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Time for Trail Riding!

“No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.”  Winston Churchill

As mountain residents, we enjoy some of the most beautiful trails in the nation to ride our horses on.  Not just a few, but several right in our backyards, not to mention the amazing places all over our state.  Riders down the hill go to a lot of effort just to come to our local trails.  While many local horse people are very comfortable riding local trails, others may need people to ride with or the fear of the unknown keeps them from venturing out.  Some friends moving here from the west coast noted that in California, horse riders are more concentrated into communities, but here we are spread out and it can be difficult to connect.

Margi Evans, author of Riding Colorado I, II & III spoke at the March Intermountain Horse Association meeting.  Not only is she a lovely person, she is a trail blazing dynamo with her large Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods that she also shows in 4th level Dressage.  Trail riders come from all disciplines and use trail riding as a break from the arena or a horses usual job.  Of course it is also a great way to socialize, enjoy riding and Colorado with friends and family.

As trail riders, we hold quite a bit of responsibility in our hands.  Our most important job (other than staying alive) is as horse riding ambassadors to keep the trails and parking lots accessible to our horses and rigs.  It is no secret that the majority of the local trail users are bikers and hikers.  We are the minority, but pedestrians and bikers must yield to us, because plainly, we could be killed if something goes awry.  Hold that privilege and responsibility with appreciation and respect.

Be kind, be aware of your surroundings.  Most bikers and hikers encountered are aware of our frailty and predicament.  As prey animals, horses get a little nervous when encountering fast moving people on wheels and people hiding in bushes ready to pounce on them, not to mention the dog that has been waiting for the chance for a good sniff of a horse.  The majority pull off the trail, stand in a conspicuous place and talk to the horses.  Avoid being rude or bossy.  We need to get along with our fellow trail users.  Start a pleasant conversation with them to get them talking.  Let them know that your horse needs to see and hear them.

Be proactive and aware of your surroundings.  If possible, put the more trail savvy horses at the front and back of your party.  That way if a bike comes up quickly, the horse is less likely to fear it is a mountain lion.  Of course, stay on the trail (unless muddy) and walk while passing other trail users.  If you are on a young horse or one with little trail experience, keep your eyes open and as soon as you see a bike or person, talk to your horse and the person.  If the trail allows, turn your horse toward the person/bike as soon as you notice them so your horse can get a good look at them.  If possible, pony young horses initially off of more experienced horses to get them used to the trails and other users.

Venturing first on more open trails is wise.  Open trails give your horse a chance to see someone coming from a distance.  You can step off the trail and let your horse see the bike coming.  Some open trails under an hour from our area are Bear Creek Lake Park, Chatfield Park, parts of Elk Meadow and Mount Falcon.

Take care of each other and ride to the level of the least experienced horse or rider in your party.  If you want to go on a fitness ride, go out with others with the same goal.  If you are meeting various friends and friends of friends, consider it more social and be flexible.  Although in our mountains, no matter the speed, you and your horse will get a work out.    Get a feel for the other riders and their horses.  If you think you might want to trot, ask everyone in the party if they would be comfortable first.  Then, let them know when you are transitioning back to a walk.  A big no-no in trail riding is to take off at a canter/gallop without warning.  This is very unkind to your fellow riders.  Many a person has been bucked off or taken off with because of such idiocy.

Some of our best local horse trails include Alderfer Three Sisters, Kenosha Pass, Pine Valley Ranch, Elk Meadow Park, Flying J, Beaver Brook Watershed, Mount Evans Wilderness, Gashouse Gulch, Little Scraggy Peak and Miller Gulch.  I recommend going early or later in the day, even after dinner is a great time during our long daylight hours in the summer.  In addition, weekdays can be wonderfully quiet at local parks.

To meet more horse people to ride with, become a member of local groups like Intermountain Horse Association, Jefferson County Horse Council and the Buffalo Bill Saddle Club that has recently been reformed.  Riding horses is one of the most natural ways to experience the beauty and peacefulness of the mountains.  Wildlife are more comfortable with our horses than people on their own and horses can take us places we would struggle to go without them.  Stay safe and enjoy your summer riding around our beautiful state with your horses and friends!

Resources:

Margi Evans’ Riding Colorado I – II and III books are a must have for Colorado trail riders.

ridingcolorado.equineexplorer.com

mtnhomes4horses.com/category/trail_guide

jeffco.us/open-space/parks/

horsechannel.com/horse-news/2013/09/13-trail-etiquette.aspx

Heather McWilliams © 2017

Working Equitation – It may not be what you think it is!

