There is perhaps no other sentence involving horses, horsemanship, or horse training that irritates me worse than the title of this blog post. To insinuate that a trail or mountain horse is somehow a lesser beast than his or her show horse counterparts is a ridiculous statement. I have heard this comment phrased in one way or another many times over the years, and it never gets less irritating to me.
A couple of years ago I was recovering from a broken L1 and L2 vertebrae and had a well bred quarter horse filly that was ready to be started under saddle. In my physical state at the time, I had absolutely no desire to give this horse her first rides. I found a gal to start the horse for me that summer and went down to drop the horse off and have a discussion with this "trainer". The young lady asked me what I was going to use the horse for, and it was pretty apparent that she was somewhat disgusted with my response. Her reply amounted to "Why do you need a performance horse to ride in the mountains"? This comment alone instantly made me question my decision to bring my horse to this idiot. Roughly two weeks later, the young lady called me. During this conversation, the gal explained to me that I really don't need such a nice little horse to simply ride around in the mountains. Her proposition was that I trade her my nice little filly that I had bought essentially as a weanling in exchange for a 4 year old grade mare with a hernia that she was trying to sell anyway (she conveniently left out the hernia part, a friend of mine saw it later). It is my belief to this day that my little mare did not quite get the training that I paid for from this "trainer" simply due to the fact that I wanted her to be a mountain horse and the gal most likely thought I would not know the difference between a well trained horse and a barely trained horse. What should I expect, she is just a trail horse anyway.
The fact that some believe that a trail or mountain horse is somehow less deserving of being properly trained boggles my mind. The situations that these horses may (and likely will) encounter should be enough for the owner or rider to want an above average handle on said horse. Excellent control of the horse as well as a relaxed mind should be the goal, and this occurs through proper training (that being said, some horses will never have a relaxed mind, that is just the way it is). The foundational elements of training a horse intended to be used in the mountains or on the trail should be given just as much effort and expectation (from the horse) as if being trained to enter any other discipline. There are many things that I don't and likely won't expect my horses to do in the mountains, but when I ride them on a conditioning ride or in an arena, I absolutely make them do more than they would while riding up to pack out an elk or riding around scouting for critters. The fact is, when you need your horse to be able to do something specific while out and about, hopefully the horse has been trained on such a maneuver. It's a little bit like carrying a gun in my opinion. I would much rather my horse have some extra skills (the gun) that he or she may never need to use, than need a skill (again, the gun) once and not have it because of undertraining. Just a trail horse or not, he or she should be trained as well as the owner can manage or afford. These are simply my opinions on the matter of trail horses, and although some of you may not agree with me, I bet some of you do. Safe travels friends!