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Trail Blazer Magazine

Tails Wins!

Learn the art of tailing and have a safe, versatile trail horse

By Jenny Lance and Angelia Robinette-Dublin

Who says a trail horse isn’t a performance horse?

 It seems like many folks believe that a trail horse is just a horse that doesn’t show. Many believe a trail horse should be a lot less expensive to buy than a show horse. We beg to differ! We believe a good trail horse is invaluable.

One skill that a trail horse in particular should possess above the show horse is “tailing.” This is the art of safely allowing you to hold onto your horse’s tail from behind when encountering extremely steep terrain or terrain where you need to give your horse a break, but you need some support negotiating it.

This may be a skill you think you may never need, but if you wind up in a pickle, you’ll be glad you practiced at home and maybe even on the trail itself at some point. These skills are like insurance. You hope you never need it, but you are sure glad you have it if you do.

As always, start in a safe enclosure like a round pen, arena, fenced pasture or a safe, flat dirt trail or driveway until you hone both your own and your horse’s skills.


An Advanced Skill

Tailing is an advanced skill built on a solid foundation of love, clear/consistent communication and leadership. You must have an established partnership with your horse to successfully teach tailing. As the photo shoot for this article approached, it became clearer with each step just how important each of the blocks in your training program are. Every skill is added once certain blocks are in place just as if we were building a wonderful home.

Imagine that your basement wall started to buckle as you were building a second-story addition onto your home. You would know that your foundation was not strong enough for what you are putting on top of it. Your horse’s development is similar. A smart individual would jack up the home, have a mason properly repair the wall, and gently set the home back in place. Someone else may slap a little mortar on it and call it good. That person can expect that wall to buckle again or even cave in at some point later. You want to be the prudent homeowner who takes proper care of your foundation so your new home endures the test of time. The point is, if holes show up in your training (see the bold type for building blocks that need to be in place,) go back and work on those little pieces before attempting tailing.


Building Blocks of Tailing

You never want to tie your horse while introducing him to scary objects during any training session, including this one! You also want to make sure you are noticing his body language, eyes, mouth, skin, tail and ears. Never progress to a more aggressive stage until your horse is completely relaxed and confident with your current level.

We are always working on physical, emotional and mental fitness. Ears should be relaxed and forward (one may be tuned into you for communication, but will not be moving rapidly.) Eyes will be soft. Your horse may yawn, lick, chew and show other signs of relaxation such as snorting or breathing out. His lips will not be quivering or flapping if he is confident.

Make sure to wait and allow your horse to think and relax throughout each lesson. You can break this lesson up into baby steps and do not need to complete it all in one day. Take your time and it will take less time! Even your horse’s skin and tail can communicate relaxation. Neither will be tight. The skin will not be twitching nor will the tail be swishing (unless. Of course, you have flies!) .


Whoa and Go

You have to get good at the “go forward” cue and leading at a walk and trot. Your horse should walk, trot and back up when you do without rein or lead rope pressure. He should follow your breath out and/or whoa to stop (you will need this when you are behind him later) and your focus for direction. He will have to understand giving to pressure. Your horse should be also good with you handling and pulling on his tail and rubbing his rump. Make sure your horse is sacked out from things around his rump and is comfortable dragging objects (NO kicking!)

Driving with two ropes is an easy way to stay out of the kick zone and get your horse accustomed to ropes around his “end zone”. Caution: do not try this with a horse that kicks, for your own safety. Address that before teaching this lesson!

The photos will show each step of the process. Remember that even these steps have baby steps that make each of them possible. If you are not clear on how to be successful at even one of these steps, research that first and master it. It is not worth building a house, or a horse, on a weak foundation. Teach each step until your horse understands and do not forget to let him dwell on each piece of the lesson.

 Notice and Reward

At all times, notice the smallest effort and reward it. Also, notice any time your horse even thinks of traveling off the straight line so you can make small corrections and do not need to get to the bigger correction of the twirl, for example. We are showing you how to do the twirl, but hopefully you can just wiggle your lead to get that nose back over. Also, be sure you claim your space. Be a confident leader. This means you will not allow your horse to drag you to the right nor will you allow him to push you to the left. Steer your horse! If he veers away from you, use your right hand to get a feel on the rope in front of your left hand instead of just bringing your left arm further to your left. This will give you more feel as if you are fishing or reeling him in. 


Tail Time!

