Mounted Search and Rescue Operations Use and Need the Skills Learned In Trail Riding

September 22, 2014

Trail Riding SkillsTrail riding develops the skills used in mounted search and rescue missions (MSAR). We aren’t the only ones who have noticed that active and regular trail riders have many of the necessary tools for searching for lost children and missing people. According to Irvin Lichtenstein, Chief of Operations for the Southeast Pennsylvania Search and Rescue unit, trail riders can put their knowledge and riding experience to work helping others.

In terms of search and rescue, he points out that horses have excellent smell, hearing and see things humans often overlook. As a prey animal, people don’t typically develop the senses a flight animal uses. As such, a horse will notice smells and pay attention to sounds a person will miss. Horses are wonderful observers.

Mr. Lichtenstein gives a number of ways that you can make you and your horse ready to help a search and rescue effort. You start by riding the trails a lot, camping, trailering, and spending sufficient time on the back of your horse to get to know his reactions. He correctly brings up the need to trust your horse and for the horse to trust you. This relationship only develops with time together and experiences that create the bonds and mutual understanding needed for the work.

We also appreciated his advice in taking trail rides fully packed for a search and rescue. It teaches your horse to be prepared and ready. The last thing you need when out to rescue someone is your own injury from an overly excited horse surprised by some new piece of equipment or the excitement he senses from you. The suggestion to practice riding the trail just like you were searching for a lost person makes sense.

Trail riders be ready! You and your horse may be needed at any time and we know you will be able and ready to lend a hand!

Simple Confidence Building Tool For You and Your Horse

July 29, 2014

Confidence Building ClinicHere is a simple and inexpensive training tool to use in building confidence in your horse. A child’s wading pool filled with empty water and soda bottles. The sound when the horse steps into the pool is loud and crackly. The feel is strange to the horse as the bottom of the pool gives from the weight and the bottles slide underneath the hoof.

The pools are cheap to purchase, but you can often find them at the end of the Summer in the trash as you drive down the road. Of course, you want to look both ways before you grab one out of the trash. People may wonder what’s wrong with you; stealing a worn out pool from the neighbor. If you really want to get their attention, sort through their garbage to get the empty bottles as well.

Riding your horse through the pool is one more way to teach confidence and leadership. Many horses prefer to just go around the obstacle rather than cross it. As with any new and strange challenge, it may take a couple of attempts before your horse enters the pool. But, once he does, the exercise can be expanded for him to stand quietly in it. You can add water to make the bottles float and move even more. In short, it is an easy way to artificially create an obstacle in your own backyard.

Good Horse Gone Bad

April 25, 2014


Ever wonder why the nice, sweet, gentle, well-trained horse you bought, is all of a sudden acting badly?

You are not alone. Years ago horses had a purpose, we rode them for transportation, and they worked daily and hard. Some also plowed the fields and gave the little ones a thrill on their back. They were bred to do a job, they were not fancy horses, and they were hardy, even-tempered and willing. They were great horses, because they were bred well and they were worked daily.

Nowadays, we do not ride for transportation; we ride for a competitive sport with the horse, or just for fun, with really no purpose at all. We breed for sport but many breed just because their horse is not a good riding horse.

So what horses used to be and what they are today is completely different. We have bred them to have more energy but do not give them things to do with it. We have also bred them poorly to have bad unwilling and ill temperaments and we do not give them structure or rules to improve their attitude.

Each horse needs a purpose and it should not be to take up space, eat and look pretty.

In nature horses can walk up to 30 miles looking for food and water. Nowadays, they just stand there and it is given to them. No wonder they are acting up, they are kept in a box or in a paddock with nothing to do all day long. You feel bad because they are locked up, so you feed them more, which gives them more energy but you do not give them anything to do with it.

So they come up with their own jobs, such as scare my owner, guard my stall, kick at my neighbor, break the halter, break the tie up post, run from the trailer, there are so many jobs they have given themselves, I can’t even name them all.

