Trail

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Students who ride primarily on trails often ask me what kinds of exercises they can do to benefit their horses. If they don’t plan to be in an arena anytime soon, does that mean they can’t give their horses the gymnastic and core exercises that optimize their bodies and comfort?

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Most of us intend for our daily rides to improve our horse at some level, either by adding to his physical conditioning or progressing his training skills. But whether or not your horse actually makes these gains often comes down to the amount of time you spend on each phase of the ride. The format of your ride determines the outcome of physical improvement.

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“Let’s take a break here,” Rob LaFrance called from behind me. It was late May, 2019 and three of us were riding a 60-kilometre stretch of the historic Collins Overland Telegraph Trail in central British Columbia, which hadn’t been ridden in its entirety in at least half a century. The trip was an opportunity to ride along a piece of history, experience the challenges of those who had traveled before us, and celebrate the reopening of the trail.

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It would be better to base heart rate recovery tests in endurance competitions on each individual horse’s resting heart rate, according to the authors of a recent study. Veterinary check points (vet gates) are set up at various points along the route of an endurance race, to ensure that each horse is fit to continue the competition.

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What is it and how can it help horses and riders? Riders train horses to act in ways they deem positive, whether it’s jumping a jump, walking down a trail, or performing movements in an arena. But to train horses effectively and safely, riders, trainers, and coaches must understand how they learn and react. Over the past 15 years, equine scientists have researched the learning theory of horses — how horses process, retain knowledge, and learn. Equitation science applies this evidence-based learning theory of horses to horse training, and explains horse behaviour based on horses being horses – without attributing human emotions, ways of thinking, or behaviour, to them. It’s a burgeoning field that is changing the way many riders and trainers think and act.

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When it comes to cantering, riders seem to divide in two camps. In one camp are those who favour it above all else, while the other camp includes those who find it scary or unpleasant. I would like to add a third camp: riders who understand the unparalleled physiological benefits of cantering their horses. Beyond the obvious cardiovascular conditioning, cantering can improve muscle tone, symmetry, and flexibility more than other gaits. Let me explain this further, in addition to offering some tips and guidelines.

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We’ve all had a horse that was hesitant to go forward with ease and willingness. I want to share the story of one such colt I started recently, and some of the strategies I employed to help him “free up.” These techniques work well for horses of all ages. This article is ultimately about rider self-awareness, timing, and avoiding the overuse of pressure, which unintentionally dulls the horse. Take special note of the tips for success, and the pitfalls many riders face when their horse is dull to their aids.

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