TRUE TRAINING 70 - On the Trail in Golden Slippers
Sasquatch finally has hoof boots! You might recall from Post 67 that True’s feet are very hard to fit because they are wider than they are long. Not to mention, BIG. And with a giant flare on the right front that grows out in the middle of his trim cycle.
So I’m happy to report that True (now nicknamed Sasquatch, or Sassy for short) has finally been fitted with hoof boots. Because he’s barefoot year-round, boots are a useful backup in case of unexpected hoof problems and good protection for an easy trail ride.
My preference was a plain black boot. But of course the only boots that fit Sassy are the Blings—shiny gold metallic outers, with four big studs that look like giant sequins. Around the barn, we call them True’s “golden slippers.” To play the role of a wealthy basketball star, the only other thing he needs is a rhinestone-covered grille on his front teeth!
True has been ridden around the ranch on dirt driveways for two years now, and one day a few months ago we accompanied a friend down some local dirt roads. (These “roads” haven’t seen a car in years; don’t worry.) But he doesn’t have any experience heading off across country.
So last week three of my friends, riding three of True’s friends, accompanied us on our first Bling-assisted excursion. I had already worked True in the arena for 45 minutes, so this “trail ride” was really only a cooling-out walk. The plan was to create the perfect entry to trail riding for a young horse—trusted friends, short distance, no sudden explosions, and an overall calm experience. We got three out of four.
We all walked a mile away from the ranch on dirt roads, then headed off on a soft path through sage brush and juniper trees. The biggest danger was big prairie dog holes, but they were few and far between—easy to see and maneuver around at a walk. True watched everything, his head swinging right then left, ears moving. But he remained calm. I let him look as much as he wanted to and tried to keep the reins long enough to give him some freedom but not lose control. He observed his buddies, who were walking calmly, and followed suit.
Placidity continued until we turned back. Suddenly, the mare in front of True spooked, skittered, and crow-hopped up the trail ahead of him. I was very curious to see how he would react. He did… well, nothing. He just stopped, with the other horses behind him, and watched his palomino friend hop up the trail—quick swerve to the right, two bucks, a bit of trot, quick swerve toward the fence, turned back by the rider, then two more hops and done. I was so proud of Trooper for not reacting. When the palomino came to rest, he waited for me to ask him to move forward, then did so calmly. What a guy!
On our second boot-testing ride, we cut across country without a path. This time, we were with only one other horse and rider, but it’s an older horse True knows well. All went smoothly until we approached one of the ranch turnouts from the back side. The horses in it decided they had to “greet” True and his friend by running and bucking inside their large turnout. True got excited, danced around, and worried me. If he took off, I would not be able to see the large prairie dog holes amidst the dry grass. He could easily step in one at a gallop.
So my friend and I turned our horses back the way we had come to avoid any surprises. The first few experiences of anything new should be calm and positive for the horse, not scary or risky. True settled down in only a few steps, and we walked the long way home without incident.
Boring? Maybe, but what a great experience for a young horse! Easy, positive, calm. These are the kinds of trail experiences I want him to have. We’ll keep at it, a little farther each time.