The Natural Horseman – Riding Through the Mud

By Steve Stevens

The Texas Ranger has a handlebar mustache and lines running across his face showing every haunting experience in his life. Every outlaw chased shows through each nook and cranny of his tanned leather skin. His steel eyes gleam through the caked dust blown up from a line of storms starting in the Hill Country working their way east. Although the storms are bringing torrential rain, he never wavers in his quest to hunt down the Comanches who just raided a small town. As the rain thickens and the lightning crashes, he finds himself and his stout bay gelding at a full out run through the black clay landscape. His faithful mount hammers on through the pounding gust of sleet waiting for his next command. The Ranger rides light in his saddle to stay loose on his back in case of a trip or fall. The many miles have taught him how to be aware of his horse’s footfall in the most difficult of situations and how to help his gelding prevail through every slick unbalanced stride that he takes in the Texas mud.

I know it seems far-fetched, but I think often of our Western heritage and what it might have been like back then and what man and his partner the horse endured, especially this time of year when we seem to be back in a rain pattern that could potentially drop rain weekly through the rest of fall and winter.

We don’t have the benefit of an indoor arena, so finding safe, proactive ways to work horses in training when the ground is wet can take some getting used to. This is especially true when riding colts and problem horses that aren’t sure footed yet. Long term, it is a great opportunity to build a horse’s confidence in sticky situations, excuse the pun. But you really have to use your awareness. A lot of the property here is a clay mixture and it can be like walking on ice, so it is a great time to really focus on footfall. Not being paranoid, but staying in the moment—feeling each step fall deep and sturdy in the ground. If you are not connected to your horse and balanced on this kind of ground, you can impede his ability to stay on his feet very easily.

Lots of times we don’t have control of our environment: weather on the trail, a freak storm that comes up, entered at the rodeo that is never canceled due to rain, or just needing to get some colts trained in the mud. It is not necessarily something I enjoy doing, but riding in the mud is a reality. It is good to get horses used to all environments, within reason.

If you haven’t ridden in the mud before, the important thing is to be aware of the footing or should I say the ground. If there is good footing under the mud there will still be solid ground underneath your horse, and as long as you are aware and pay attention to things, it will be fine. If you have to ride through slicker stuff, you really need to take your time by focusing on each step and staying balanced and light in the saddle.

So next time you are stuck riding in the mud, think about those before us who discovered our beautiful country horseback and all the millions of miles they rode through the mud!


Steve riding in spite of mud and standing water. The trainers feels it is good to get horses used to all environments, within reason. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Stevens)