Quick Home Search

Trail Riding is Upon Us!

“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.

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 officious.  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.  An easy way to not be invited back 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.

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 © 2018

Working Equitation in the Foothills

Hear the word “equitation” and many horse enthusiasts think of a class judged on the rider’s form and effectiveness.  In reality, the definition of equitation is just the art and practice of horsemanship and horse riding. From there one could say, Working Equitation (WE) is the art and practice of horsemanship as it applies to the tasks that horses help people perform on the ranch.  While WE is an international sport originally pioneered by Italy, Portugal, Spain, and France, it is hitting its stride in the United States.  The first international competition was held in 1996 and then in 2004, the World Association for Working Equitation (WAWE) was established to govern the sport.  WAWE rules are used for all international competitions, but each individual country has its own rules for domestic competitions.

Working Equitation was formed to celebrate and showcase the horse and rider partnership with a foundation in classical horsemanship and the use of the horse in ranch work.  The sport seeks to support and allow countries to stay true to their own historical types of horsemanship, as well as working traditions and their traditional tack and attire.  Of course in the United States, that is a very diverse group with a melting pot of traditions and styles.  At local competitions you will see all shapes of saddles and styles of dress.

In the United States, Working Equitation competitions offer five performance levels to accommodate horses and riders at various stages of training: Introductory, Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Masters. The Masters level is the international standard of the sport.

In each level there are four trials or tests that are put together at a competition.  First, the Dressage trial consists of a test where collective marks are given for movements considering the horse’s impulsion, submission, and quality of gaits, as well as for the rider’s position and effective use of aids.  As with classical Dressage, each level builds upon the last and prepares the horses training for the next level.

The second trial is Ease of Handling, which applies the skills performed in the Dressage test to an obstacle course.  Each obstacle is given a score of 0-10 paying attention to the quality, ease, symmetry and geometry of the obstacles and transitions in between in light of what is looked for in the Dressage phase.

Third is the Speed trial which is often the horse and rider’s favorite, as well the spectators.  This phase takes a part of the same obstacle course as in the Ease of Handling phase, but time becomes the key component with time penalties being added for errors.

Finally, the Cow trial tests the ability of horse and rider pairs to work cattle individually and with a group of 3-4 horse and rider teams.  The objective is for each rider to individually sort, cut, and herd a pre-selected cow from the herd and then as a team herd the selected cow into a designated pen.  Due to the logistics of having cattle at an event, not all competitions have the Cow trial.

At the end of the competition, horse and rider pairs receive scores based on their placing in each of the trials, and then the scores are tallied to determine the overall placings.

Allison and Rosa

Over the past few years there have been a growing number of WE enthusiasts in the foothills.  Indian Hills resident Christina Turissini has been the force behind organizing lessons, clinics and play days for WE.

The foothills group started when Christina won a free group lesson from Allison Mazurkiewicz at a High Country WE event which resulted in bringing Allison to our area. Allison is excited to see this group flourish with regular clinics and advance in the sport. The Foothills group has a wide variety of horses and riders which makes her clinics educational for all, whether riding or watching.  Allison’s aim is to be an ambassador for the sport and spread the fun that is WE.  Allison competes up to the Intermediate level, holds an “r” judge card with the Confederation of WE (as well as holding a board position), is a member of WE United and is a founding member of High Country WE (created in 2014), who puts on several shows in Colorado every year.

Allison states, “Working Equitation requires you and your horse to work together as a team in a soft, fluid manner. As an instructor and trainer, I find the obstacle course an effective way to teach horses and riders how to focus and gain confidence in skills that might be new to them. The obstacles bring home the lesson of flat work training into everyday riding as a tool to improve your horse for any job you have them do.”

She goes on to mention, “students that have fear or confidence issues learn to focus on a task thereby reducing anxiety levels. The rider and the horse learn to perform something new and come together as a more confident team and are often more relaxed by the end of the lesson.”

Claire and Bitta

Local Claire Gosnell and her horse Bitta, an 11 year old Tennessee Walking Horse have been training and competing in WE since 2013.  Claire has found WE to be a great way to strengthen the horse and rider bond, as well as their communication in a powerful way.

