In which I talk about how to train horses to meet weird stuff on-trail

It's one of those "common wisdoms" among horse people that you should always train in private for the circumstances you will meet in public.

That's good advice. It's total nonsense, of course, but still it's good advice.

Let me 'splain by giving an example:

One time, many years ago, I rode my old mare Story up in the hills above the house where we lived then. It was an ordinary day, and an ordinary ride, on trails we used all the time. We headed up to the top of the hill on an old logging road, and I planned to ride part of the ridgetrail there and then cut back down on another trail, through the neighbor's back yard and home again.

I reckoned without the helicopter.

The land where I rode in those days was logging land, owned by Weyerhaeuser or Georgia-Pacific, or one of the other big lumber companies. Logging companies are, for the most part, really good neighbors. They are only on-site for a few months every ten or twenty years. They usually give permission for local hunters and hikers (and horseback riders) to use the logging roads. Even when they don't actively give permission for us to explore and build trails on their hills, logging company reps aren't around to chase us out very often, which is pretty much the same as giving permission as far as I can tell.

So in those days I was all over the hills, following logging roads and deer trails, and building trails of my own. My mare learned all the essential skills that a trail horse needs to know, including the most essential skill of all: trusting the rider.

We came up the side of a hill one day and at the very top we came upon a crop-dusting helicopter. The contraption was parked at the top of the hill, in the middle of the trail. The engine was turned off, but the rotors were still spinning slowly, so I guessed it hadn't been parked there very long. The pilot was nowhere in sight.

Story was a little non-plussed. She had seen plenty of machines in her days on the racetrack, including trucks and tractors and starting gates and who knows what else. She'd seen plenty of stuff while travelling with me, including all the machinery associated with a working logging camp: bulldozers and boom rigs and semitrucks and chainsaws.

But she'd never seen a helicopter on the trail before.

I admit it: I had never seen a helicopter on the trail before, either.

How do you train your horse for something like that?

The answer, obviously, is that you can't train your horse to be helicopter-safe, unless you have a helicopter handy for frequent practice sessions, which I didn't.

However, I had taken her into plenty of weird situations before we met the helicopter.

Early in our career together, I got into the habit of riding into town (about 7 miles) to the little hamburger drive-in, where I ordered a cheeseburger and fries for myself, and a really big cup of water and some sugarpackets for Story. She was a big hit with the restaurant staff and the customers, and as a byproduct, learned to accept things like cars, traffic lights, and the sliding window at the drivein.

Another time, we were up on top of Blanchard Mountain, and as usual, I knew only vaguely where we were (but I can always find my way home, which is an important skill). I didn't realize that the big open space we had found was the launching spot for the local hang-gliders.

It wasn't exactly labeled "Hang-Glider Crossing."

But there we were, munching our lunches, when *flappity-flappity-flappity*, along came a very nice fellow and his brightly-colored wings. I pulled a sugar packet out of my pocket, and handed it to the nice fellow to feed to my mare. She saw the packet, and forgave the fellow for his weird wings immediately. No problem.

So it was that the day Story and I met the helicopter, she wasn't worried about the machine.

Oh no.

She was hunting for the pilot.

She figured that anybody with a rig that weird-looking was certain to have sugar packets.


  1. It's true that you simply can't prepare them for everything. Especially when they spook at nothing you can see or hear.

  2. Very cute. I can imagine Story's disappointment when a rain of sugar packets failed to fall from the helicopter!

  3. Hilarious! I've never heard of a crop-dusting helicopter. The strangest thing I ever saw on trail was a burned-out car, in the middle of the woods. The strangest thing Dixie's ever seen is a particularly ominous boulder. You never know about horses.

  4. Wow! Too cool! I also used to take my horse through the local drive-thru. I joke that there are about a thousand pictures of Rocky and I in Japan (because the drive-thru I rode in was on route to a major tourist resort and a few hundred Japanese tourists would be standing outside their bus taking pictures of me when I rode through!)

    Rocky was sure to get a apple fritter! lol Great story. The memories made on horseback are always ones that stick:)

  5. drive thru, check.

    scary things. just today, i took baasha for a walk, and there were FOUR donkeys in a field full of horses. the horses gathered round to say hello, and baasha was peering over their heads, and around them, rapt, trying to get a good look at those long eared animals. the donkeys were intimidated by the horses, so they only approached later, and baasha went to snorting and declaring how wrong and unnatural they are.

    i fancy buying a donkey, and teaching him what a good buddy one can be. i am sure he would adapt.

    the funny part was how the horses were all right there, making cute faces at him, and he was totally blind to them. it must have perplexed him that the horses did not seem to notice the strange creatures living with them.

    i stayed long enough to watch the behavior of the donkeys, cuz i am curious too they act like horses? do they use their ears like horses? they sure make strange noises.

    if i had a donkey, i would name it "donkey", of course.



Post a Comment

To err is human. To be anonymous is not.

Popular posts from this blog

In which we take (metaphoric) coals to Newcastle by boat and barge

In which it's that time again: we're headed for Sawmill Flats to build trails