The Best Horse for Trail Riding, with Trail Riding Videos
Horseback Riding - Trail Riding Horses
I'm a big fan of horseback riding, especially trail riding. I’ve owned, bred, and worked with several breeds of saddle horses. These include the American Quarter Horse, the Appaloosa, the Tennessee Walking Horse, the Arabian, the Thoroughbred, the Paint, the Palomino, draft breeds, the Morgan, the Welsh Pony, and the Shetland Pony. Over the years, I’ve been involved with barrel racing, pole bending, reining, halter competition, Western pleasure, and cutting and herding cattle. My most enjoyable equine activity, however, has always been trail riding.
People have often asked me my opinion about the best breed of horse for trail riding. That’s a difficult question to answer. I’m not talking about endurance trail riding, where Arabians are hands down the best choice – I’m talking about hopping on a horse and tackling a tough trail not for competition, but just for the sheer joy of being in the great outdoors on the back of a good steed.
Much of the answer depends on what you’re looking for in a trail horse and what type of trail ride you'll be experiencing. For example, if you want comfort, the Tennessee Walker is hard to beat. If you need a horse that can climb steep hills, a Quarter Horse or an Appaloosa would be a good choice.
Of all the horses I’ve ever owned or ridden on trails, the very best was a buckskin mare named Poco – or Poker, as I sometimes called her. She was a Quarter Horse-Thoroughbred cross and was an amazing saddle horse. This will undoubtedly surprise some knowledgeable horsemen who are reading, since Thoroughbreds are often known for their high-strung, nervous personalities. This was not the case with my Poker girl. She never got spooked!
Poker was incredibly calm, even as a two-year-old, which was how old she was when I got her. She had only been ridden a couple of times, so it was up to me to formally train her. Even from the beginning, she was unflappable, bombproof. I’m sure much of this came from her Quarter Horse blood, a breed known for its even temperament.
Poco also had nice hindquarters that gave her the power to climb steep inclines – and I mean steep! When I think about all the places Poco and I went, it sometimes scares me. I’ll attribute her musculature to her Quarter Horse ancestry, too.
I think most of the rest of her trail ride attributes came from her Thoroughbred side, however. There’s an old saying that a Thoroughbred throws its heart over a jump or other obstacle first, then its body follows. This certainly seemed to be the case with Poco. She gladly went where other horses feared to tread.
I remember once, the dam we had to walk along to return to the barn had partially collapsed, due to heavy spring rains. All of us riders had to go around the other side of the pond to get back to the barn. The rushing waters had created a deep precipice that was about eight feet wide or so.
My horsey friends and I had a terrible habit of racing back to the barn after a trail ride. I know now how foolish that was, but I was young and daring. Poco and I always won – always. She was super fast. On this particular day, we were racing, as usual, and Poco and I both forgot about the gulch. By the time I remembered it, it was too late – we were upon it. I had no choice but to hang on and utter a quick prayer. Poco sailed over the crevasse and got us safely to the other side, as if it was just all in a day’s work to her. Once we were safe and sound at the barn, I marveled at her great fortitude. Most horses would have balked at the last second, sending their rider flying headlong into the muddy water.
As I said, I was young and foolish, so the next day, I decided to try the jump again. I wondered if Poco would take the leap now that her memory of the precipice had been jogged. I got a slight running start, and Poco once again leapt the deep ditch smoothly. It became common for us to jump the ravine instead of taking the long way round.
Of course, the other riders at the stables took notice and wanted to try their hand at the jump. Winning hunter-jumpers were included in this group, but not a single horse other than Poco would attempt the leap. They would slide to a grinding halt instead of taking the leap of faith. My heart swelled with enormous pride.
At other times, my riding friends and I would encounter wide streams and sections of swamps that stood in our paths on the trails. The other horses would often fidget or paw the water, not wanting to cross the wet obstacle. Poco, however, plowed right in. They never bothered her in the least.
She was also great around traffic. I rode her in shopping mall parking lots, across interstate bridges, and in downtown parades with no problems. Sometimes mean-spirited teenage boys would try to scare the horses with their four-wheelers or by driving up behind our mounts and honking their car horns. Again, while the other horses often shied, Poco paid the noise no attention at all.
I don’t entirely credit Poco’s amazing trail skills to her breeding. I think much of it was due to trust. She totally trusted me and recognized me as both her master and friend. I think she would have been willing to do anything to please me.
I've owned and ridden a lot of horses, but Poco stands out in my memory as the best one of all. She was the sweetest, most willing equine I've ever known. Just spending time grooming her or talking to her was an enjoyable, fulfilling experience, and trail riding her was a real joy.
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