Claire explains, “we enjoy all four phases of the sport. Dressage has helped develop collection, working from the hindquarters, soft feel, communication and precision. Working the obstacles is just flat out fun. Whether it’s working a gate, side-passing a pole or spearing a ring from a bull’s nose with a garrocha pole with precision or at speed, it has made us both a better horse and rider pair.  My favorite though is the cattle phase – the ultimate objective of WE.”

Whatever you do with your horse, WE has something you can use.  Jumping, Dressage, trail or western, WE touches on a part of your training.  Horses and riders can see the reasoning behind the flat work and doing obstacles adds an interest to schooling in the arena, plus WE creates a well-rounded horse and a confident rider.  2018 © Heather McWilliams

For WE information in the US, go to www.weunited.us and www.confederationwe.us.  Make sure to like the Foothills CO Working Equitation Facebook page (High Country Working Equitation too) for the latest on upcoming clinics and play days.  Contact foothills group founder, Christina Turissini at [email protected] and Allison Mazurkiewicz, Tall Grass Horsemanship at [email protected]  Mt. Falcon Equestrian is bringing in WE trainer Steve Kutie for clinics as well, see kutieperformancehorses.com/about and email Nicole at [email protected]

Winter riding in the Foothills – What do your horse neighbors do?

Being a horse owner in the Colorado Foothills offers different dynamics to riding in the different seasons.  We have a plethora of amazing trails within an hour of our door.  Our spring, summer and fall weather offers many days of beautiful outdoor riding weather, with few days lost to precipitation.  But living in an arid climate, we take what moisture we can get!

The Rocky Mountains are just that, rocky – the ground is hard and abrasive on horse hooves.  There are very few horses that can take all of our trails barefoot.  The majority of riders have their horses shod for the main riding months, at least in front or use some kind of trail boots when riding in hard or rocky terrain.

This year, fall and early winter have allowed for some beautiful cool weather riding, but we all know the snow will soon fall and the mountains and valleys will fill their stores of moisture for the coming year.

Indoor arenas are more the exception in our community, but are a great way to carry on with riding and training no matter the weather.  Some people choose to board their horses at a nearby indoor facility during the winter or even head south for a month or so to facilities such as in Arizona that offer Roping, Team Penning and Ranch Sorting during the winter months.  Some head to California or Florida in the early spring to start getting geared up for the summer show season.  No matter the discipline, the local events slow down significantly or come to a winter hiatus.  What do we do to keep our horses active and fit?

Here are some winter activity ideas from your local horse neighbors on what they do in the winter months when the trails get icy and the outdoor arenas are hard and crusty.

  1. Barb G. in Evergreen

Activities – Trail riding in neighborhood, local fields and fox hunting, but only when the footing is good. I am a safety freak!  I have had my horse and I slip and fall and I want to avoid this again!

Arena – Outdoor freezes, sometimes trailer to Jeffco Fairgrounds Indoor Arena.  I have heard there is a brand of magnesium chloride that is environmentally safe you can mix with outdoor arena sand to keep it thawed out.

Turnout – Always, no matter the weather.

Time off – Not by choice, but just inevitable sometimes.

Winter boarding – Thought about it, but turnout is limited and I won’t give up giving them my special attention and care.

Feet – Borium and snow pads – tried pulling shoes in the winter, but mine come up lame.  Tried Easy boots – but just simpler to shoe.

Clipping – Partial clip.

  1. Nicole K. at Mount Falcon Equestrian Center in Indian Hills

Activities – We ride around our property all the time unless it’s terribly icy and love riding in the snow. When our outdoor arena becomes snowy – I pull a sled behind my horse!  This winter I am planning on pulling skiers behind me for some skijoring. Otherwise I haul down to Chatfield Park and other parks as long as it’s not icy.

Arena – We have an indoor arena and a heated barn so that makes the coldest of months bearable. Still many of my clients don’t ride much during the holiday season in December if it’s too cold. I encourage everyone to at least lunge their horses and give them a mash after workout to keep them hydrated and help prevent impaction colic. If we don’t get too much snow our outdoor arena stays alright.

Feet – Barefoot horses stay barefoot in winter. For horses that I shoe, I add snow pads. I truly believe horses here in Colorado need some sort of hoof protection while being ridden – hoof boots or shoes. The ground is just not forgiving and very abrasive – even in winter – riding that much more on the sandy surface of the indoor, still files their toes plus they don’t grow much horn in winter.

