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 email@example.com. Join Stephanie on the Horsecity Forums by clicking here.
Read more On the Trail With Stephanie:
The Great Escape (sort of)