When I first heard of Working Equitation, I only heard the last word, Equitation and had flashbacks of rail classes growing up and in college.  Of uncomfortably hollowing out my back to get the right look for the judges.  Please forgive me Equitation stars, but that is my memory.  Then sometime this year, I saw a YouTube video on Facebook of Pedro Torres of Portugal on one of several fabulous Lusitanos he rides in an event called Working Equitation.  I was intrigued.  High speed, over and around obstacles with impeccable form and finesse.  It was kind of like Dressage, at high speed with obstacles.

Reviewing past information I had come across with my newfound knowledge of this sport, I realized that people in our community had already been honing their skills in Working Equitation (WE).

Italy, France, Spain and Portugal pioneered WE.  The discipline was created as a way to enhance the riding techniques developed in countries whose riders use horses in different aspects of ranch and fieldwork.  The goal of WE is to preserve and perpetuate each country’s style of equitation as well as their cultural traditions of dress and tack.

The first international competition was in 1996 and in 2004 the World Association for Working Equitation (WEWA) was established to govern the sport.  WE has continued to grow throughout Europe and is rapidly catching on in the Americas.  Christina 1 al sh100WEWA rules are used for international competitions, but each individual country maintains their own rules.

In WE competition, there are four trials or tests that make up the event. The first three, Dressage, Ease of Handling, and Speed, are required for both individual and team competitions. The fourth trial, Cattle Handling, is included for team competitions. It is mandatory at national championship competitions and encouraged at all other competitions when facilities allow. From the www.weiausa.com website:

Dressage – Dressage tests are ridden at each level. Each movement is given a numerical score, and collective marks are given for impulsion, compliance, calmness, rider’s position, etc. The dressage tests are designed to both test the horse and rider as well as to serve as an aid in training. The movements at each successive level build upon movements of the previous levels and coincide with the type and difficulty of movements expected in the Ease of Handling and Speed trials at the corresponding levels.

Ease of Handling – Obstacles are set up to simulate the difficulties encountered by a horse and rider in the field. Obstacles are numbered and are ridden in order. The goal of this trial is to negotiate the obstacles with accuracy, ease, and smoothness.

Speed – The obstacles utilized in the Ease of Handling trial are ridden at speed with no emphasis on style. Individual scores are based on elapsed time through the obstacles with time penalties added for mishandled obstacles. This trial is designed to test the rider’s co-ordination and capacity for anticipation in addition to the horse’s qualities of submission, speed, attention, and finesse.

Cow Trial – This trial tests the ability of a horse and rider to work, individually and as a team, with cattle. The test is performed with a team of 3 or 4 riders. The objective is for each rider to individually sort, cut, and herd a pre-selected cow from the herd and then as a team put it in a designated pen. As a timed event, there are time penalties for course errors.

Indian Hills resident Christina Turissini was seeking to get more involved in WE and found that most of the Working Equitation clinics and competitions were either north or south of Denver, leading her to start a local group.  To keep informed of local events coming up, find and join our group on Facebook under the name, Foothills CO Working Equitation.   The group is for any type of horse, rider or saddle interested in honing their horsemanship skills via the sport of Working EquitaWorking Equitationtion.  The news feed and “Files’’ section on the Facebook page is full of information about WE.  After creating the group, Christina has organized local clinics and individual lessons with Instructor Jennifer Holroyd.  In addition to the clinics, some of the members are hosting play days at their homes, which will continue through the winter months.

Jennifer Holroyd was born on a ranch in Portugal where the skills for Working Equitation were the daily standard.  She started competing in Show Jumping competitions at the age of 10 and eventually competed at the international level all over Europe.  In 1974 she married and spent 25 years in California where she taught and competed in Dressage, Combined Training and Show Jumping.  She is also considered a leader in the field of alternative therapies for horses including Chiropractic and an innovative technique using acupuncture points and sound vibration using tuning forks.

After attending a WE clinic in Indian Hills this September with Jennifer, I discovered that not only was she an excellent teacher for basic riding fundamentals, but the WE obstacles gave a focal point to many of the training maneuvers riders of different disciplines often strive to improve.  In a nutshell, this local group is focused on using Working Equitation as a basis for good horsemanship and technique in any discipline, Western or English.  In addition to the information on the local Facebook page, go to http://lusitanoportal.com/working-equitation. Also, at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo in March 2016, look for WE clinics being put on by the northern WE group. Now, go watch a video of Pedro Torres and you will be compelled to know more about this fast growing discipline!  Heather McWilliams © 2015

Working Equitation Clinic 6 med Working Equitation Clinic Sept. 1 med (1)