THE TRAINING OF THE PERUVIAN TRAIL HORSE
PART TWO OF A SERIES by Julie Suhr
The trap that lies in the path of all one horse owners sprang shut up on me when I realized *Marinera's endurance career was over and her use would be restricted to that of a trail horse. But I would not give up endurance riding was totally hooked . Neither could I give up this gallant Peruvian mare who had become such an important part of my life. So a second horse became a necessity. A nine-year-old Arabian gelding joined *Marinera in the corral, and we were a two horse family.
Then miracle of miracles, a husband of twenty-four years climbed aboard a horse for the first time ever with the comment "if two of them are going to eat, two of them are going to work" . My new found riding companion did not even mention the board bills any longer, and while I rode *Marinera, Bob became an accomplished rider on the Arabian gelding. He put in the miles needed to turn an unfit gelding into a good endurance horse for me to ride the day of the race.
The life of a horse owner consists of not just one inescapable trap but rather a series, all of which spring closed readily upon willing victims. Verne Albright had just brought a three-year-old gray stallion in from Peru. His name was *Suspiro, and with Verne's urging, Bob now joined me in the trap as we entered the world of horse breeders. *Suspiro was domiciled about five miles down the mountain, and in less than two hours, *Marinera and I made the round trip. I had a bred mare. A bay filly appeared upon the scene the required number of months later, and now we were a three horse family. But things have a way of evening out, and as I kept acquiring more horses my own children sort of grew up and left the nest one by one.
When the jaws of the next trap yawned before us, Bob was naive enough to think horses were cheaper than children in college. It was ridiculous and expensive, we said to board horses out. Now that the children were gone, we would get just a few acres in the mountains and live happily ever after with our three horses. That was 1973. 1983 finds us with 200 acres and sixteen horses - but, nevertheless, living very happily ever after. Our *Suspiro filly grew into a lovely mare, and she and *Marinera enjoy motherhood on an annual basis. *Marinera was good to us. Bred to Paisano four times, she produced four fillies, all of which sold rather readily .
Suddenly I realized that she was really quite an aged mare and I did not have a replacement that I thought could become a real trail horse. When the chance arose to buy back one of her offspring, I welcomed the opportunity . I wanted to hang on to some of her blood . Of the Peruvian horses I have seen, I never saw another with *Marinera ' s strength and vitality . The filly I bought back was Carolana, her third Paisano filly . I had liked Carolana the least of all of *Marinera's offspring, but in some ways she reminded me of her dam . She loved to run longer and harder than the other foals we've had. I objected mainly to her shape. She was slab-sided, and her head looked too refined for her body. She tended to be cow-hocked, something none of "Marinera's" other foals had been. She had no concern for my welfare and would as soon walk over me as around. When I patted another horse, she was jealous to the point of putting her ears flat back and pushing the other horse aside. But she was also intelligent, determined and very quick to learn . She very much wanted to please once I was riding her.
She was three years old when she became mine again, but all of her early training had been at my hands . It was nothing spectacular, but because it was not the traditional Peruvian method, I will explore it to some extent here. I like to ride my brood mares in the mountains and pony the young foals or let them run free alongside their dams. It is super exercise to develop the potential athlete; the heart, the lungs, the bones all develop in the way nature intended . However, *Marinera becomes terribly distraught if her foals get around a bend or out of sight even momentarily, and I am not able to follow this program with her youngsters. I also never cared to get a lead rope under her tail or around her rear legs. She never bucked, reared or kicked, but whenever a rope or vine become strapped under her tail or wrapped round her rear legs, she does a sort of staccato dance routine which is unnerving to the rider. I was not going to find myself in a situation I could not control so Carolana was not exercised behind her dam as I would have liked .
However, she had plenty of room in the pasture to run and kick up her heels . My horses have felt a saddle on their backs and a snaffle bit in their tender mouths by the time they are eighteen months old. There has been no weight in the saddle and no pressure on the bit, but their early education has begun . Before they are two years old they are being ground driven with long reins . They know what pressure in their mouths means; they know to turn and how to back upon command. Almost all horse training books make teaching a horse to back sound difficult . I have found it easy, but I am working with a docile and intelligent breed. The books say to be happy with just one step back the first time, but I ask for five or six steps before I reward with the release of pressure and the pat on the neck. It is so easy to teach them as young foals by standing in front of them, pushing back on the halter and, along with the verbal command "BACK'', using your strength to ease them back. The noses are soft, and young foals retreat from pressure. When I put the snaffle in their mouths, once again stand in front of them and say " BACK", they respond with only the slightest pressure on the bit. In fact, most recognize~e the verbal command. When you stand at the rear of the horse with the long reins, the youngster' s brain is already programmed as to what is expected.
