First Trail Ride Advice

Hello All!

I have decided to take my OTTB dressage show horse out on his first trail ride since we’re not doing show outings at the moment. I’ve been wanting to do it for a while but never quite got around to it. But I’m very green when it comes to trail riding off-property.

He has hacked in my hay field and in the woods. He also hacks along the gravel road (until we get to cows because they’re terrifying). I used to board him at a barn that had very beginner friendly trails (only one very minor water crossing) and he seemed to love the days we went out and explored.

I’ve done a few trail rides when I was younger with friends and family and I’m very comfortable riding outside of an arena.

I have an experienced friend going and she will be riding my other horse. He’s a Rocky Mountain Horse who is very experienced with trails (as in traveled around the Midwest to multiple states for trail riding). I purchased him last fall and he’s proven to be very steady, smart, and slow to react. I’m hoping his calm demeanor will give my other guy confidence.

Anyway, I’m planning on just a half-day trip–haul out in the morning, ride for a couple hours, then haul home. I’m so used to making packing lists for shows and overnight stays with stalls that I’m feeling a bit lost as to what I’ll need for a trail ride. Obviously I need tack and grooming supplies, hay, etc., but is there anything you all recommend for trails that I may not think about?

Or anything else I should know before our first adventure? Tips and tricks for a somewhat spooky, inexperienced trail horse?


Just walk. No speed. If he needs to stop and stare, let him sit on the edge of his comfort zone until he gets up courage. Don’t push but don’t let him turn around or back off. He needs to learn you will see him through things and that he won’t be punished for being afraid. If he does start to melt down its fine to get off and handwalk keeping yourself between him and scary object.

Stay alert and scan for things ahead and around. Especially hikers or children or dog walkers messing around in the bush beside the trail, bikes and motor vehicles in the distance, and big signage or rubbish on the trail. Also large boulders that look like a crouching bear spook many horses!

Go somewhere you’ve already been with Mr Rocky McCool :slight_smile: so you know the trail, if possible.


Besides the obvious, don’t forget bug spray! (and fly spray) And sunscreen. There is actually bug spray/sunscreen combo you can buy, blew my mind.

Also have a halter you can keep under your bridle (or in a saddle bag) in case you need to tie up to eat or whatever. If you are bringing a small saddle bag for me water is a must along with a hoof pick.

Check if your trail is on this neat app I found, it keeps my husband and I from getting lost, lol. It’s called AllTrails.

As for keeping a spooky horse interested, disengaging the hindquarters always helps me, leg yielding a bit if there is room. Make sure you go on a trail that one of you is familiar with. And if it’s your friend, does she have the same standard of ‘easy trail’ as you do? I had someone show me a trail that THEY thought was easy, but me not so much.

Have a great time!

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We are definitely just going to walk. The goal is relaxing and fun for everyone.

The trail I picked is very quiet, especially during the week so I’m hoping to avoid a ton of traffic (but I’m sure there will at least be some).

Thanks for the advice. We’re definitely a stop and stare team when things are scary (I learned that this winter with the cows if I tried to kick him forward he’d freak out more so I’d just sit there on a loose rein and praise him for a few steps forward at a time).

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Dang, I’ll have to look into the combo. I coat myself in sunscreen and bug spray when I mow our yard…that would be so helpful on a lot of occasions. Also things I wouldn’t have thought about, so good call!

It’s the first trail she took her 4-year old on and is supposed to be gently rolling hills and a couple of shallow creek crossings. Very quiet and secluded as well, so hopefully not too many people and dogs (leashes are required but you know people don’t always listen to that).

Do you think a saddle bag is a necessity? I definitely don’t have anything like that for my dressage saddle. Supposedly this loop should take us 3 hours (and it’s actually two loops so we can bail early if something were to go wrong before halfway through).

Are you hauling out to the trail? If so, bring a manure fork and pick up any manure your horse deposits in the parking area and take it home with you. Practice Leave No Trace principles. Have fun!


Right?! The one I saw was made by Bull Frog.
That trail sounds perfect! As for the saddle bag, that’s up to you, when I trail I go western so I have lots of rings :slight_smile: For that short of a ride you will probably be fine!

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I always have a saddle bag. In it I have a first aid kit, a clean dish towel, disposable diaper, Advil, a whistle, water, some snacks, some baling twine (ask me about the time the bit fell off of my bridle and I fixed it with baling twine!), a hoof pick, bug spray and towelettes, a note pad and pen (in case you need to leave a message). Even for a three hour ride. And I always have a halter under the bridle. We ride in pretty rugged areas as well as easy, supposedly risk-free trails. You never know what might happen, and experience has shown it’s better to have too much than miss some key piece of equipment.


I clip this to the front D-ring of my english saddle:
It’s big enough for a water bottle, granola bar, some treats, hoof pick, and my keys, (and my phone but not advocating that - best practice is to have your phone on your person) with some room to spare.

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I am going to chime in to say that I think a 3 hour ride is really long for a horse’s first ride. I think you should do one loop and call it a day. No more than 90 minutes. Make it simple, make it easy. Bring some yummy hay and a flat-backed water bucket to hang for him to chill at the trailer when you are done. You and your friend should bring a snack/lunch. Sponge him off and make him nice and comfy after the short 90 minute ride. Everyone have their snack and then load up and go home. Next time, do the exact same trail again. Easy, peasy. Then the next time (3rd ride), add a bit more, either distance or trotting. Small, successful rides. Don’t wear him out mentally. Better to be finished with him still feeling fresh and relaxed vs. exhausted and sweaty.