When your horse was trained, he had a job. He was probably worked in a round pen or turned out daily, or possibly both, he was groomed and tied up until the rider was ready and then worked with a purpose. This could have been a ranch horse where the rider worked cows, fixed fences, rode the perimeter of the land. It could have been worked in an arena on being soft in the bridle, backing, doing rollbacks, canter departures. Each rider gave the horse a job. Even a trail trainer would have picked certain trails with challenges and given the horse jobs as they rode the trail. Maybe go over a log, up and down steep hills, over rocks or logs, circle around a tree and then tied up at lunch and ridden some more.

So now your gentle horse is bucking, bolting, rearing, striking out, pinning its ears, not letting you catch him, biting at the girth. Can you hear what he is saying? GIVE ME A JOB! He is acting up, because he has to do something to get your attention, and walking around the barn or down a flat trail once a week is just not doing anything for him.

I train many horses, and all the bad horses turn good. They are given rules; jobs and they are not rewarded when they are bad. Rides always end on a good note. I round pen them to get rid of extra energy and get them thinking. I ride them with a plan, I pick trails depending on their energy level, if they are spunky I pick the steepest ones I can find, if they are not energetic I pick an easier trail. I ride over logs, move cows, follow squirrels, follow bikers, separate from the other riders, stop and back, even go off trail and ride over rocks, in creeks, whatever I can find. In the arena, I have a plan of what the horse needs to work on. Once the horse is good at his job, I vary what I work on or do it a little differently. The smart horses need challenges, the athletic horses need challenges. If you don’t give them any, this horse will out think you and possible dump you on the ground.

The lazy quiet horse also needs challenges. These horses get stubborn and may refuse to go away from the barn and get quick coming home. They may also turn their back on you or kick out.

The best advice I have is, learn what kind of horse you bought. What was the previous owner doing that made the horse so good? Ask them. If you know his breeding, what was he bred to do? Is he smart? If you know you bought a cutting or reining horse, research what their job was. A horse that previously was quiet but the owner use to canter 30 minutes a day, may not do well with your once a week workout. Too many horses go bad because the owners do not want to put in the work. Your bad horse can be good again, but the real question is, can you change?

Gaye DeRusso -The Majestic Rider is a professional horse trainer in California and guest writer. Ms. DeRusso is an accomplished rider and trainer that spends her time training gaited horses. For more information about her, check out her

Equine Search and Rescue Units Need Trail Ride Experience

December 2, 2013

MontanaSearch and rescue volunteers need a lot of time on the trail to develop the skills for the job. In today’s world, horse training just like every other profession has become very specialized. People that show want someone who has an interest and the ability to train for the ring. Cutting horse trainers are expected to bring out those talents needed for the horse to be competitive; and so it goes. Every discipline demands that trainers spend nearly all their time working towards a few specific goals. Unfortunately, the end result are horses very good at a few select tasks and functionally illiterate for any other activity. Search and rescue operations requires riding in situations not always familiar to the specially trained horses from various disciplines.

If a dressage rider decides to volunteer to help search for a lost child, it only impairs the effort if the horse and rider are not ready for the environment. Brush, rocks, and wildlife may cause anxiety for a horse that spent the last five years in the show ring. Other specially trained and advanced horses may not be ready for the trail. Has the competition horse trained to run barrels ever crossed a creek? Has he crossed one with saddle bags banging his sides as his feet slip on the mossy rocks underneath? Is the combination of the slippery surface and the saddle bags beating his flanks going to end up with a wreck? It is far better to find out these types of things before an actual SAR is under way. These are the intangibles that just can’t be taught from a book or classroom setting.

Trail riding also works a horse and rider much differently than eventing, reining, or most other disciplines. In many equine activities, the horse is finished in an hour, two at most. Often there are breaks in between sessions and the horse can stand and regain some composure. Trail horses start early and work late. There’s not a five-minute competition that ends with them being led back to a stall. Trail horses figure out really fast that the day can be long so conserving energy is important. Don’t get us wrong, all disciplines and riders should be welcome to participate, we simply suggest some day long, or even weekend long rides will give some much-needed experience to volunteers who may not recognize how 10 hours in the saddle feels.This doesn’t mean a show horse or a rider from another discipline can’t be useful to search and rescue operations. It does mean they both need some “real-time” on the trail to develop the skills necessary.

