The Western Trail

Western Trail

Western Trail is a form of western horse riding based on the principles of dressage, with a little bit of show jumping and cross country thrown in. A Western Trail rider aims to create a partnership with their horse that allows them to move together as one. Having the grace and precision of dressage, the maneuverability of a show jumper and the agility and endurance of a cross country eventer all in one package is certainly not an easy feat, but it can be accomplished with practice.

Western trail riders must be able to control their horses in any situation and on any terrain. This includes navigating hills, water crossings, dirt roads and rough trails. The rider must be able to cue for all of these situations and know how to respond quickly. Developing this type of partnership takes time, patience and training, but the results are well worth it.

The original Western Trail extended from Franklin or Independence, Missouri to Council Grove in western Kansas, then westward across the Great Bend of the Arkansas River and up the Cimarron River into New Mexico. The most popular route, known as the Cimarron Cutoff, crossed the Arkansas River at Lower Spring and then swung southwest to the Texas-Oklahoma border near Hines Crossing on the Cimarron River, and then turned south over Raton Pass (Pass of the Rat) into Santa Fe.

By 1885 cattle traffic on the trail began to decline, in part due to quarantines that were imposed by many northern states and territories in response to a parasitic tick that carried the infectious “Texas Fever” that decimated herds. Other factors included the advent of barbed wire fences, railroad land sales to homesteaders and the increasing importance of northern markets.

As a result, contract drovers–usually young former Confederate soldiers–were hired to walk the herds of Texas cattle to Kansas markets. Each herd was typically comprised of 3,000 head of cattle and required eleven men to handle it. This enormous traffic gave rise to the term “cowboys.”

Among the most famous cowboys to ever walk the trail was John T. Lytle, who in association with several partners delivered about a half million head of Texas cattle to Kansas markets between 1871 and 1886.

Located on public lands in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, the proposed Western Trail would utilize a network of preexisting trail systems including National Forests and Bureau of Land Management grazing lands. This route would allow for the use of minimal right-of-way acquisition and construction. It also allows for the conservation of wilderness areas and access to a variety of vistas including the towering canyon walls of the San Rafael Swell, Henry Mountains, LaSal Mountains, Waterpocket Fold, and Buckskin Mountains.

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