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Tips in making a confident trail horse

what area are you in? maybe someone here will ride with you

South Chicago suburbs. I’d love to have good people to ride with!

bummer. too far from me. im in FL

there is actually a thread on one of these categories, pinned to the top about people for looking for others to ride with.

I started my guy out by hand walking him on the trail, and then along beside me jogging. once he was completely relaxed in that setting, I started riding him. Like someone else said, don’t react negatively to his spooks or tantrums, just quietly redirect and correct. I also played lots of games with him in the arena to build his trust in me and his confidence - tarps, blindfolds, etc. 24 years later, I’m back to hand walking him through the trails because he’s retired from riding. During those in between years, he was a bomb-proof trail horse.

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Time and exposure. I hauled my two year old to Tennessee, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, and all over Arkansas. I ponied her on the trails and left her behind in camp. She went on the back burner for a couple of years after my husband died, but then I had a local guy put sixty days on her & away we went! I make a point of changing positions in the group….front, middle, back, and when we come in from a ride with a group, I’ll ride her another twenty minutes or so around camp. At 64 I’m not ready to take off solo without a safety net, lol, but we are getting there.

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Cruz, expose your Equine to different things at any/every opportunity. And not just under saddle; in the barn, during turnout, during grooming, etc.
Things like hand tools, books, sunglasses, muck carts, trash cans, tractors, bicycles, motorcycles, etc. Never discourage inquisitiveness, rather let your critter explore and handle interesting objects.
The more you develop that natural curiosity, the less likely that Mr. Horse will have a melt down when something strange pops up while out and about. And when he does say “Oh, Dear, What’s That?!?”, encourage him to walk over and check it out. “It’s a mailbox, buddy; let’s go have a look . . .”
And I know someone mentioned this above, but forget about the round pen, the arena; ride him out and about every chance you get. Let him chose a path and explore the things he finds interesting, to include an occasional nibble as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.
“You make a trail horse by riding trail. Ain’t no other way.”
(Edit) Howdy Walk! Long time . . .

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When I was training babies I’d take them for walks around the neighborhood to get them used to things like barking dogs, mailboxes, trash cans, etc. I’d walk them up onto our back deck so they could get used to the sound of their feet on wood and the feel of it so stepping onto a bridge was a non-issue.

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I agree with all the comments about exposure! But it’s also important to set them up for success. Expose them to things that are only slightly more challenging than what they dealt with last time - don’t push too hard. That will help build their self-confidence and their trust in you. When I started my guy alone on trails at 4 years old, I came off almost every time I got on! By the time he was 8 years old, he was rock solid, and has saved my butt on a few occasions.

I remember one ride when he was about 20 years old and we were exploring new territory in the snow. He accidentally stepped into a pit that was concealed by snow. The pit was a bit more than knee deep and not much longer than him. As I was trying to figure out how we’d get out of it, he very calmly reared up, put his front legs on the edge of the pit, and then bucked his back end out to land on the ledge of the pit. When he reared up, I had no idea what his plan was, but I trusted him so I just held on.

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Yes, this part. Very important.
“Trust” implies that you don’t react in a trepidatious manner to whatever is happening on the ground. Your Equine remains unperturbed, and proceeds to address the issue in at least what he feels is an appropriate manner.
This doesn’t relieve you from needing to be aware of the larger view; things like a low-hanging branch, or subsequent terrain features that might exacerbate the situation, but even so, it puts you in the position of being able to modify your mounts response harmoniously: “Watch out buddy, there’s a tree in the way. Hop out here to the left. Good Job!”
Eventually your Equine will learn to take his rider into consideration as well. But ya still gotta pay attention.

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Very well said :heart:

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I actually do the opposite of what most people do. I don’t like to take a horse out with a buddy until they can handle the trails on their own, I feel taking them out with a buddy makes them use it as a crutch. Whether it’s a baby just getting started or something I’m re-training, I’ll take them out hiking or trail running with me and work them through all the obstacles in hand bridges, water, tunnels, bikes, dogs, etc. Then I’ll start getting on for little bits of it- hop on for a 1/4 mile of what I know is good terrain for example, hop back off and hike some more, wash and repeat. I also never give myself a time line, if we go out and Dobbin decides he doesn’t want to cross a creek today and I need to spend an hour on it, that’s fine. Once they can handle everything by themselves, then I’ll start going out with other horses and practicing things like leading and following. I’m super picky about who they go out with for those first few group rides esp. Oh and I very much subscribe to the 100 miles of walk method aka- every horse I start does 100 miles of walking on trail before they are allowed to move at a faster pace. I think it is very helpful not only for muscle development but for their brain as well.

Edited to add- make sure you are confident while you are working on training too, if you are nervous or scared about the process better to have someone else do it.

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This! It reminds me on an episode of the dog whisperer where Caesar said “when you are working with animals, you can’t be in a hurry. You have to work on their timeline”. As someone who is basically always in a hurry, I really latched onto that advice and I remind myself of it frequently.

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The old stockman’s adage, “If you have all day it’ll take fifteen minutes and if you have fifteen minutes it’ll take all day” applies to training trail horses in spades.

Edited to add: and because they’re horses, sometimes if you only have fifteen minutes, it now might take years.

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