As part of their early halter training before the long line routine, they have learned that a cluck and a "WALK" command means to move forward. I am on my horse' s backs by the time they are two years old - not to ride, but just to sit for a moment or two. This is another simple procedure with this particular breed. Once the young foal is halter broken, lean on him and drape your arms over his back. By the time he is two, stick his head in a bucket of grain; and if he seems relaxed, lean across him and take your feet off the ground so you sort of hang momentarily by your midsection . If you are given to wearing a fancy belt buckle, remove it so you don' t jab or scrape his backbone. After a few times, you will find it becomes very natural to sort of climb around and end up sitting straight . He will probably not even lift his head from the gain bucket.
I have never used grain as bait to try to catch a horse that does not want to be caught. But I have used the grain bucket as a training aid and a diversionary instrument while trying something new. A hungry horse whose appetite is being satisfied can overlook all sorts of indignities being foisted upon other parts of the body. And since my own body is not as young as it once was and I have no nearby neighbors, I am especially careful to think safety at all times.
Carolana's early training included all of the foregoing plus a few other things which I hoped would develop her into a safe trail horse. She'd had a light weight saddle strapped on her before feeding on many occasions, eating supper with her coat on, so to speak. A tightened cinch around her midsection was not much cause for alarm when the manger was full. I always let her thoroughly smell any new piece of tack, and if she objected and pulled away, a handful of green grass laid across the top or a few oats sprinkled in the folds was enough to get her to step forward for further investigation. The fear would soon be gone. I also hung blankets or jackets loosely over her so they would fall off when she moved about. She never really paid much attention to them . I rubbed ropes up and down her legs and whirled them about her head . The old time cowboys did all of this in one single day, and the usually-hobbled horse received a real "sacking out". My method works pretty well although it is admittedly time consuming.
Another thing I try to teach my foals early in the game is to load in a trailer. As soon as the foals are old enough to know how good grain tastes, I put mother and child in the trailer to eat. The earlier this is started, the better. The foal will learn very soon to use his weight against his handler. So you must take advantage of his youth and small size whenever possible. After his first few tries at resistance, a butt rope and a few mild whacks on the rear legs will teach him to move forward into the trailer to mother's side and the grain in to manger. By the third attempt, he is usually loading effortlessly and in his eagerness may even be trying to drag you in to dine with him. Once the foal feels secure and relaxed in the trailer, I drive up and down the driveway so he will get used to the feel of motion and the changing shadows . He is being programmed for the future at an early age.
Why all this? It is because a trail horse needs to be safe above all else. If an accident occurs in the show ring help is available immediately. If an accident occurs on the trail ten miles from home and you are riding alone, help may be hours away. The more things your horse is used to, the less chance there is of finding yourself in a dangerous situation.
When Carolana became mine again at age three, she had a good basic background. She had not been ridden, but she was ready for it. I liked her much better than I had originally. She was an extremely pretty filly now with a better balanced body and a hind quarter and forequarter that complemented each other. I liked her graceful neck and the way it went into her body. I still considered her flabby looking and soft. None of *Marinera' s other foals had the barrel shape that Carolana did . I was anxious to see if riding her would tighten up the muscles . The only other place I would fault her is that her hooves are smaller than I would like.
I have a small riding arena, and one day I took Carolana in, saddled her up, put the gentle snaffle bit in her mouth and a little grain on the ground in front of her, and climbed aboard. The head remained down until the last of oat was down the hatch. She lifted her head. I clucked, and the sound that she had been familiar with since she was a foal brought the well learned response. She moved forward, and we were on our way. I said "Whoa" and pulled back, and she stopped as she had been programmed to do in her early months. She backed. She turned. She stopped, and she went forward the first day I asked her. I used an English saddle on her.With that and my body weight, she carried about a hundred and fifty pounds. She did not mind at all. I had a new riding horse, a sense of total satisfaction and the feeling that she and I were to go down the trail for many, many miles in the years ahead.
Carolana's early training was not typical for Peruvian horses as I am sure the readers of this article are very much aware. She was never worked on the pole or longed in a tight circle. She was not trained to the bozal and then graduated to the bit. Her world was to be my world. . . the world of trails, the challenge of mountains to climb and streams to cross in good weather and foul. The show world, with all of its attractions and good points, comes second in a popularity poll with me. This particular Peruvian Paso horse was going to do it my way instead of vice versa.
The third article in this series will deal with Carolana's physical and mental development as a trail horse: when she ventured from the security of my training ring to the world awaiting her beyond the ranch gate . I have not discussed Carolana's gaits, as yet, and I will talk about my experiences with the paso gait in rough country and on the trail. Because of my interest in endurance riding, I will also discuss some of the tremendous new theories coming from the brand new, exciting world of equine sports medicine which will have far reaching effects in the training of all horses for whatever purpose.
Go to Part 3
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