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Tips in making a confident trail horse

Hi guys! Long time trainer here, hoping to learn. What are some of your favourite tips for making a confident trail horse, especially one going solo?
My favourite trick is positive reinforcement.


Pony with a steady Eddy. Ignore reactions to whatever. Just go along at a sedate pace, ride ur ride, and let the new kid sort it for himself. My method of reward is to leave the horse alone. That way he knows he is doing what’s right when all cues stop.


Lots of wet saddle blankets. And like above, ponying out on the trails so they learn how to manage their feet and get exposed to everything the great outdoors has to offer without having to deal with a rider.
However, not all horses make good trail horses no matter what. I had one who was a nervous wreck on trails whether in a group or alone. She’d be in a full sweat within 30 minutes, jigging, and just not happy. Made a great arena horse though.


-Go a little bit farther every day.
-Walk, walk, walk to build fitness.
-Have well fitting tack so going up, down, and over things doesn’t hurt.
-Tune in to the horse so you know when they are approaching a point of being worried, and turn around and go home before they are over their threshold. And go a little farther the next day.
-Stop at the patches of yummy grass or apple trees for a break.


I’m not a trainer by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it’s important to establish that you’re a competent leader so the horse feels safe going out alone with only you to watch out for him. And like others have said, lots of wet saddle blankets and experience in different situations. I also agree with @Spudsmyguy that not all horses make good trail horses no matter how hard you try to teach them. The really good ones are born with that special something, and if you’re lucky enough to find one it’s like you struck gold. I’ve got one of those. He’s always happy to take me for a ride, always forward, happy snorting all the way, likes to see new places, likes water, doesn’t mind dogs or traffic, never in a hurry to come home. I think he was just born that way.


Great advice already given.

  1. If the rider is not confident the horse won’t be.

  2. Very true some horses have more instinct to be great trail horses than others but the others can still learn. They maybe wouldn’t be the horse I would ride on a narrow cliffhanger trail - which I have done when I lived in SoCal with two of my TWH’s. One can’t have a horse getting jiggy on a trail barely wide enough to set its hooves down and there’s a nearly 100 foot drop off.

  3. We used to put a green horse (with an experienced rider) behind the seasoned horses and head for the trails. Long as it knew whoa and go, it learned everything else behind the seasoned horses, including neck reining. Every good trail horse needs to know how to neck rein:).


I was riding my 3 year old mustang on a horse club ride up in in the hills, and I was ponying my other horse behind. The trail we were on paralleled the river but was up on the side of the gorge, right along the edge. Came to one part where the trail had kind of sloughed away and it was very narrow. My horse starts across and like a greenie, started looking uphill and when she did, both hind legs went off the edge! I was kicking her and had my feet out of the stirrups ready to bail if she went down and somehow she made it back on the trail. Thank god because it was a straight shot down the side to the river. Scared the poop out of both of us! Luckily the horse I was ponying kept his head and didn’t get flustered at all the goings on. From then on, she learned to watch where she was going and to keep her feet on the trail. She made a fine trail horse after that.



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I wholeheartedly agree with this, particularly the last sentence. Currently own a four year old, who was started last year, who just accepts whatever is thrown at him and works his way through it. I knew long before he was started what he was going to be like on the trail just by observing him turned out and how he reacted to things he came across.

I was so sure about him, I bought his half brother who is now a coming two year old. He has the same attitude and nothing bothers him, just like his big brother. Both are curious, steady Eddie, non-reactive horses, who are eager to please.

You cannot “make” or train that into a horse. It needs to be in their make up from the beginning.


If you’re starting with a youngster do a lot of ground driving. That way you are behind them and they are “the leader”. Best trail horse I ever had I started like this. Take it slow too, there’s a time to stop and look and take it in and a time to teach “go forward no matter what”. Two completely separate ideals that need to be taught…but not at the same time! That comes later.


I was green riding green with my Morgan, and no one to ride with, so I just set out. I “rode where I could until I rode where I couldn’t”. Because it was just me and her from day one, we got through a lot of hairy stuff together, and got stronger because of it. I believe that if you want a horse who will trail ride solo, you just have to ride that horse solo until they are solid. They won’t learn to go solo with another horse ‘supporting’ them. A lot of trail riding is more or less like that.