When you get to actual tailing, remember to gently hold onto the tail below the dock with your inside hand. Stand behind your horse but still off to the side. Gradually add pressure against the tail as if he was helping to pull your body weight up hill. This takes lots of practice! When you get this you can then try a small hill, then the big hill and so on. Soon, your horse will be pulling you along. You cannot completely hang on the tail, but must use some of your own energy to move forward as well.

Keep in mind that the more communication and skills you have had time to work on at home may save your life on the trail.


Holistic Horse Magazine

Connect With Your Horse, Naturally!


It seems like many folks believe that a trail horse is just a horse that doesn’t show.  Many believe that a trail horse should be a lot less expensive to buy than a show horse. We here at “Live To Ride” beg to differ! We believe a good trail horse is invaluable.


The strong connection you have with your horse, the real partnership no matter what your discipline, is the difference between being good and being great.  In few disciplines other than Trail Riding, Endurance, or real cowboy work do you have to stay connected to your horse for such a long period of time.  Talk about being “on!” You and your horse have to be mentally fit as well as physically and emotionally fit to endure hours on the trail. This again is why a trail horse IS a performance horse.   


If you can stay connected to your horse mentally and physically for hours on the trail, you will be safer.  Your horse will know that you are aware of everything he or she is feeling, thinking, or seeing and they will know that you are going to be there as his or her leader to offer direction, comfort, confidence, reinforcement and more as you encounter scary things and varying terrain.


This partnership starts on the ground with every day things.  Be aware that you are starting your connection every time your horse first spots you and comes to you.  We don’t chase our horse to halter him to start our sessions.  We teach our horse to come to us and bring his or her head to the halter every time consistently through patience and the approach retreat methodology.  Take the time it takes in the beginning and it takes less time overall. 


Don’t just take off and leave your horse behind when you head toward the barn or arena.  Stay with your horse and keep your horse with you.  Practice college level leading every time you lead your horse.  Mirror your horse to get into sync…he will be surprised and you will be amazed that you become more connected.  Make a habit of asking for excellence…raise your expectations and teach your horse as you work around him even if you are just cleaning his stall.  Ask him or her to move his or her body parts instead of you moving your feet.  Leaders do not get moved around by their horses.


Begin your riding session by doing a few ground exercises if possible.  A good idea is to do a few minutes of college level leading (your horse mirrors you…speed, direction etc) or move hips and shoulders just to get your horse’s mind in the work mode.  You might also practice what you will be working on that day in the saddle:  sidepass, obstacles, or shoulders on a “clock” if you plan to spin, or a turn on the forehand. 


Then mount up and stay connected.  If you absolutely refuse to do ground work first, take some time to warm up your horse properly and be sure you are connected before you go out on the trail or start a teaching session.  This “prep” time allows you get a feel for your horse’s mood and physical condition at that moment…is he grumpy, lame, distracted, exhuberant?  Go through a series of exercises such as allowing your horse to move without guiding his direction or speed in a small, enclosed area to get a feel for your balance.  When he stops, rest and pet him.  Then ask softly for “go” again.  Then move on and ride with focus from one point to another point to create impulsion.  Again rest at each stop.  Then, try serpentines for flexion and bend.  Warm up at all gaits and even try a low jump to make sure you are ready for the trail (simulates your horse taking a big mis-step and making sure you can ride that!)


If you are in the saddle on a long rein on the trail, you will want to keep your seat connected because you are still in a vulnerable position on top of your horse and want to make sure he stays aware of your presence even while you are relaxing.  At minimum, keep your mind connected.  If you are standing still, occasionally talk to him and pet him to remind him that you are there.


While trail riding, you may be tempted to just sit back, not guide your horse, and simply be a passenger.  This can be a dangerous proposition and can also break your connection.  You may not hear your horse tell you that he is worried about something ahead because you don’t notice the hesitation in his step or that his ears perk up and his head goes up.   “When your horse whispers, listen.”  At this point, you will want to let him know that you are aware of his concern.  As his leader, you will stay focused ahead even if your horse stops.  Let him know you understand that he has a concern.  When are you sure he will move forward again, you ask.  Now your horse knows that he can rely on you for comfort and security even when he loses confidence (even if its just for a moment.)  If you completely miss this communication from your horse, you are not doing your part as a leader. 


Your trail horse has to do many things at one time…maintain gait, be aware of predators (a natural instinct,) listen to his leader, pay attention to the terrain and so on.  We, too, must multi-task on the trail.  We can talk to our friends and enjoy the scenery while still staying connected to our partner through our seat, our voice, our reins, and our brains.  Yes, it may sound exhausting, but it doesn’t get much better than a fabulous trail ride on a trusty steed.  A trail horse IS a performance horse (for hours at a time!)