Search and rescue members, (not just the horses) need time together on trail rides. Time together on the trails allows the search and rescue volunteers the opportunity to see how their fellow members handle situations with their horse. If asked to pair off with someone and ride a given area, the last thing we want to find is our team member on the ground because their horse acted up. If so, the unit is out of commission with a downed rider and most likely other units will be called away from the search to attend to the hurt volunteer.

Before heading off for a MSAR, we like to know the abilities, skills, nerves, and readiness of the people in the unit.  For instance, is the co-volunteer going to have his own water? Has he been “turned around” (lost) in the woods himself? Does he understand he might be leading his horse back to the trailer with some unexpected injury? Has he trail ridden enough to know that water for his horse isn’t always available? We’ve seen MSAR’s where water wasn’t there for the horses. It’s definitely not the preferred way to treat working horses in the hot sun. Trail riding is about as close to “search and rescue” as any activity you can engage using a horse to simulate and teach what will likely be encountered.

If you intend to participate in a MSAR group, make sure your team is familiar and ready for the task at hand. Not simply communications training and operational skills, but the challenges that come with riding in the brush for a couple of days at a time.

Car Wash Obstacle Can Be A Challenge

November 16, 2013

Confidence Building ClinicOklahoma trail horses, like trail horses everywhere, don’t typically see a lot of car wash obstacles on the trail. The Bad Girls Confidence Building Clinic posed this new challenge to the attendees and their horses. It’s a fun obstacle and one that teaches the horse to trust the rider. At the clinic, it was used to teach some less experienced riders the importance of riding with purpose, confidence, and towards a point beyond the challenge immediately in front of the horse.

Over and over, the new riders were coached not to look down at the horse’s head if he stopped as he approached the streamers. It is a natural human reaction to look down to see what the horse is going to do when he stops. But, just the opposite of what is needed to make the horse feel comfortable with the new and strange contraption he is being asked to walk under. When the rider looks down, the horse senses indecision and reluctance in the rider that only makes the obstacle seem even more concerning. After all, the rider is now focused on the same concern the horse has.

The participants were taught to look straight ahead and fix their gaze on a point far in advance of the car wash such as the wall at the end of the arena. They were then encouraged to ride forward with a sense of purpose and the belief the horse would walk under without hesitation. Many were pleasantly surprised to learn how much confidence they could inspire in their horse and themselves. The car wash is great team building exercise for you and your horse.

We applaud the Bad Girls for putting on the clinic and working to make their members better horsemen!


Trail Horses Make Great Ranch Horses

August 27, 2013

Picture of PollyA trail horse should transition to ranch work without so much as the twitch of an ear. A properly trained trail horse is quiet and calm. Ranch work and roping events should be second nature to a good trail horse.  We like to take our horses to some of the local ranch roping events to test their training and make sure the quiet disposition remains in place with ropes swinging, cowboys singing, and calves setting back against the rope. Well, maybe not cowboys singing, but you get the picture. A calf at the end of your rope attached to your saddle horn will create some commotion if the horse hasn’t been taught to calmly accept things.

Our friends at the Northeast Ranch Roping Association let us come and put our horses to work. The association promotes the reata-style roping with heavy emphasis on working livestock without a lot of stress. The old cowboy ways are the standard. A good horse and quick loop ready a calf or cow for vaccinations or treatment without a lot of stress. Ranch roping without heavy stress on the calves requires a well-broke horse.

If you haven’t been to a ranch roping, you ought to come out to one. The next roping at the Northeast’s association is September 7, 2013. If you want more information, give Shawn a call 918-417-9250 and he can put you in touch with the members. Bet they would love to have you attend and show you how real cowboys work.


Wooden Bridges Can Be Crossed Easily

July 8, 2013

Wooden bridges remain pretty common in the day and age of high technological gadgets, space travel, and modern construction. Some wooden bridges are used because it’s all the county or local community can afford. They keep the one they have. Others are maintained due to the desire to preserve the history associated with it. Regardless of the reason, trail horses need to be ready to cross a wooden bridge and not get excited in the process.

Like anything new, some horses don’t like the sound or the give underneath their feet. The bridge just doesn’t feel natural and solid. The practice and repetition of going across them makes it easier when the need arises.

