Trail Horse Stories
I don’t know how many miles that I’ve ridden on trails, but I started riding livery horses on forest preserve trails in Illinois, when I was about 18 years old, until I was 24 yrs old. And now for the past 41 years, I’ve been riding in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. For several years, my wife and I would ride about 25 miles every Saturday and Sunday in the mountains. (Boy I can remember our knees hurting) But the point is, we both came to really appreciate a good trail horse. We’ve had some good trial horses over the years, and then there have been some not so good ones.
A Horse Called “Jolly”
The best trail horse we ever had was a little horse, about 14.2 hands tall, but very stocky and strong. He was a “flea-bit” grey, he was “very gaited”, and had stamina like no other we’ve ever had. This horse was the epitome of what I think a trail horse should be.
We bought Jolly from an older man, a friend who had a very big ranch up north of us about 60 miles. The man was an outfitter of horses for trail rides and pack trips. He usually had about 200 horses at any given time. Jolly’s original name was “Folly” but we misunderstood them when we bought him, and so he was always Jolly to us. Don’t ask me how anyone ever came up with the name Folly, for a horse. But Folly was one of the horses that my friend would send out on pack trips, usually hunting trips, over by Jackson Wyoming. They would go out for two weeks at a time, and cover some really rough terrain, everyday during that two week period.
Every horse was “played out” after those two weeks, except Jolly. Glenn (the rancher) told me that even though every other horse was quite ready for a well deserved rest, Jolly acted a fresh as the day they got there. That’s the kind of stamina Jolly had. My wife Jan, is a small person, barely weighing 100 lbs. And when she’d ride Jolly, especially when she’d ride bareback, as she usually did, that horse never even felt anything in his back. He would go all day long and never even break a sweat.
Jolly Was The Best “Wrangle Horse”
We used to live on a 900 acre ranch at the foot of the mountains. The south pasture was about 600 acres, and was mostly hillside leading up toward the mountains, with a couple of draws running down through it. In the summer, we pastured about 20 to 25 horses in this pasture, and we always had a few horses that were kept down by the barn in the creek pasture, for riding. When we’d have to go and get the horses that were up in that south pasture, and bring them down for something, we’d either go out in vehicles and get them to follow, or if we couldn’t get to them in a vehicle, we’d go horseback.
When we went horseback, Jan rode Jolly. We’d ride up the hill, and get behind that bunch of horses, and start pushing them down, and Jolly would take over. You didn’t have to rein him, he knew exactly what to do, so you just let him go. He would stay behind the other horses, and if one would go off to the side, Jolly would veer off that direction and bring him back. And if the horses started galloping, Jolly would stay just far enough back, to see what the others were going to do, and he could “anticipate” their moves, and be able to steer them in the direction they needed to go. He’s keep that whole bunch going just where he knew they needed to go.
Jolly Belonged To My Wife
As I said, Jolly was my wife’s horse, so I seldom rode him, but it was a treat just to be riding along and watching as she would let him do his thing. Jolly wasn’t much to look at, but boy could he work! He kind of reminds me of a cutting horse, who knows exactly what his job is, and the rider is just “along for the ride”. Jolly always seemed to know exactly what you wanted him to do, and so, he just did it. He would’ve been a good “poster boy” for Nike. Just do it!
One time Jolly was turned out in the south pasture along with the others, so we went and got them in with vehicles. Once you get the horses down off the hill, they know where they’re going, so you have the corral gate open, and just drive them towards it. But when they get on the corral, they’re still quite worked up and excited from being run in, and so they tend to run around the corral, getting in and out of each other’s way, until they all settle down.
So when Jolly would be with them, all the others would be running around the corral, and Jolly would go and stand in the center, and watch the others run around. You could tell what he was thinking. “You bunch of knot heads, you’re running in circles… there’s no where to go in here” Now that’s what I wish I had a picture of. Jolly was simply the best horse we’ve ever had, when it came to wrangling, or trail riding, or “gaiting”.
Jolly Was “Very Gaited”
The reason that we bought Jolly, was because he was gaited, but he turned out to be “very” gaited. By that I mean, he could do lots of gaits. We were in need of another horse at the time, and a friend of ours owned Jolly. We had already been into gaited horses for a few years, so naturally we were looking for another good, gaited horse. We had, one-by-one, gotten rid of all our quarter horses, and grade horses, and gotten Missouri Foxtrotters. That’s a story in itself, how we got interested in foxtrotters. I’d like to take the time to tell you about it, so let me brief it up as best I can.
The first horse that we got when we moved to Wyoming, was “Pat”, a very tough, but kind of “ornery” horse, that we had bought “cheap” from another outfitter friend. Please read the page “About Me” and read about Pat. Pat’s one physical drawback was that her hooves were prone to cracking. I sure wish we would’ve had “E3 Live for Horses”, back then. You might want to check out E3 Live for Horses for information about it.
