They can climb hills if you do not rush them or place too much weight on their backs.
Always ride in a balanced position when going uphill or downhill.
Riding downhill is hard for horses.
The rider’s weight becomes an ever-increasing burden on the horse’s loin muscles, and the horse must expend a great deal of energy.
Weight is also hard on the ligaments of the lower leg.
These problems cause many horses to be penalized or eliminated from competition after long downhill stretches.
Good riding can make going downhill easier.
Avoid speed on long downhill sections of the ride.
Teach the horse to move in a collected frame with its hind legs reaching under it.
Put your weight in the stirrups and ride in a balanced position.
This will make going downhill easier for your horse.
The last important trait of a good trail horse is correct conformation.
See the diagram on this page.
No one would purposely select a horse with major Parts of the horse Diagram from the Virginia 4-H Horse Project: Horseless Horse Project Unit 2 Horses Are Fun, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 4 conformational faults to carry them the long, often hot miles of a competitive trail ride.
Under prolonged stress, however, even a small defect can become so damaging that your horse may be eliminated from competition.
Many horses with conformation defects are ridden in competitive trail rides.
Some do well in spite of their handicaps.
Remember, no horse is perfect, and you must make the best of what you have.
For example, when a horse is base narrow, the hoof can hit the opposite fetlock, causing interference wounds.
During the first few weeks, you may not notice calluses appearing on the insides of the fetlocks.
However, careful daily inspections should reveal this early on.
Either through a minor shoeing mistake or fatigue, this horse can develop severe, painful, bleeding wounds.
If these interference wounds occur, ask your farrier to try to correct them.
The judge will deduct points if there is evidence the horse’s feet are hitting its legs, causing wounds.
If at all possible, select a well-balanced horse with a good length of neck, large nostrils, and an open throat for breathing.
The horse should have a fairly long, well-sloped shoulder with a well-defined wither.
Straight-shouldered horses with upright pasterns may have many problems once the long training rides begin.
They are prone to developing sidebone, ringbone, and splints.
The foot suffers more from concussion because of the upright nature of the shoulder and pastern.
The loin muscles of a horse with a long back tend to become sensitive because of the long “coupling” between the last thoracic vertebra (where the last rib lies) and the sacral area of the croup.
This problem grows worse if you are careless and let your weight fall toward the rear of the horse.
A horse with choppy, short strides must put more effort into covering ground than a horse with smooth, long strides, and must be in much better condition to travel the long miles.
Any awkwardly moving horse usually is not successful as a competitive trail horse because it wastes too much energy getting down the road.
Another consideration in selecting a well-conformed horse is its saddle-carrying ability.
Avoid a mutton- or thick-withered horse because the saddle will not stay in place.
The back should be well-covered with muscle and tough, not tender.
A tender-backed horse is prone to sores in the saddle area.
Well-developed loin muscling, which lies on either side of the spine, is necessary for carrying the rider’s weight.
If the horse has the proper conformation and you use conventional equipment, the saddle should fit and hold to the proper place on the horse’s back.
If not, try a different saddle or ask a knowledgeable person about saddle fit. 5 A breast collar is strongly recommended for many trail horses, although some horses are thin-skinned and a breast collar tends to rub or chafe and cause sores.
Examine the withers and back.
Look at the skin over the back, barrel, and girth area.
A competitive horse must carry weight for long distances, putting a great deal of heat over the back and girth area.
The skin in these areas should be free of any defects and is a big factor in selecting a competitive trail horse.
The croup should be muscular and well-developed, carrying down to the gaskin and hock.
Long, welldefined muscling is desirable, but muscling should not be too heavy.
Horses shown in halter classes are often typical examples of too much heavy muscling and too much fat.
Below the hocks and knees, the cannon bones should be clean and form a well-set line.
The horse with off-set cannon bones (called bench knees) is a poor candidate for the stresses of competitive trail riding.
Choose a horse with a well-defined knee and a hock with a straight cannon carrying down to the center of the fetlock.
The horse’s tendons should be clean.
They should feel like a tight, well-fitted cable held to the leg by healthy tendon sheaths, with no bulges or puffiness.
The fetlock joint is very important.
It is comprised of the end of the cannon bone, the two proximal sesamoid bones, and the first long pastern bone.
This joint receives much jarring, so it should be clean and not puffy.
The pastern should be clean and free of any bulges, and should have enough slope to absorb jarring.
The pastern should blend cleanly into the coronary band and thus into the horse’s most important structure: its hoof.
The hoof of the competitive horse must be sound, because it helps bear the horse’s weight and absorbs shock.
The hoof should be in proper proportion to the horse, with feet being symmetrical in size and shape.
The hoof should have a well-defined heel and dense, tough horn with no evidence of separations or cracks on its surface.
The outer layer of the hoof, the periople, should be intact, making the hoof wall appear shiny.
The sole should be concave, with a density of horn that will withstand constant wear from friction with the ground surface.
The white line should not show any separation that would allow foreign material to go through the wall and cause lameness.
The frog should be resilient, tough, and placed in the midline of the foot.
A horse’s “keeping” qualities and body condition should be considered.
Horses that lose weight and fail to regain it during the training period become problem horses.
