How To Train A Trail Horse

Do you have a method for training your trail horse?  Do you just get on and ride?  Do you spend specific "lessons" with your horse working on particular things?  I admit that the majority of my younger years I never thought much about training for trails, because I spent work time with my horses training for whatever arena discipline they were competing in.  We did a lot of trail riding, but just headed out the gate and down the trail.

I had some of the best rides of my life that way.  There isn’t a thing wrong with it, as long as your horse is safe.  I WILL NOT ride a horse out of an enclosed area that I don’t feel I have complete control of.  About 10 years ago friends started sending me their horses to make them trail safe.  I had to start putting thought into training a trail horse.  Bring out the plastic bags!

Joking.  I don’t know that I’ve ever used a plastic bag to train a horse.  Nor have I hung a tarp off of them.  My first goal with every horse to get that most important cue in the world: Whoa.  Whoa means whoa means whoa.  No matter what is happening, whoa means whoa.  I learned that lesson in my early twenties riding a mule of my aunts who was super fancy, until she decided she was going somewhere.  There were no brakes then and it was ugly.  I have scars.  I can’t be seen in public.  Well, maybe not that bad, but it scarred me permanently in that I won’t ride a mule again.  lol

When I am sure that the horse I have will walk, jog, lope, stop, turn, will NOT buck, bolt or rear, then and only then will I take them on the trail.  In fact, if they’ve never been on a trail, I will usually pony them off a steady trail horse.  For their first ride, I ride with someone on a steady trail horse.

I started looking for particular things to train for to make a pleasant trail horse.  Will the horse stand if I want to get off and back on?  I can’t be dancing around in circles with 1 foot in the stirrup out in the open.  Will they walk on a loose rein without little jigging or jog steps?  I HATE to spend an hour in the saddle doing the walk/jig dance.  Can I ask the horse to jog or lope down the trail and come back calmly to a walk without being antsy?  If the other rider or riders move ahead or stay behind, is my horse going to go insane?

Now I find that I want all of those things from my horses.  ALL of my horses.  So I do have lessons where I work on particular things.  One more all important button I have put on my horse is the “Step” cue.  That means that if my horse is hesitant or down right refusing to go somewhere, if I put my hand down and say the word “step,” they will take 1 step forward.  I discovered this cue in searching for a solution to Ruby refusing to step in a 3′ puddle.

I love this cue.  It’s like a calming agent for my horses.  I start by teaching the cue on the ground, over a pole.  I ask them to step 1 foot over it.  Every time they put another foot over the pole I say the word step.  Then we work on another surface/obstacle.  One foot at a time.  “Step” onto the rubber mat.  “Step” onto the cement wash rack.  “Step over the bale of hay.  “Step” onto the tarp.  “Step” into the trailer (OMG!  It helps with trailer loading.  I taught this cue to a friend’s mare and within days she was easily loading in the trailer.)

Then I just start using the cue while in the saddle.  I use it over super easy things so that they remember I won’t ask them to do something dangerous.  It’s not a fast cue.  It’s a request to calmly, quietly place 1 foot forward and it works!  I can now get Ruby to go in, over and through just about anything.

This is one of those cues that I didn’t know I was missing until I had it.

 

Send comments and questions to Stephanie at flextrnob@gmail.comJoin Stephanie on the Horsecity Forums by clicking here.

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Read more On the Trail With Stephanie:

The Great Escape (sort of)

Hello Fellow Trail Riders