But anyhow, one year Pat got a severe crack that went all the way up the hoof wall, and all the way through. Needless to say, we couldn’t ride her. It’s amazing how the shoer handled the problem. He took a little grinder, and ground out the crack a little bit, and then he drilled little holes up and down both sides of the crack. and used some stainless steel wire to lace it up, just like you’d lace up your shoes. Then he ground out the bottom of the hoof wall, to relieve any pressure from the craked area, and built a shoe for her, with “clips” on either side of the crack. The clips were then bent upward on the outside of the hoof wall to help give support to the hoof wall, as it grew out. The whole process had to be repeated a few times, as the hoof grew out, but by the next year, she was good as new.
Do you see why this series on “Training The Trail Horse”, isn’t going to get done in one lesson?
Back To Foxtrotters
So Pat was out of commission, and we needed another horse to ride. Well, another friend of ours named Tom, who had a ranch about 45 miles south and then 20 miles east of town, said that he had a horse he would sell us cheap (cheap was the order of the day back then). Her name was Foxy, and he said that she was a Foxtrotter. Imagine that, a Foxtrotter named Foxy. Foxy was a big mare, about 15.2 hands tall, with a really big head, and built like a tank. She was a dark sorrel color, with all black hooves. Great.. dark hooves are strong hooves! Pat was a paint horse, and her hooves had a lot of light color in them. Tom said Foxy was absolutely gentle and could walk really fast, but was hard to stop. (that was an understatement) But that was good enough for me, we were in a bind for a horse.
In the spring of the year, before the mountain was free of snow, and dried up enough to ride, My wife and I would go to the fairgrounds and ride, just to “leg up” the horses. The fairgrounds has a race track that goes all the way around the arena, probably a half mile around. We’d of course start off slowly, but when the horses had gotten used to being worked again after the winter, we would gallop them around the track. Well, if you galloped Foxy one lap around, it took two more laps to shut her down. We tried every bit imaginable, and we tried hackamores, and we tried various kinds of training. The bottom line was, if Foxy got to galloping, she wasn’t going to stop unitl she was too tired to go any more. But that’s the good part, she didn’t have a lot of stamina at a gallop. Probably because she got herself all worked up by galloping.
I found out that if we were riding in the mountains, and wanted to gallop, all you needed to do was head her uphill, and she’d get tired quickly and stop. We finally turned Foxy into a “pack horse”, and she was great at that, because she was big and strong, and at a walk, she could literally go all day. I once packed out almost a whole elk on her, leaving just the rib cage behind, with the meat stripped off, and the head and antlers on top, with the antlers almost touching the ground.
We called Foxy by a different name though. Because of her size, and her strength, and because she was almost unstoppable, she was like a TANK! So we just called her “Sherman” Sherman’s hooves were so hard, that I would break hoof nippers, and dull my rasps, trying to shoe her. So I quit shoeing her and just let her go barefoot. If you’ve ever rode a horse barefoot in the Rocky Mountains, you know what it does to the average horse’s feet. They just about don’t have any feet left! But not Sherman. After riding her in the mountains, week after week, her hooves still needed to be trimmed from time to time. What a tank!
But Sherman (to us, that was an endearing name), was as gentle as a lamb. She was always right there when you went to get her, she never dreamed of walking away from you. She was already older when we got her, but I can’t imagine that she ever thought of doing anything wrong, her whole life. Sherman was just always there, always willing, and “healthy as a horse”.
We Bought Sherman as a Foxtrotter
I haven’t told you WHY Sherman prompted us to get into Foxtrotters though. It wasn’t her gentleness, and it wasn’t her strength, but it was her incredibly fast walk. To this day, I have never had a horse that could walk as fast as Sherman, none that could even come close. Now a Foxtrotter is supposed to Foxtrot, that’s what they’re bred for. But Sherman didn’t really have the ability to Foxtrot. For those of you who may not know what a Foxtrot is; A Foxtrot is an intermediate speed, four beat gait, in between the walk and the canter. Please read the post called “How To Train A Gaited Horse” for a more detailed explanation of various gaits.
Your typical horse has three gaits, the walk, the trot, and the canter. The gallop is just a “fast” canter more or less. But a “gaited” horse typically has another intermediate gait in addition to the trot. Some gaited horses actually don’t have a trot, but those horses will usually be prone to doing a “pace” instead. So their main gaits will be the walk, the pace, the second intermediate gait, and the canter, or gallop. A “gaited” horse that has a trot, will usually have the walk, the trot, the second intermediate gait, such as the Foxtrot, and the canter, or gallop.
There’s actually no such thing as a “non-gaited” horse, because any manner of travel is a “gait”. If a horse could only walk, he would have at least one gait. But a horse that only has the three most common ways of travelling; namely the walk, trot, and canter, are sometimes referred to as non-gaited. And a horse that has some additional way of travelling, in addition to the walk, trot, and canter, are called “gaited” horse. They sometimes are called, “smooth gaited” horses. This of course being because the conventional trot is a fairly rough gait. Rough on the rider that is. It’s perfectly comfortable for the horse. And the other intermediate gaits are typically much smoother for the rider.
