As a keen and accomplished horse rider in the UK, I was looking forward to spending time on the ranch and getting out on the trails on horseback. I had a little bit of experience of horse riding Western from playing polocrosse and I was super excited about having a go being a cowgirl! I have always wanted my own cowboy boots and whilst in Vancouver at the beginning of my trip I couldn’t resist buying a pair of authentic Canadian Boulet boots to look the part.
I saw the trail horses as soon as we pulled into the horse ranch and at first I thought that there were not as many horses as I thought there would be (I was to be proved wrong later). The horses were in a pen and they were just relaxing in the sunshine- some were grooming one another, others were dozing.
I started to think about the horses back at home –sport horses, mostly dutch warmbloods and thoroughbreds, athletic and spirited types. These trail horses looked sturdy and compact and some of the most relaxed horses I have ever seen. Having studied Animal behavior at University I straight away made observations to the way the horses responded to their environment both here, and back at home. At home the horses are all stabled individually and they only spend a little time in the fields where they are turned out either alone or perhaps with one or two other horses. At the horse ranch there are a total of 36 trail horses with the majority turned out where they are able to roam free in the wilderness. The horses seem to form their own smaller social groups often seen in the same pairs of ‘friends’, or the same horses mutually grooming one another. They don’t all come back every day but they are often close by.
The trail horses are happy to come back to the horse ranch even though they have the choice to roam and take themselves off for many miles. They have all their physical and emotional needs met and so they are perfectly content. When they head out on trails as part of a ride they know where they are, they are sure footed and they are out with their friends – a novice/beginner rider could not be safer or more secure. Such a contrast to the powerful dressage horses at home – no wonder they are often hot headed! In comparison they have such a regimented lifestyle that is so far removed to being part of a herd and a horse living a holistic life. It is no wonder that people at home are often frightened of horses when they see them stressed and ‘misbehaving’ because their environment is not suitable for them.
As far as the actual horse riding goes, again it is so very different to English style. With Western horse riding it is all about long reins with no pressure on the bit and you have to neck rein, none of this collection and roundness. It is so very easy for beginners and novices to understand this and there is no tension for horse or rider.
I laughed to myself whilst out on a trail ride…We spend so many hours in the arena riding over poles and doing different schooling exercises to try and get our horses fit and supple and here I am on a trail horse going up and down mountain sides, over bedrock, through water and high stepping over fallen branches – the fittest, most supple and most capable horse I have probably ever ridden!