To put this into perspective … you wouldn’t go this long for dressage or jumping, right? When you introduce something new, don’t you just do a little bit to give your horse a feeling of success and call it quits? Then next time, you repeat, and horse feels confident. The third time a little more, etc.

Have fun! I am so envious. I lost my beloved Rocky Road last October to sudden onset Cushings/Laminitis/IR. He was one in a million and was very much the easy-going, no-big-deal trail horse that helped any other horse know for sure that THIS is not a big deal. Sounds like your other horse might be this type. Priceless!



I was also going to note that a three hour ride is pretty long for a first time. You want the whole experience to be easy, I can see three hours being a bit too mentally taxing, and your horse not being happy about that! I think people underestimate trail riding and all the mental stimulation on the horse, and the attention that the rider needs to be paying as well.

That being said, I don’t go on any ride without a small bag (my dressage saddle has rings, but you can get d-savers and a front bag) with a few necessary thing. My horse carries some string (emergency replace something), handkerchief (pressure bandage) and a folding hoof pick. I carry a knife, my phone and water, because you never know!

I hope you have a great time, report back!

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The trail does have a couple of spots for us to loop back and make it shorter. I’ll definitely take that into consideration and pay attention to how he’s handling things. If he seems at all tired or stressed we will definitely keep it short and sweet. I admit I was mostly thinking of his physical fitness and not his mental fitness for the “new” since he’s seemed to enjoy our mini trail rides in the past. Good things to think about! I’ll also see if my friend has a saddle bag of some sort that we can use.

And I always wanted a Rocky when I was a kid (admittedly just for their color/looks) so when I was moving my show horse to our property and he needed a friend I figured I might as well live out the childhood dream!

We went this weekend! It was super quiet and most everything went to plan. Not one spook, just several side-eyes at scary rocks and logs/stumps.

We did get lost for a little while, so we hand-walked for the end of it to make sure that things weren’t too much, but he was still bright eyed at the end and wanted to play in the creek when I was trying to sponge him off, so I call it a success! We will definitely be going out again this summer.

PS, I used a running belt with two water bottles as my “saddle bag” and it worked great.


Keys should stay on your person as well. Put your fob on a clip so you don’t have to take the whole ring of jinglies with you.

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Awesome! Sounds like an excellent and fun first outing!

I always take horn saddle bags with a small first aid kit and water. I leave the halter on under bridle and take some hay string or something else to make makeshift lead rope. My first aid kit is roll of gauze, roll of vetrap, duct tape, tweezers, benadryl, saline eye flush, maxi pad (great wound covering), benadryl, aleve, shoe strings (a LOT of tack, equipment can be hodge podged together with sturdy leather laces). It sounds like a lot but it all fits into a small 3 x 5 makeup bag I had. I tuck that into the saddle bag along with bottle of water and snack if needed. I also have one of those plier multi tools and a pocket knife. It was a $6 cheap one from Aldi’s. Not the nice leatherman tools that I covet. This can double as a hoof pick if needed.

Also, my horses wear halters or leather neck collars with my contact information and an emergency contact. I always wear a road ID. I started with the leather neck collars with ID after some neighboring horses escaped and owners couldn’t be found. I had just moved to area and had zero idea who they belonged to. I ordered the neck collars from The Tack Shack of Ocala and everyone wears them 24/7 except for shows.

When I ride out on the trails, I usually go MILES from home so it’s nice to have enough equipment to fix most things enough to at least make it home. I always wear a helmet and if hunting season or going to be on sides of roads, I wear an orange reflective vest. I live in the south so I usually have the horses in cashel quiet ride fly masks or at least ear bonnets to keep those nasty yellow biting flies off ears. The ear bonnets came from Ear Me Now and are orange/reflective so also helps with visibility.

Also, I make sure all my horses know how to pony and be ponied off of. Luckily, I have never had to use any of these safety precautions but I think it makes me go out with a more confident mindset.

Have a great ride! I LOVE trail riding. It’s such a fun change from arena work and I think the horses really enjoy it too.


YAY! So glad!

Great start!

Something I discovered this spring - my horse is much more forward out of the ring and tends to get going too fast, loses balance, and loses focus on me. I don’t want to be constantly holding him back (especially when riding with pokey horses) and circles are frequently not practical or possible. I tried the forward/back exercise I use in the ring - go forward a few strides, then come back a few strides (I use 3-4 strides usually, but the key is to get a response before changing otherwise the horse just blows off the one he doesn’t want to do). My horse maintained his balance much better, and was much more attentive, as well as keeping a steadier pace.

I actually always leave my keys hidden with the trailer. This way I can’t lose them on the trail. I always let the other person know where they are. I try to hide them in not obvious places. My favorite was the cover for my spare tire. Sometimes I will hide it in the manager bag under the hay. Or under the front chest bar where the manager bag clips. Somewhere that most people don’t think to look.

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Not a bad idea! I can easily separate mine, so I’m carrying just a tiny fob while the bigger ring (that can still start the vehicle, god forbid I lose my fob) are in the trailer somewhere.

Just don’t put them on the horse! I guess that’s what I was trying to say. :slight_smile:

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