the person who posted it for their permission to place this on my blog and she said yes that I could so here it is and a special thanks to Jamison for this terrific description!
* A great trail horse is consistant in its paces. You should be able to put this horse on a loose rein and it will continue to go forward at your desired speed, not stopping nor slowing down and certainly not speeding up. The horse should cruise control at the walk, trot, and canter. Your horse should not change its speed for anything, including heading back to the barn or other horse's trotting in front. Strictly no jigging. No constant kicking. Cruise control.
* Three solid, enjoyable gaits. A medium walk, medium trot, and relaxed, easy canter.
* Neck reining. I mean real neck reining, where you can stop, turn, and shift gears without using more than one hand.
* Independent. No buddy sourness. A good trail horse is focused on its job.
* Stand for mounting, on and off sides.
* Ground tie.
* Stand tied to anything: trees, trailers, posts, fences, cross ties, any kind of ties in those scary horse camps, etc.
* Not be afraid of water in any form. Muddy puddles, small, narrow streams, wide shallow creek crossings, deep dark rivers. You'd be surprised how some horses cross some types of water and are bad about others. My horse use to be able to cross wide streams and rivers, but would jump narrow creeks.
* Climb steep, rocky hills without scrambling. Climb hills quietly without breaking into a trot. Horses LOVE rushing up hills.
* Same with down hills. Horses like trotting at the end of long downhills. It's annoying and sometimes dangerous.
* Leg yield. When you're on the trail and avoiding holes, being able to yield your horse in both directions is nice. The horse shouldn't trot off when asked to leg yield.
* BACK. Backing is important for safety! Horses should be able to back into and out of tight spaces, back through turns, back around trees. If you're on the end of a trail and can't turn around, sometimes you have to back out. Sometimes you have to back out a long way too, so no fighting the back up command. Head down, submissive, and soft in the mouth.
*Sidepass. Sidepassing is the hardest thing in the world for me, but if you're going to do CTRs, they're going to ask. I've also found uses for it in real life, but not as much as backing.
* STAND. Whoa means whoa! Stand means no more motion in any direction. Just standing still is one of the best things a horse can learn.
* Load into a trailer. Never bring a horse that takes a struggle to load to a CTR . For safety reasons, a horse should get into a trailer right when you ask -- no two or three or 10 minute struggle required. If your horse is hurt at a CTR and the "horse ambulance" arrives, your horse should get on. If something happens and you have to get your horse into a trailer quickly, he better get in there QUICKLY. When you're ready to go home after a long day competing, your horse better get in that trailer. One poor lady got struck at a CTR for two days because her horse wouldn't load.
* Drink and eat on the trail. Your horse shoud drink water from the saddest looking mud puddle and eat whatever grass offered. He should eat only with permission. I taught my horse it was okay to eat when I push down on her poll.
If I think of any more, I'd add them. A good trail horse is tough to train.
I am going to use this as a check list for Biscuit and we have some work to do. I can see where Biscuit has come a LONG way since I bought him.
1. He would break into a gallop instead of a lope and throw up his head when asked to slow down.
2. As soon as I got on, especially in an arena, he would be jigging and acting like a wind up toy wound up too tight!
3. Nose to tail way too much and it annoyed other horses.
4. Would try to walk off before I was seated.
5. Buddy sour to ANY horse and I could not make him walk away from other horses.
5. Would not go out alone.
6. Can't jog at a slow pace
7. Was scared to death to have people touch him. He would flinch and look terrified.
Now, he can lope for the most part but still not consistent but he rarely tosses that head now when asked to slow down or change speed. He doesn't jig anymore even in the arena. Working on the nose to tail thing and he is coming along nicely. It is a deeply engrained trait as that is what they wanted him to do. He rarely tries to walk off if I am mounting. This past weekend I got him to go first and go away from other horses. We are working on collecting up and jogging and keeping that pace. It is helpful to go out with Lee Ann and jog behind my buddy Rogue! His little Tennessee Walker gait is perfect for jogging behind!! And best of all, he rarely flinches anymore. He still will if something startles him but for the most part he knows I am not going to hurt him.
What we need to still work on:
1. Loping slow and consistant - his cruise control is not set yet
2. Side passing - he can to the right but not to the left
3. Neck reining - he can to a certain degree but he is not perfect at it.
4. Leg yield - he will yield on the trail but he often uses it as a cue to go faster.
5. Hills - he is mostly pretty darn good going up and down hills but sometimes I have to be on him to go slow up the hills!
I'll keep reviewing this list and working with The Biscuit. He is already a good trail horse and I want him to be an excellent trail horse!!