While on the website, I also discovered Top Trail, the competitive arm of Open Trail. Reading about this program made me realize this was just the boost I needed to get out on the trails more and get to really know my horse. I had attended many clinics in the past, but awhile back, I audited a Buck Brannaman clinic. I can't say if it was any one particular training technique or instruction, but all of a sudden I realized my horse was my partner, and not a means to an end. And nothing, no amount training, groundwork, etc. could ever replace spending time in the saddle, and no one could ride those hours but me. The more I read about Top Trail the more I realized that this was the incentive I needed to help me with my goal.
Top Trail is more than winning sponsor prizes—it's about connecting and becoming a team with your trail horse. Top Trail Member Carolyn W. Attaway takes us on her journey with her Top Trail Horse—Jefferson! To date, Carolyn and Jefferson have 869 Top Trail miles (and climbing), and have consistently placed in the top three since becoming members: July, August, & October 2nd Place, and September 3rd Place (Top Trail Horse). Carolyn is a Gold Premium Member and here are her thoughts:
Riding the Top Trail
By Carolyn W. Attaway
Toward the end of June of this year, I happened to catch a post on Facebook from Open Trail. They were looking for trail ambassadors to lead trail rides during Labor Day weekend to help promote the trail horse and trails all across the country. I was intrigued. So I logged on to their web-site opentrail.us to learn more about them. Through their website I discovered a wealth of information regarding trails all over the country, as well as learning I could store all my trail activity on my own personal page while setting personal goals for me and my horse. I was so excited and I joined immediately.
To say Jefferson and I jumped in with both feet and all 4 hooves is an understatement. In the 4 months since we started, we have ridden 882.5 miles, came in second place 3 times, and 3rd place once. We were awarded great gifts for our efforts from wonderful sponsors: Sox for Horses, Camp with Horses, EquestriSafe, and The Hay Pillow. However, during that time, Jefferson and I changed, the most obvious change being our physical appearance. But it was the subtle changes that made the biggest impact on me.
After so many hours of riding, covering a multitude of miles, Jefferson started trusting me more and waited for my direction. Objects became less spooky, and "startles" occurred less and less. His willingness to touch new things upon command and his confidence to ride in new areas increased. Every water source we crossed, he stopped to drink, and every stop we made on the trail was an opportunity for him to either rest or grab a bite to eat. Encountering scary objects like umbrellas, kites, Frisbees, falling trees, and loose dogs became common and uneventful. Standing still and watching strange horses run past was no longer a panic situation. I could continue with examples but the bottom line is that riding out alone together had became so common place that panic situations had turned into times of curiosity and learning.
I learned to ride. I learned to move with Jefferson as he moved. I started using my hands less, and my core and legs more. I started viewing the trails through his eyes and started seeing everyday places in a whole new perspective. I also learned I have a passion for horses. For 3 months I suffered with severe poison ivy, so bad my doctor told me to stop riding because the heat, rain and humidity were making it worse. Needless to say, I looked like a mummy most of the summer with all my wraps, but I was determined to finish what Jefferson and I started.
But the one change I noticed most was our relationship with each other. Stopping on the trails to share a snack, dismounting and leading Jefferson through areas with unstable footing, learning his favorite places to graze and plants to eat, being able to let go of him and trusting him to stay with me, Jefferson recognizing certain phone tones and stopping immediately so I can retrieve my phone, and waiting for me to put my phone back before moving, putting up with my singing (that's a big one!), excitement building as we approach our favorite places to run, and most of all knowing each other's body language.
Now that November is here, and the holidays are fast approaching, I have decided to scale back on my riding for awhile and let Jefferson enjoy being with his herd. I still plan to ride, but not the miles we put in these past 4 months. I look forward to January and the new year. Jefferson and I both enjoy riding in the winter months. I hope to start with Top Trail at the beginning of the year in 2016, and convince many of my rider friends to join me.