Temperament and Being Alert (Book Excerpt)

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from Happy Trails by Les Sellnow.  This book is available from www.ExclusivelyEquine.com.

We've all heard trail riders say with pride: "My horse will go over or through anything."

On the surface that sounds like the temperament you want. However, good temperament is a little more complicated and subtle. Yes, it just may be fine if a horse steps right over a log and pays no attention to the large brown object beside the trail. But what if that log partially covered a crumbling hole or what if that brown object turned out to be a snoozing bear? Then you'd want the horse to give pause and take a second look at where it's going. Look for a horse that's alert to its surroundings and pays special attention to unusual objects. This is where the subtlety comes in. You want the horse to be observant, but you don't want it to become agitated and frightened when it sees something unusual.

If the horse encounters something that it fears and wishes to avoid, its reaction is either to go around it or leave the scene. In such situations you want a horse with a quiet, trusting temperament--one that will let you overrule its instincts and will go forward instead of fleeing.

That being said, for every rule there's an exception. There are times when the horse's instincts are right. One of my best trail mounts was an Arabian gelding. Together we covered miles up and down mountains, along country roads, and across flat land. He was always alert, with ears pricked forward; and he walked on with a nice, long stride.

When I purchased him, he was well broke but hadn't been ridden on trails much. The first water puddle we encountered caused him to panic. All he needed, however, was a steady hand and reassurance, and within a short time he lost his fear of water.

I was riding him on one of our mountain excursions when we came to a stream. The bridge had broken down and couldn't be used. While the rest of the group waited, I looked for another crossing. I found one just downstream. The ground looked solid, and the water was not more than belly deep. To make sure, I decided to cross the stream alone before leading the rest of the group.

My gelding got to within a yard or so of the water and wouldn't take another step. I was both surprised and upset. After that initial episode at a water puddle some years earlier, he had never refused me. I urged him more firmly, but he would not budge.

I decided at this point that maybe he knew something I didn't. I dismounted, walked to the edge of the stream, and found myself floundering in soft, squishy mud completely camouflaged with green grass and leaves. It had looked like solid ground to me. My horse had known better. I never doubted him after that.

If he'd been a horse that would blindly go wherever I pointed him, we would have been in deep trouble. We did find a safe crossing farther downstream.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604.

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