The video shows a couple of our horses, Doc and Speck, crossing a small training bridge we use. The little bridge was built from logs with boards screwed into the logs to replicate a wooden bridge without the expense. You may notice it isn’t level and the boards have some slope and tilt to them. We aren’t carpenters or bridge builders, but even we have more ability than what you see in the video. The bridge was constructed deliberately uneven and the boards allowed to follow the natural curves in the logs laying on the ground. This was done to make it even less appealing to the horse with the uneven surface and because we are lazy. 

The bridge was built for training purposes and there was no reason to spend a lot of time and effort. It serves the purpose of giving the horse a wooden bridge that is narrow and gives a feeling of instability; a good way to see if the horse trusts you enough to cross it anyway.

Training tools don’t have to be expensive. It is nice to have them reasonably safe. Here the bridge isn’t very high off the ground in order for young horses to step off the side or do something silly without getting hurt. One of the youngsters walked across it the first time with his hind feet on the ground and his front feet on the bridge. It was an acceptable first attempt for a colt and he came back to it later in the week to do a real good job.

The training bridge is just one more tool we use with the horses in our training program for trail horses.


Jack Backing Around The Fire Pit

June 9, 2013


Jack is shown here with Dustin at the AQHA Trail Challenge held in Hartman, Arkansas and hosted by the Horsemen of Arkansas. The event was also approved by the American Horsemen Challenge Association.

The obstacle in this photograph requires the rider to back a full 360 degrees around a fire pit. There are four stumps placed as corners that the horse cannot go past essentially making you back a circle inside a square.

Jack, just like our other quarter horses has been trained to respond appropriately to new and unexpected situations. He displayed genuine interest in the challenge without ever showing any poor behavior or acting up. Jack is great on the trail and pays attention to everything without forgetting the training he has been given.

Dustin had not ridden in nearly a month due to his job schedule when the challenge took place and had not ridden Jack for several months (bearing in mind Jack had been ridden by others). We felt Dustin and Jack did an exceptional job considering the lack of working together. The initial plan had been for Dustin to ride a different horse, but some confusion over getting the health papers to cross into Arkansas ended up with Jack as a last-minute substitute.


Jack The Plumber

May 25, 2013

If you read this blog very often, then you already know Jack, one of our AQHA registered quarter horses,  just graduated the training program at our ranch in Bixby, Oklahoma. If you have read the Meet Jack section, you also know Jack seems to have a special knack for being around when something unexpected happens. He enjoys helping and does exceptionally well in these bizarre situations. Like the day he found the little lost boy. [ May 22, 2012 post ]

Recently Jack had the opportunity to help another neighbor. Sure sorry there isn’t photos or video to show you this one! The neighbor draws water from a small lake near his house using a pump. The pump burned up unfortunately and had to be replaced. Not exactly the end of the world, but it took some work and effort that was rewarded with no water when the power was turned back on. A closer inspection revealed the pipe leading into the underwater pump had broken due to age and the new installation. It had to be repaired in the water or it meant pulling the entire unit back to shore.

The neighbor waded out to do the work, but was up to his chin in the water (still pretty chilly in May). In order to splice the joint, it had to be held out of the water for ten minutes in order for the glue to bond to the new pipe. The neighbor just wasn’t strong enough to stand there in the cold water up to his chest holding the pipe at head level to dry. Well, Jack, as he always seems to do, came to the rescue.

The rider (who will remain anonymous to keep the mental health people from finding him – LOL!) stripped the saddle and pad from Jack and donned a pair of shorts after taking off his own boots and jeans. He rode Jack into the lake up to his neck in the water and placed the pipe on Jack’s neck.  This remarkable AQHA quarter horse patiently stood there the full ten minutes with the pipe near the top of his head, neck-deep in the water while the glue dried. Jack then lowered his head so he could back up without breaking the pipe as he exited the pond. This is one truly amazing horse! Jack the rescue horse is now Jack the plumber.

What Do You Mean That Horse May Not Like Me?

December 11, 2012

As we have repeatedly said, horses have their own individual personalities with likes and dislikes. As with people, some horses do better with certain types than others. This doesn’t mean a well-broke horse can’t learn to adapt to the rider, but there may be a longer adjustment in some cases. It also doesn’t mean the rider can’t learn to ride the horse.