Psychological factors probably cause many horses to fail as easy keepers.
For example, some horses are “nervous” and can’t relax enough to eat or drink properly at the ride.
You should work on this during training and teach your horse to eat and drink when possible.
Teeth problems, which result in improper chewing, can contribute to the poor condition of some horses.
It is a good idea to have your veterinarian or equine dentist check the horse’s teeth at least once or twice a year, and to float the teeth (file any sharp edges) when needed.
Ingrown hair follicles, dermatologic cysts, saddle burns, lacerations, and bruises are all problems that can occur during hard work, but all can be prevented with proper care.
Do not clip the mane short (roach) or clip inside the ears, as the horse needs the hair for protection.
You should not closely clip the fetlock area or below.
The hair in these areas acts as a protective coating against scrapes and fungus.
Experience with a horse will reveal its actual weight-carrying ability.
Regardless of height, a shortcoupled horse can carry more weight than a longcoupled horse.
Choose a strong-backed horse with firm muscling (one that shows little sensitivity to firm palpation of the loin area) rather than a horse that flinches each time this area is touched.
During the ride keep your weight off the horse’s loins as much as possible, especially when ascending or descending a steep trail. Basic feeding and care of the horse Feed supplies the nutrients horses need to perform.
You should feed your horse quality grain and hay, and allow it free-choice salt and plenty of clean water.
Access to good pasture with water is always helpful.
Feed your horse to maintain its best body condition.
An overweight horse has to work harder and sweats more.
An underweight horse lacks the necessary reserves of energy.
Your horse’s general appearance, coat, pulse and respiration recoveries, and attitude will tell you if you are doing the right things.
Pay attention to your horse and learn to know it better than you know yourself.
Vitamins and supplements won’t help if your basic nutrition program is not adequate.
Pay careful attention to the feed ration.
Successful competitive riders use a wide variety of concentrates (grains), hays, and pasture combinations.
Knowledge of your horse is essential, since past feeding history may influence how and what you choose to feed.commercial horse feeds offer a combination of grains usually 6 mixed with molasses in a palatable feed.
Some riders feed complete pelleted rations.
In these, the grain and hay are combined to certain fixed values.
Whatever your choice, know how this ration is working for your horse under the stressful program of competitive riding.
Make gradual changes in feed over a period of 7–10 days as needed.
Never change the feed of a performance horse abruptly.
Electrolytes are important salts and minerals that become electrically charged when dissolved in body fluids.
The electrical charge enables them to assist in nerve impulse transmission, muscle contractions, body fluid maintenance, and control of body fluid acid-base balance.
If you participate in competitive trail riding, be prepared to use electrolytes as needed.
Your horse expends in sweat many minerals that plain water does not replace.
The main minerals affected are sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and chloride.
During long-distance events a horse loses a lot of sodium.
Consuming only plain water dilutes the amount of sodium left in the blood.
A lack of sodium in the blood can cause a condition known as hyponatremia.
Its symptoms are lethargy, drowsiness, muscle weakness and twitching, mental confusion, and seizures.
Low levels of other minerals can lead to tying up, thumps, and/or muscle cramping.
Consult your veterinarian or other knowledgeable person for specific recommendations on using electrolytes.
Lack of a well-planned, proper deworming program can cause problems such as poor body condition, colic, and anemia.
These can result in poor health and poor performance, irreversible internal damage, or even death.
Consult your veterinarian for help in designing an effective deworming program.
The horse’s teeth must be checked regularly.
Notice how your horse is chewing its feed and whether feed is lost during chewing.
A loss of weight is often the result of sharp teeth and improperly chewed feed.
Sharp teeth can also affect bit comfort.
Establish regular teeth care with your veterinarian.
Weight, including that of the rider, is the greatest problem for the competitive horse.
The longer the event, the more that weight becomes a factor.
You should consider an overweight horse a problem and try to remove the excess weight during the conditioning period.
Extra weight may result in overheating, dehydration, and unnecessary stress on feet and legs.
A fat horse may get by on a cool or rainy day but may have big problems in heat and humidity.
As a general guideline, you should be able to feel, but not see, the ribs.
Optimum body condition scores for most competitive trail horses are 5.0 to 6.5 (on a scale of 1 to 9).
It is very important when conditioning an overweight horse to keep accurate records of pulse and respiration rates and how much time is needed for these rates to return to normal (recovery).
Regular and proper shoeing is very important.
Work closely with your farrier, and don’t hesitate to describe your horse’s problems.
Your horse’s shoes may wear out before it outgrows them, so you should check the wear on the shoes often.
A smooth bead of borium welded to the shoe will prevent excessive wear.
Plan your shoeing schedule so that new shoes are put on one to two weeks before the ride.
On average, horses need to have their feet trimmed or be reshod every six to eight weeks.
Don’t wait too long between regular shoeings.
Long toes put excessive strain on ligaments, tendons, and joints.
Injuries to these structures may take a long time to heal.
Your horse’s hooves will grow faster with frequent riding because of the greater blood supply to the foot caused by the extra work. The following table should give you an idea of what vital signs to expect from your horse: Type of work At rest Light work Medium work Heavy work
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