All wonderful suggestions.

I might add don’t be in a hurry. Sometimes they need to think about an obstacle. No spinning and going home. But stopping and thinking are ok. I think if you look past an obstacle, that helps too. The horse sees out to the side best so slowly riding past an obstacle works better than “showing” it to him.

Two tricks we have found - cross creeks at a diagonal (straight across is a jump setup!) and back through tricky areas where a horse is sticky about going forward. We do this even with our seasoned trail horses if for instance there is a new footbridge to cross.

Have fun!



Confidence training with our horses starts in our bodies. And you must keep a positive outcome thought in your head. NO mental picture of things going wrong or anything negative They pick up on on it. Yes they do. And that might mean FLIGHT. They read our minds. I’ll never forget a very famous birder woman (Julie Zickefoose) telling me that crows can read our minds. Animals pick up on more than we think. Your horse knows how you feel.

Confidence starts at the barn and you take that out off the property. Look for (or create) obstacles and training opportunities. If something loud is going on, approach. But barely over threshold.

If they get worried …retreat…to grazing. Ah the magic of grazing. And then approach again. Pretend your are 10. When we were 10 with our horses we didn’t worry much. So our horses didn’t worry much.

Bicycles, tractors, ATVs, Air compressors, chainsaws, wood working machinery, excavating equipment, pallets on wheels… all great opportunities. But in control. You really are training during these sessions. No meltdowns allowed. The horses is not learning if they are melting.

You must REALLY be attuned to your horse and if they begin to get really worried you must help them go back under threshold. That’s how they learn you are really there to help them through anything. They’ll remember that.

When I got my Arab he was scared of many things. There was a dumpster at that barn and I’d walk up to it with him, lift the lid and drop it. The first 5 times he was afraid but then sure enough in time he was completely calm. That started his path to bravery. If there were high winds at the barn, we’d go out to graze. But not riding out in high winds. That’s asking for it. But you want to bond with a horse, take them out grazing in the wind. They learn to self regulate because the grass is so powerful and calming. And you bond together.

AND, If (WHEN) they get worried you must be calm and relaxed yourself. I’ll never forget Frederic Pignon working with his VERY excited Arabian stallion who was WORKED UP and putting his hand on his horse’s chest and in French telling him to calm down. And being so so calm and loving in his posture, in his tone, in his every essence of being. You could see and feel the incredible connection between them.

Never a place for anger. You go backwards 5 blocks on the Path to the Horse game.

Start at the barn and go from there. So many people think the barn needs to be all unicorns and rainbows and quiet and then wonder why their horse can’t handle the *&it you encounter out in the real world.


What I would add to this thread too is IF your horse isn’t comfortable going out alone make every effort to ride out with a seasoned trail horse. What a difference it makes to build confidence and have your horse enjoy the experience.


our favorite trail mare had spent two years on the Kentucky County fair show circuit after that nothing phased her. She had been exposed to whirling amusement rides set up next to show rings and all sorts of stuff making noises.

When we got her home, daughter had the horse at a middle school event where a kid was injured in some activity that required a medical helicopter. It landed very near my daughter who was on the mare, mare was said to kind of glance at the helicopter but that was all.


This is me right now. Except I need to find people to RIDE with, as I’m often ponying my young dumb one off my old good one, and I don’t think it’s the same experience for her.


Can you ride the young one and pony the experienced one? The second horse still provides confidence to the younger one, and the younger one gets more saddle time.


I could try it! I’d like to be able to put a little distance between the young one and the other horse so she learns to be more confident without being glued to someone. I don’t know many people who are easy to ride out with - even with my good one, if you put the wrong rider up there he will do stupid stuff like spook at stumps - which he never ever does with me

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I am of the mind you are better to ride alone than you are with others who can potentially ruin your horse, which probably explains why I ride alone 90% of the time! :joy:


That’s my goal, to be able to hack her out solo! Her spook is tricky to sit and I don’t wanna do the walk of shame :rofl: