It is an amazing thing how a person can gain knowledge and experience and be fortunate enough to live and tell about it. When that kind of learning takes place it's usually called wisdom. Wisdom is when you are least likely to repeat former mistakes over and over.
So many articles on training and riding horses, center around using proper groundwork with horses before you ride them. This is the place where learning before doing needs to be established. Because it is time consuming, full of pitfalls, hard work and frustration, it is easy to skip this process in favor of “just getting up there” and trying to do it from the saddle instead. Unless you are very seasoned with experience and you have got great life insurance and a chiropractor that is not using wise horse education.
Where I gained a great deal of knowledge recently was in an unlikely place in the middle of Dallas, Texas. The holiday season and windy cold days inspired me to visit the city and I found myself spending a few days getting to visit family and friends. One day, I was waiting at a stop light and I looked over at a nearby park and saw two nice warm blood horses ridden by two men that appeared to be experienced and formerly trained dressage riders. This of course intrigued me because I love to see horses ridden in the city especially around nice parks and beautiful lakes. Often I’ll train my trail horses in these places to further our learning. The things a horse will encounter in the city can be much more stimulating than in the country. Bicycle riders, skaters, runners are just a few of the challenges when riding in parks. This is why I will often start my rides way before the weekend warriors begin to appear.
I always take a trusted horse and bring a couple of experienced riders with me too. I do not recommend a young, green inexperienced horse on these rides. Just like raising a child, before they go out in public manners at home must be established, understood and well rehearsed. A few practice outings never hurt either. It is so much less stressful in the long run and that is precisely my point concerning trail riders in the city.
After seeing the horses in the park I decided to go back the next day and investigate where these riders come from and went to check out the trails. Like many equestrian trails, horses have to adjust from grassy paths, dirt, rock and eventually sidewalks and streets. While the romantic lure of riding a horse through the pleasant trails and skyscrapers, all of it has been portrayed in movies. So has riding in the mountains, on beaches and in the snow. All of these were brought to you by Hollywood Special Effects, stuntmen, and trained horses that make it look easier than it really is.
The grassy meadow that I had seen them riding in was bordered by a calm, winding creek. Walking across their hoof prints was beginning to inspire me too and I followed them till I got to the cement walking path. This twisty path lead to a wooden bridge about fifty yards long then made a sharp turn into a narrow tunnel. This is when I became concerned. I wondered how those horses felt and dealt with crossing and going under these areas of the trail.
I kept walking and went through another narrow passage leading to another tunnel and both of them were surrounded by water on each side. After going under the tunnel, I pictured a rider having to turn his head sharp to the side to be able to clear the overhead which was very low. Next, came the stairs and that is when I saw the scrapes of horseshoes from a horse obviously struggling for traction. These were serious white grooves and scars on the pavement where it was obvious these horses were nervous and desperate to gain control. Between this and my concern for the blind turns they had to make unsure of an approaching hiker, biker or roller bladers, I decided this trail was not for me.
Anytime you risk losing traction on a horse you risk death or serious injury. Same is true with bicycles, motorcycles, trucks or walking on ice. When you ride next to water and the trail offers no safe alternate passage, it is probably not worth the risk just to see what is around the bend. Remember, you hold his life in your hands. Give your horse a way to travel that doesn’t put unnecessary stress or potential injury on both of you. As I’ve mentioned before when in doubt dismount and carefully lead your partner around or through potential hazards. If this isn’t possible turn around and go back, look for a new trail tomorrow. I wondered how many times they had done this before. I also wondered why they had not noticed or felt what looked like a near dangerous episode. Maybe they did or maybe to them that’s what riding always felt like.
A few tips:
1. When riding near streets and parking lots do not ride on painted surfaces such as parking stripes, loading zones or handicap areas – The paint is slick, like paint.
2. Do not ride over manhole covers or grates – They can fall through and cause leg injuries or worse.
3. Never trust that cars or motorcycles will see you – Same goes for pedestrians.
4. Dogs can be more trouble than is worth the friendly encounter – Smile, be polite and ride on. If they are very aggressive, turn your horse to the dog, not away. Few dogs will challenge 1000lbs. of animal with two heads.
5. Never let your horse graze without having control of them.
It’s a new year and you want to make it a fun, action packed, safe three hundred and sixty five days. Plot your ride, teach yourself and your horse what is important and that is growing old together. Ride the Wise Ride!