Trail Tips: When to water, lead across obstacles, don’t allow your horse to eat with a bit
Take Water Breaks
Horses should have access to clean water at least twice a day. Normally, a horse will drink 8-12 gallons of water a day, but that can increase to as much as 20 on a hot day. Planning the daily riding schedule so that horses can drink along the trail will reduce the amount of time spent watering horses in camp.
Riders should not stop to water along the trail whenever they feel like it, thus holding up the rest of the ride. Other horses will want to rush to catch up. If possible pick a safe, designated watering spot with good footing. Excerpted from the Certified Horsemanship Association Trail Guide Manual (available at cha-ahse.org).
Get Off and Lead
It’s okay to dismount and lead your horse when you come to difficult situations on the trail. In fact, it’s the right thing to do when safety and control are at stake, such as when crossing a bridge. In a precarious situation, it’s better to have a safe, successful outcome than to fight with your horse, putting you both at risk of an injury.
You’ll have more confidence on the ground. And your horse will gain courage when he sees you crossing the obstacle safely ahead of him. As herd animals, horses naturally follow other horses and feel safer if another horse is in front of them.
By leading your horse, you’ll accomplish the immediate goal of safely crossing the obstacle. You can then address the training issue in a safe environment.
Lead your horse from the side, if possible, in case he rushes forward. If he’s skittish, use the lead rope to keep him from pushing into your space. He might try to jump into your space out of fear, thinking that the spot in which you’re standing as the only safe place.
Slowly lead your horse across the problem obstacle, one step at a time. Then mount up, and continue on your way.
— Top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight (www.juliegoodnight.com)
Remove the Bit
When you stop for lunch along the trail, take an extra few minutes to remove the bridle and bit, and allow your horse to graze wearing just a halter.
Even if the bit you’re using allows your horse to swallow and relax as you ride, the bit isn’t made to allow him to eat comfortably. The forage has to get past the bit — and his tongue is already filling his mouth and palate.
Plus, your horse could step on the reins while grazing (if you ground-tie with a split rein), then pull up on the bit, damaging his mouth.
Have a halter underneath the bridle, take a halter with you in your saddlebags, or invest in a halter-bridle that allows you to drop out the bit, and you’ll avoid causing your horse discomfort.
— Dale Myler, Myler Bits