Are you the kind of person who reacts quickly to situations? Especially when you already drank three or four cups of coffee and the caffeine is pumping thru your blood? Yeah, you know maybe even just a little jumpy.  Horses feel and see every move you make. Equine veterinarians confirm they can see objects directly behind them and can feel something as small a fly landing on their back. Being natural flight animals, they are constantly on guard for the need to run. When some little event happens and you jump, guess what you signaled the horse?  Yep, the “D” word,  Danger! ”

About this stage of the conversation with a lot of people, we usually hear, “I don’t jump”. Really, well squeezing your legs against the horse suddenly and unexpected as you deeply inhale may not be a “jump” in your book, but it is in the horse’s way of thinking. Remember, the horse can feel the movements in the seat of the saddle, feel your legs, and see you. How do you react when someone sneaks  up from behind you and pokes you in the ribs?

Horses have varying degrees of “jumpiness”; some tend to react quicker than others to the unexpected. When you couple a horse and rider together that are both a little “jumpy”, the result is pretty easy to see coming. The horse is nervous because the rider is nervous. As the horse gets more excited, then the rider’s anxiety increases.

This is just one example to illustrate why we work hard to match a rider to a horse with an appropriate personality for the rider. A calmer, slower reacting horse for riders that tend to be quick to react results in a better match. Again we don’t want to mean that any horse and rider can’t learn to work together, it just easier when the fit is natural.

We have seen a few horses over the years that responded far better to females than men. Who knows the reason, they simply do. It doesn’t mean a man can’t ride the horse, but it probably means he will have a few more issues to deal with.

At the end of the day, doesn’t it make sense to find a horse that suits your personality rather than fight the disadvantages of a poorly matched relationship. How many times have we heard, “But, I like his color! He’s sooooo PRETTY!” Your choice, but I personally would rather ride an ugly horse that I can handle than a pretty one that dumps me every couple of months.

If you are out looking for a horse, give some thought to the relationship you want with your horse. Just like in love, the more time you spend in a good relationship, the prettier he or she becomes. We promise you riding a horse that takes you safely and quietly over the trails  will start looking really pretty to you as the relationship grows.

The good news if you look with us is we don’t have any ugly horses. Yep, we think they are all pretty!!!! And yes, we know beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

Welcome To Horsesfortrail

October 8, 2012

Welcome to, a blog dedicated to trail horse riders and their mounts! We write to give updates about equine events related to trail riding, tips on teaching your horse, progress on horses in our training operation in Bixby, Oklahoma, and encouraging the most relaxing and therapeutic  activity in the world, horse back riding. Recently we have picked up several new readers and your interest is genuinely appreciated.

Education is an essential component of success in everything in life. Horses are no different. The goal of horses for trail is to help provide insight into the world of trail riding and help others avoid some of the things we learned the hard way! Yep, we want to save you those ” Ouch, that hurt ” mistakes. Thanks again for your kind interest in the blog and trail riding.

Good Trail Horses Aren’t Second Rate

June 25, 2012

There is an excellent blog post about trail horses by Christine Barakat called Building A Trustworthy Trail Horse. She quotes Dan Aadland, “Most people don’t select horses for trail riding,” says Montana horseman Dan Aadland, an avid backcountry rider and author of several books on the topic. “I get tired of hearing, ‘Well, she’s not good enough for the show ring, but she’ll make a good trail horse.’ Why should trail riding be relegated to a secondary job for a horse? If you want to trail ride exclusively, buy a horse who excels at it, not one who can’t do anything else.”

We could not agree more. Sound trail horses will do nearly anything and the notion that any horse can hit the trails defies logic and commonsense. You have to spend hours training a horse to run around a ring in circles, but expect him to confront countless new things on the trail without any preparation.

Barakat goes on to quotes Aadland,  “Compounding the problem, says Aadland, is a tendency to overlook the importance of a trail-riding education: “We train horses for very specific arena jobs but expect them to just automatically know how to handle the trail. Then we get frustrated when they don’t. Horses need to be taught to trail ride just like they are taught reining, roping or any other skill.”

Take a look at her article! It is well written and thoughtful.