ETS: Improving Horsemanship on the Trail

Has competitive trail riding improved your horsemanship?

This sounds like something that would be easy to answer, but it isn’t. Competitive trail riding and horsemanship go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. Horsemanship involves so much more than just “riding your horse”. It’s about the journey, the hours of conditioning, training and caring for your horse, all regardless of the weather! Most of all, it’s about the partnership, not relationship, that you have with your horse.

Randy Gassett and her 12 year old Foxtrotter gelding, Sherlock

I began competitive trail riding in 1999 with NATRC and my now 22 year old Arab. I learned how to camp with my horse, how to properly feed and condition for distance riding. I gained many great friends on the countless trails I was privileged to ride, many of which could only be accessed by foot or on horseback. I later began riding ACTHA and then ETS with Sherlock, my now 12 year old Foxtrotter. I continue to make life long friends and ride amazing trails.

Our journey has taken us from our home state of Arizona to competitions in Tennessee, Nevada, Colorado, and California. We have camped in South Dakota and ridden among the bison at Custer State Park. What variety my horse and I have experienced on these trails, from desert mountains, to the hills of Tennessee, to the Pacific Ocean, to the lights of Las Vegas. We have ridden through sunshine, thunder storms and snow and kept on trekking. When Sherlock sees the trailer hitched up, he willingly jumps in and asks “where are we off to now”? Sherlock is such a good sport and puts up with all the goofy things I ask him to do, although he may sometimes question my judgment.

I ride with an amazing group of women, and although we all love to bring home the blue ribbon, we cheer each other on and congratulate each other on our accomplishments and support each other in our losses. It has been the journey that my horsemanship has been built upon, and it is the people, places and friends we have met along the way that continues to be the icing on the cake!  ~ Randy Gassett

Leslie Hait and her 9 year old Gypsy Vanner gelding, Showstopper. Photo by Jason Brekke.

Competitive Trail has affected my equestrian life in so many positive ways! Due to health problems, I suffer from fatigue, and at times, a lack of motivation. Knowing that I have a Competitive Trail ride coming up gives me the boost I need to get out there to ride and practice. Also, riding in Competitive Trail reveals the areas of my horsemanship that could use improvement. It is a sport that encourages constant growth and learning. Since the judge’s comments are posted on most every obstacle, you know what to work on for next time. The competitions are light and friendly, and everyone is encouraging and helpful. The focus is on fun and learning.

My relationship and bond with my amazing horse, Showstopper, has deepened immensely through the challenges we face together in Competitive Trail. We have learned to trust each other, and work as a team. I just love this sport and encourage everyone to try it!  ~ Leslie Hait

Donna Jensen riding TR Commander Brakali aka Red, a 10 year old AQHA gelding. “I bought him as a 3 year-old reining futurity horse to become a trail horse. I feel like I saved him from a hard life!”

Coming from a show ring background starting at the age of 12, I was accustomed to having a professional trainer train and prepare my horses. I took riding lessons and competed, all within the confines of an arena. Over the years, I was very fortunate to have achieved multiple championships at the State, Regional and National levels.

It wasn’t until I was in my 60’s when I was introduced to competitive trail riding that I discovered a more natural and fulfilling approach to horsemanship. I learned from excellent clinicians how to truly build a partnership with my horses through leadership, patience, consistency and small immediate rewards to build confidence; a simple “good boy” or a soft rub on his neck for even the smallest attempt at overcoming his fear. The result is the joy that comes from developing a mutual trust and respect with your horse and a bond of friendship that goes beyond competition. My favorite quote that I’ve adopted as my guideline came from Pat Parelli, “Never compromise the relationship you have with your horse for the goal.” ~ Donna Jensen

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 For more information about becoming a member or a ride host, visit the ETS website.  Check out the EVENTS page to find rides near you!  www.equinetrailsports.com

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