We all know the best place to ride isn’t the indoor — it’s the woods and fields. As a show jumper, this is a bold, controversial statement. I get a lot of funny looks from the flatwork brigade — those folks completing their daily 100 laps of the arena, carving out a nice track around the edge. But there are so many benefits to what many riders consider a waste of time.
I trail ride pretty much every day, three days a week. If it’s not my horse’s exercise for the day, it acts as a warmup and cool off after flatwork or jumping. My last boss had us trail riding his horses most days, and I rehabbed his Nation’s Cup horse for 2 months out of the ring.
I am a trail riding junkie, and this is why you should take your next ride out of the ring.
1. The change of scenery gives your horse a mental break and allows them to decompress from all the hard work in the ring. If you are working your horse well in schooling, it can be mentally taxing. So let them take a yoga break.
2. It gives YOU a mental break. Don’t try to convince me you like getting dizzy in the ring and spitting dust out after a long session. Go enjoy the fresh air.
3. Just because you aren’t schooling doesn’t mean your horse isn’t working. Find a hill and have them walk or jog up in an outline. You will thank that hill when you come deep to a fence and your horse needs the extra booty.
4. Vets recommend it. I have had many injured horses and every vet recommends the trails as a place to rehab. The different surfaces can help rebuild an injured spot to be stronger than ever.
5. There is no better way to bombproof a horse. A dog runs in the ring during my round? No problem. Someone opens an umbrella? No biggie. A tractor is dragging the ring when I want to ride? We got this.
6. Play pony. If you don’t have much time on a weekday but more than one horse to exercise, ride one and lead the other next to you. This is a great way to prepare a nervous horse for a crowded warmup. But practice this inside the fence first — I’ve chased a gelding for half a mile.
7. You get to know the local wildlife. As a British girl living in New York, I encountered many animals I had never seen before. Make sure you are in case a deer comes through.
8. Trail riding doesn’t have to be lonely. Grab a friend to catch up and destress. It’s like one huge funsplosion. Yes, that’s a word.
9. Find a log and cross train. Always check both sides of anything you plan on jumping to make sure the ground is safe, and always make sure your horse is wearing protective gear. Jumping logs and bending around trees will help boost your confidence in the jump offs.
10. There is no better time to bond with your horse. Getting some quality time out of the ring will really cement your relationship and trust. That trust comes in handy when you take a flier to an oxer.