When you have completed your session or ride and return your horse to the field or stall, make a clear break much like you do when you release a dog in dog training with the OK command.  OK…now its time to be just a horse. 


Keep in mind that the more communication and skills you work on at home may save your life.  Happy Trails!


copyright 2009-11


America's Horse (AQHA)

The Mid-South Horse Review


Speed Control


It seems like many folks believe that a trail horse is just a horse that doesn’t show.  Many believe that a trail horse should be a lot less expensive to buy than a show horse.  We here at “Live To Ride” beg to differ!  We believe a good trail horse is invaluable.


It is said that if a horse is walking faster than you want it to walk it is a “run-a-way.”  This is said because your horse is not listening to you, but is choosing its own speed.  You are in the driver’s seat just like in a car.  You decide the speed you want to travel, not your horse.


A horse has a “slow spot” (the shoulder) and a “go spot” (the hip or engine.)  An important point is to practice at home as we do with all exercises before heading out on the trail.  If you have control at home 90% of the time, you need to expect you will only have 50% control on the trail.  Distractions of any kind impede your horse’s ability to respond.  Once you are solid without distractions, practice and train with them at home and then on the trail.  YES…you do need to “train” while trail riding until your horse is solid on the trail!


Take the time to teach your horse to respond to your seat and one rein slow down cues and your seat and leg aids to speed up.  Do this at the walk, trot, and canter.  Don’t forget to also teach the all-important emergency stop, too.


Its easier to train all of this in a snaffle bit because it gives you one rein control side to side as well as front to back.  However, you may have to take baby steps and work your way to using a snaffle on the trail with control.  Add steps so you stay safe whenever you need to in your training. 


Your trail horse is a performance horse and just like a performance show horse learns it patterns at home first, you need to practice in a safe enclosure at home.  Once you are confident you have the control you need, you can venture out to the beautiful wide-open spaces.  Remember… your life may depend on it!


Submitted by Professional Trainers Jenny Lance and Angie Robinette-Dublin of 2008 copyright

The Horseman's Corral


The COURAGE of Performance Trail Horse!


It seems like many folks believe that a trail horse is just a horse that doesn’t show.  Many believe that a trail horse should be a lot less expensive to buy than a show horse.  We here at “Live To Ride” beg to differ!  We believe a good trail horse is invaluable.


It may not have occurred to you that a trail horse has to make decisions many times on a trail ride.  Many of these decisions actually equate to Life or Death decisions in the horse’s world.  A horse is genetically predisposed to try and survive.  That is why a tarp or a mud puddle can be such a huge obstacle for them.  They have no idea if it is going to suck them in, be 10 ft deep, be loaded with poisonous snakes and so on.


As a strong leader your horse TRUSTS and respects, you can “take the lead” and they will follow through this possibly dangerous obstacle.  You have to be careful NOT to break that trust.  Do not take them into something dangerous.  Be sure you are SURE that it is going to be safe for both of you.  If you have poor judgment (leadership,) you will find that you have created a problem in your relationship just as you would by breaking the trust between friends or spouses.  It takes a ton of courage for your horse to walk through and over unknown obstacles. 


Imagine if four times in 4 hours we asked you to step into a pit of venomous spiders, quick sand, water full of alligators, and a jungle of hanging snakes!  We wouldn’t do it!  So figure out how much trust it takes and confidence in your leadership abilities for your horse to do that!  If you haven’t established a relationship built on TRUST (on the ground, everyday working around your horse, and in the saddle,) trail riding is going to be more challenging and less enjoyable for you!


You also need to allow your horse to build his own confidence through groundwork, games, and offering the lead occasionally.  Many horses like to make some of the decisions and you have to be OK with that and TRUST your horse just like you expect them to TRUST you.  All relationships are two-way streets with responsibilities required from both partners.  Think of your relationship with your horse like a marriage and you’ll get the idea about a how big of a deal it is.  You made a commitment to care for your horse through thick and thin, work through tough times, and create a partnership. 




If you do not have the skills you need, enlist the help of a professional trainer in your area to help you gain them.  Audit or participate in a clinic or rent DVDs to learn more!  A horse is an incredibly courageous animal.  It even states it in the Bible.  Sometimes you have to help them develop their courage, but you can do it!


A COURAGEOUS horse is invaluable.  On the trail, your life may depend on courage, wisdom, and a great partnership with your horse!


Submitted by Professional Trainers Jenny Lance (AQHA Professional Horseman) and Angie Robinette-Dublin (Josh Lyons Accredited Trainer) of 2008 copyright


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