Updated: Jan 25, 2022
Trail Clinic 10/15 - 10/17 2021
We had a great time at this clinic over the weekend. It was really good to reconnect with some clients I hadn't seen in a while and spend time with newer ones. This clinic setting was very laid back. Everyone was able to get individual attention but on the whole I was there in more of a supporting and as-needed role instead of how my more structured clinics run with constant instruction. My husband, Tim, joined us as well and assisted with groundwork prep, as a second set of eyes on the trail and even cooked up some burgers for us next to the campfire on Saturday night.
We pulled into Eagle Ranch around 11 am on Friday to give us enough time to unload, organize and then head out on the trail around two. Georgia, Kelly and Julie all made it in time for the afternoon ride. Patty had to work and joined us for dinner, which made Saturday morning her first ride of the trip. The beauty of these clinics is that we do not hit the trail until every horse is mentally prepared. That meant that for this trip we started getting the horses ready at 2pm and we did not hit the trail until 4pm. I always hate it when I go on trail rides and feel rushed to get ready and get on. Sometimes my horses need some groundwork! And oh boy did we need some groundwork before heading out. Horses, being the prey animals they are - tend to be sensitive to CHANGE. Not only were we in a brand-new location, we were with a group and the weather had recently made a giant temperature swing and was cooler and a little drizzly as we began working with them to see what kind of horses we had that day.
A common misconception people have is that their horse is the same every day. This is simply not true and the more you resist this reality the more frustrating your time with your horse will be. You take that steady-eddy horse that you had at home, uproot it from everything familiar and plop it down in cold weather at a trail riding facility and you may have a powder keg! But not to worry, this can be worked through. I prefer to work these things out on the ground because sometimes their antics as they are sorting out their new comfort zone can be VERY animated. And the reality is, this isn't even a bad thing (though it may look bad to you). When horses get insecure and on adrenaline they can break out all sorts of moves you have never seen. They can become pushy and dominant to try and establish a new comfort zone or they can become fearful and reactive. If you are really lucky you will run into both scenarios mixed up together that you need to sort out.
It might seem like a big time commitment, but a couple of horses needed an hour of groundwork before their first ride out into the woods. Instead of seeing it as a hassle, see it as an investment. You have changed the horse's environment and you have to show the horse that you are still the same here as you were at home. All the rules still apply and they are in fact, still safe. Horses don't see things the way we do and they can completely unravel feeling unsafe in a new environment. So how can you help them find their comfort zone again and relax before you get on? It may seem counter intuitive, but the quickest way to a horse's mind is by showing them that you have control of their feet. Forward motion at a trot or a lope will help a horse process out whatever adrenaline is coursing through their body. Adrenaline under saddle is not our friend. (Doing groundwork can help you process any adrenaline that you might be feeling as well!) The more your horse wants to move around the more you make them move and you will continue this until they start asking to stop moving. Go just a smidge longer and you have a horse that has checked back in with you. What type of groundwork exercises you do is up to you, as long as your horse has the ability to really run around if that is what's needed.
We chose Eagle Ranch partially because of the access we would have to their round pen. We knew some of the horses were going to be amped up from the experience and it didn't make any sense to chose a place where we couldn't get to the bottom of their anxiety and adrenaline before climbing on. Remember that time investment we talked about earlier? Yeah, every horse was a gem on the trail and (spoiler alert!) it took dramatically less time to prep before each ride. By Sunday morning, we saddled up and climbed on with no groundwork needed because the horses were at ease in the new environment and were confident in their humans! What a gift to yourself and your horse to form a connection instead of fighting with each other and having a rough weekend.
"Truly one of the best weekends I have had in a long time" - Participant