Sherman Couldn’t “Gait”
So even though Sherman was supposed to be a Foxtrotter, I don’t think I ever succeeded in getting her to foxtrot for me. But it didn’t matter, because her walk was SO fast, that almost any other gaited horse would have to be “gaiting” fast to keep up with her. I can remember vividly, riding Sherman up a long valley where we used to ride a lot, and being simply astonished at how fast she was walking. I would just look at the ground going by, and wonder, How can she be walking this fast? And since she was actually “walking”, she was perfectly smooth. That’s of course the one major thing you want from a gaited horse, a smooth ride. That’s what made us want to get more Foxtrotters. That amazing fast and smooth walk. Little did I know that I’d never have another horse that could walk that fast. Sherman easily had a 10 mph walk.
My Experience With “Gaited” Horses
I raised Foxtrotters for about 25 years, and I have ridden a lot of different “gaits”. From the “foxtrot”, to the “running walk”, to the “pace”, and the “single foot”. We even got into Icelandic horses in our later years. Icelandic horses are gaited horses, and many of them, are what you would call, “very gaited”. Many Tennessee Waking Horses, are also very gaited, along with some Foxtrotters. “Very Gaited” simply means that the horse can do a lot of different gaits, depending on such things like the terrain they are in, or the way they are trained. But they have the natural ability, to travel in a great variety of gaits.
Our horse Jolly was like this. That’s why I said earlier that he was very gaited. When my wife rode him, she would let him do whatever gait he wanted to do at the particular time, because he always travelled in the easiest gait for him, and it was always smooth. It just depended on the terrain that he was in, whether he did a single-foot, or a running walk, or a foxtrot, or even a pace. He would never just trot, which to a gaited horse person, would be called a “hard trot”. And he wasn’t prone to doing a canter either, though he of course would gallop when needed. But then again, he could perform any of his intermediate gaits, at speeds that were much faster than the speed of a canter.
How Fast Could He Gait?
Once when we needed to bring the horses down from the south pasture, we went up and got Jolly with our Blazer, and brought him down to use to “wrangle in” the others. On the way down I “ponied” Jolly with a halter and lead rope, out the window of the Blazer. On a fairly smooth stretch of road, I was going 20 mph in the Blazer, and Jolly was just “gaiting” beside me, and looking around, just as comfortable and relaxed as can be. That horse was a one-of-a-kind, for sure!
I have had some pretty fast gaiting horses over the years. One in particular was a big Foxtrotter mare named Missy. We bought her out of Mississippi, hence the name Missy. (that’s Jan with Missy, in the picture on the right) Missy could do a very fast single-foot gait, and a smooth foxtrot too. I’d be riding Missy and my wife Jan would be riding Jolly. Of course Jolly would always be out in front (he had a very competitive nature). So I’d get Missy really going in her single-foot (all of the gaited horse people that saw her, were amazed at how fast SHE was), and if I started to catch up with Jolly, he’d kind of turn an eye back, and see us coming up on him, and it’s like he’d “shift” into a higher gear, and he’d just pull away like it was nothing. Talk about one-of-a-kind! I’m convinced that Jolly could gait 25 mph.
It was a very sad day when Jolly had to be put down. We had been told when we bought him, that he was 12 yrs old. And we had him another 12 yrs after that. But for the last couple of years he had melanoma cancer, which begins as a cancer of the skin, and Jolly had it under his tail and into his rectum. Jolly was a “flea-bit” grey, and grey horses are prone to melanoma. Well, the cancer spread into his organs until it hurt him so much to walk, that he just wanted to stand still, and the other horses started picking on him, as animals will do. So finally it was time, and we had to put him down. But he’s buried up on the hill, above where we live, and nothing will ever be built there, because the land has a “conservation easement” on it, which prohibits the building of anything new.
The Only Picture I Have Left
I believe that I only have one picture left, of Jolly. We used to have VHS tapes of him that we took many years ago with a camcorder. But I don’t know what happened to them. I wish I still had them, because one in particular, showed Jan riding Jolly through a pasture of very uneven ground. And you could see him shift his gaits as he needed for the uneven ground. It was really interesting to watch. And she’d sit there, just as smooth as could be, as he’d go across the pasture, up and down, and through tall brush, and over flat road, gaiting all the time. What a cool horse, we sure miss him.
Here’s The Picture…
What Breed Of Horse Was Jolly?
We are both convinced (my wife and I), that Jolly was a cross-breed. Jolly is what got us interested in Icelandic Horses. Jolly had so many “unusual” traits, that we did a lot of research into what breed of horse possessed these traits. And the breed that had almost all of them was the Icelandic Horse. We are pretty sure that Jolly was at least half Icelandic, and the other part, either Foxtrotter, or Walking horse. You don’t get that kind of gait unless both parents are well gaited. At any rate, I don’t think you could reproduce him if you had all the money in the world to try.
Thanks for listening to me “ramble” about my horses, and the fun we had with them. As always, if you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment area below. Tell me about your horse riding experiences, I’d love to hear. Talk to you later, and “Happy Horse Training” and “Happy Trail Riding”, Jim.