As a mother of three (and grandmother, too) I know how important it is to build strength and confidence in your children. When my kids grew up in Germany, there were no ipods or tablets, and 'playing' meant running outside and getting knocked around a bit.
Today, my kids are strong and confident adults, who learned to ride a bike, swim, climb a tree, build sand castles, balance on climbing beams, build wood huts on 'adventure playgrounds', spend a (scary) night sleeping in their tree house and exploring the world on their own two feet. All this built physical and mental strength and the ability to find one's way in the world.
Let Your Horse 'Climb a Tree'
The same applies to horses. A dressage ring or jumping course alone cannot provide the physical and mental challenges as a natural environment that needs to be explored. Neither can the confines of a rectangle strengthen the horse mentally and physically to build real ability or confidence needed to succeed in the equestrian pursuit of your choice or to be a reliable partner.
Cavalry veteran and - perhaps - last living cavalry instructor, clinician, riding master, and author Kurd Albrecht von Ziegner hit the nail on its head when he developed and published his DVD "Hangbahntraining", an approach to condition horses in a natural environment on hills (available at Xenophon press).
In fact, the original source of the Training Scale - the HDV12 German Cavalry Manual - lays out a systematic training program that focuses on work on the trail.
Do you (and I...) have what it takes?
Many of us riders, though, have lack in the confidence department when it comes to 'X-Training' on the trail, especially with young or new horses.
There are many questions around the topic of conditioning your horses on the trail.
Here some pointers:
IMPORTANT: Never rush in any gait! Let the horse pick its pace at any given gait and transition up to the next gait, if you want to go faster. Pick a riding buddy where horses are similar in stride length and prefer similar speeds.
This just in a nut shell. If your are in Wisconsin or Illinois, you will find a great opportunity to ride in a clinic on "Hone Your Competitive Edge- with X-Trainig on the Trail" with veteran Endurance Champion Bonnie Mielke on April 29th in Oregon, WI. Details see here.
Enjoy your horse!