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.

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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:).

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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.


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.

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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.