Barn folks often end up asking me if I’ll be riding in the competitive trail/obstacle events that come up from time to time. The short answer: no.
There are a few reasons why.
1. Confetti is a wonderful trail horse that finds the best path around/through Real Trail Obstacles. (See my last post about pointing her at the cliff edge!) While I do get final say and can overrule her judgment, she’s generally right and that’s a quality I very much appreciate. She thinks it’s dumb to go through a complicated man-made obstacle when there’s a perfectly lovely empty path right by it.
I can and regularly do ask her to do strange things and go off-trail in bizarre places. It’s generally pretty clear to her why we’re doing it and she understands that it has a point. She does not understand the point of bizarre obstacles in an arena.
2. There’s a time limit for how long you get at any given obstacle. Logistically, I fully understand why this has to be the case. I don’t want to feel pushed or time-pressured when we really need more time to process what I’m asking of her and why. It can be very useful for me to sit and wait for her to settle mentally to the point where she’s willing to give me even a little try. Too much pressure and we both build tension to the point where it fries her brain. Mine, too.
3. Speed is a reward/mental reset button. A brisk trot down the trail seems to solve a lot of things. I swear she understands that her job in life is to trot everything everywhere. Most (all?) of the events are pretty much all walking.
Also: six miles, you guys. Six miles. That’s nothing extraordinary and it feels ridiculous to pay money to ride six miles at a walk.
4. I don’t quite buy into the ‘judged trail’ idea. Stuff on the trail? I give the pony her head and get out of her way. Steep downhill? Same thing. I don’t micromanage if it’s not absolutely necessary; she gets mad at me if I’m nitpicking at things too much and she feels like she’s doing fine. I think this goes back to #1 where she doesn’t see the point of man-made obstacles.
Regular trail rides for us, actually, cover all of the following:
– uphills, downhills, mounts, dismounts. Obviously. Pony moves herself over next to whatever odd thing I’m standing on so I can skip putting my foot in the stirrup on my way over where possible. Hooray for short horses!
– real river crossing
– bikes, strollers, children, hikers, dogs, and the occasional unicycle, skateboard, or roller-skater
– occasionally open/close gates
– bridge crossings
– downed trees – logs are standard, bushy trees show up occasionally and we walk through some as needed
– wildlife encounters of all sorts
– sidepass/trot weave through trees
It’s not that we’re lacking in skills. It’s that they’re entirely practical skills and we don’t seem to do well applying them in faked/arena settings. Deer or bobcat or coyote wandering across the trail in front of us? Not a problem. Drag a stuffed animal across the trail in front of us? Might very well be a problem.
I know there are horses that excel at this sort of thing; I even know a few of them personally. I think they’re great horses. I’d ride them in this sort of thing if things fell into place. I will support anyone that wants to and heck, I’d even give you advice in hopes you do well.
But it’s not what Fetti and I like to do. Good endurance-trail horse does not equate to good competitive-trail horse.