It may be February, but I’m feeling spring in the air and the usual draw toward the trail. It’s not a question of whether to ride (duh) but whether to ride alone or seek a partner. This is not a simple decision. It is more like the adult dating scene.
When I was younger and wanted a pal to ride with it was simple: “You have a horse, I have a horse—let’s go!” Now, time is precious and I’ve realized my own mortality. I am a whole lot more choosy about who I traipse into the wilderness with. When I meet someone, say, at a party and discover they are an equestrian who enjoys trail riding an invitation to ride is not the first thing on my mind. Instead, I begin watching them with interest and even suspicion. I try to predict who they might become on the back of a horse. Like Clark Kent morphing into Superman, perfectly normal men and women can become something astonishing—and downright frightening—when horses are added. Like a magic cape, minus the super powers.
Arguably, dating sites like eHarmony have done a lot for removing some of the mystery of a person before committing to an actual face-to-face encounter. I think local horse communities need something similar. I would call mine Happy Trails. Participants would prepare an online profile that rates their riding personality, movie-style, for a potential “date” to assess. G: General audiences would enjoy. G riders will not offend anyone easily. They support the less experienced, favor rides of around 2 hours over easy terrain and ride agreeable, trail savvy mounts. PJ: Potential Joyriding. PJ riders favor rides over 2 hours, are generally more experienced, and while trail riding is a casual pastime, they aren’t above spicing it up with some trotting and more technical terrain as long it doesn’t mess too much with the relaxation of the day. R: Risky. All horseback riding is risky, but R riders increase risk by duration, speed, and the technicality of a trip. R riders usually have more challenging horses and favor rides that will give them a good story later. R riders use all three “gears” on the trail.
To help decide if someone is a possible match, use of acronyms would be used at Happy Trails to augment a general profile rating of G, PJ, or R. They are as follows:
HH: Hot Horse. Let’s face it, some people have thrill issues and enjoy strapping themselves to dynamite. While they might be rated PJ in riding personality, an HH adds useful information. Like discovering someone you like is married to a lousy spouse or has the most annoying ill-mannered child, the horse part of the equation could be a deal breaker.
TLT: Trails Less Traveled. This person is drawn to bush whacking. If you require traveling on what is obviously a trail, with a porta-john at the trail head, this might not be the partner for you. An R rider, plus TLT, equals Adventure. Potentially more than you bargained for.
TB: Trail Boss. Trail bosses are drawn to lead and instruct. They are often found in pairs with F’s (Followers). TB’s like maps, plans, and helping you ride and/or train your horse (whether you asked for it or not). They should be “outed” prior to a group ride because two TB’s in a small group can spell DRAMA, of the sort that exists in a high school cafeteria. A G rated rider might be your style but if he/she is also a TB make sure you enjoy this in a trail partnership.
MP: Mild Peril. This person isn’t overly safety conscious and will be annoyed if you are. They aren’t put off by crossing bodies of water without knowing what lurks under the surface and will even seek out this sort of thing.
SR: Sunday Rider. This person doesn’t want to be rushed. If time management is important to you, avoid SR’s. A PJ/R rider with a TLT AND an SR rating could spell one LONG day.
E versus OR: Exclusive/Open Relationship: Some people enjoy variety and others are definitely exclusive. This can be a deal breaker in a trail relationship, particularly for women. If you are an OR and your current partner is an E, don’t show up to a ride with that new friend you just met. Communication is key here.
Like any relationship trail partnerships evolve, and even dissolve, over time. Breaking up can be hard to do; try not to take it personally. A G rider might become an R almost unconsciously, leaving everyone with unmet needs. It might be time for a change. I’ve been essentially single for some time now, but recently took a leap of faith and asked someone out on a trail date. We took it easy and opted for a ride of less than two hours over easy terrain. This is the equivalent of the coffee date versus dinner. Less commitment and waste if things don’t work out. All went well so we’re moving forward towards a “dinner” ride. I’ll let you know how it works out. I may be changing my STR status to “in a relationship.”
Catherine Madera served as editor of the Northwest Horse Source for five years. She has written for numerous regional and national publications and is a contributing writer for Guideposts Magazine and the author of four equine-related books. She has two grown children and lives with her husband and three horses in Northwest Washington.