  1. Amy H. in South Evergreen

Activities – Love loping in deep fresh snow in the pasture, or for slick days, ground and liberty work!

  1. Chris S. in Evergreen

Activities – I seem to do more training in the winter because the icy trails (especially in the shade) aren’t safe.

Favorite Activity – One year a friend and I trailered down to Chatfield Park.  We bundled up as it was about 20 degrees F.  There was snow on the ground, but we just walked and stayed on the dirt service roads.  It was sunny and beautiful and one of my favorite rides ever.  The horses really seemed to enjoy it too.

Arena – My outdoor arena stays pretty good until January, but then gets too frozen and hard. Then I go down to Jeffco indoor arena 1-3 times a week.  It costs $5 and is usually open Monday thru Thursday, but you do need to call to make sure it hasn’t been rented.

Feet – My horses wear rubber boots when I trail ride so I feel a little better about riding the hard roads, but do tend to spend more time in arenas.

Clip – No

  1. Mary T. in Conifer

Activities – I still try to ride at least 5 times a week—and continue with lessons– regardless of the wind or the cold.   Only if it is below 25 degrees do I not ride or ride a much more easy routine for the sake of our horses.

Arena – I board at Red Hawk Ranch in Conifer which has both an outdoor and a lighted indoor arena (although unheated) my riding changes very little with the seasons.    Our outdoor gets good sun and is generally clear but when not, we use the indoor.

Feet – We pull shoes in the winter since we are generally only riding in the arena so generally do not trail ride.  We typically do not do shows in the winter.

Clip – No

  1. Heather B. in Conifer

Activities – I love riding in the snow, and my horses love it as well.  Of course I work on big turns, or collection (I used to get wonderful passage on my dressage horse in the deep snow!) and transitions, we go on trail rides, either up here or down the hill, depending on the footing.

Arena – I try and get in some work in an indoor just to keep the training from falling too far backwards!

Feet – Shoes with snow pads

  1. Dan L. in Evergreen

Activities – Fox hunting and trail riding.  Fox hunting is a winter sport because originally hunts ran over farmer’s fields, which are fallow only in the late fall and winter. If I have two operational horses, I will hunt twice a week during the October through April season. Although the Arapahoe Hunt is very fast, it is also quite relaxed about riders who want to go at a more sedate pace on any kind of sensible horse. If you want to ride right up with the hounds, you need a fast, well conditioned horse, normally a calm thoroughbred or cross (yes, hard to find).  I do ride in the “first flight”, so I have to start conditioning on the local trails in August, and then exercise once or twice a week during the season. Fortunately, there are some good people who enjoy helping me out with the exercise program. Hunt season also means lots of grooming, tack cleaning, trailering and all the special care that goes into keeping a horse in top condition for seven months. Fox hunting is the only horse sport that is non-competitive where you get the thrill of a five mile gallop across the Colorado high plains.  Check out the Arapahoe Hunt website at http://arapahoehunt.com/ or call Dan at 303-674-3834 for more information.

Feet – Shoes with borium.

  1. Heather M. in Evergreen

Activities – Riding in fields, fox hunting, riding in outdoor as weather allows, trailering to Jeffco Fairgrounds when the other activities are not possible.  Spring Gulch Equestrian Area in Highlands Ranch can be a great place to trailer to in the winter.

Turnout – always with shelter options.

Time off – I like my horses to get breaks and that happens naturally in the winter months when I cannot ride as often.

Winter boarding – Have tried and may again depending on goals, but I miss my horses and caring for them!

Arena – If ground is good and it is above ~25 degrees F, yes!  If too cold, don’t want my horse to get too wet and chilled.  I only have run in barns.

Feet – Depending on job, two are barefoot for winter and have trail boots if needed, one has shoes with snow pads and holes for studs.

Clip – The fit horse that gets ridden the most is partially clipped and blanketed as appropriate.  Others in light work, au natural.

What are your plans this winter?  Email me with more ideas to share – [email protected]

Indoor or outdoor arenas:

Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Golden, 303-271-6600

Indiana Indoor Equestrian Center in Arvada, 720-394-0191

Parks close down the hill with good sun and trails for winter:

Spring Gulch Equestrian Area, Chatfield State Park, Bear Creek Lake Park.

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)