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It is the love of the unexpected that attracts trail riders. Trail riding can be relaxing and enjoyable in a way that just can’t be experienced in an arena, but it can also be hair-raising and downright scary if you have any serious issues while out with your horse. 

So how do we overcome the hair-raising scary stuff and get to the fun?

Training for a multitude of obstacles will help both of you feel comfortable and able to negotiate anything that comes your way, so let’s begin there. Knowing that your horse understands your cues and trusts you is most important before trail riding in rugged areas.

For example, at home, teach him to side pass work on backing through an L-shape alley, mount and dismount from the off side, practice riding while lying across the pommel of your saddle as if you were ducking under low branches, step over logs and zip up your jacket to get him accustomed to things you may encounter. By doing so, you both know what to expect from each other and how to communicate effectively. Communication is your best tool for any horse-human relationship, for building trust and understanding. 

This one item, Communication, is the most essential piece of equipment you can have with you on any ride, but especially on a trail ride.

Horses “speak” a different language than humans; theirs is silent and visual, while ours is vocal and visual. His silent “speaking” must be learned so that you are able to instantaneously predict and feel his thoughts. Having great communication skills—which means you are listening as well as guiding—helps build trust and his trust in you will keep you both safe at all times.  

Imagine riding along, when suddenly a deer jumps out ahead of you. What will happen? Do you know your horse well enough to know what to expect? Do you have a “back door” or a response to bring him under control easily? Or, are you off to the rodeo on an out of control runaway? 

If you don’t know how to answer—even vaguely—those questions, you may want to school some more on the communication you both need to comprehend and to build the trust that will have him looking to you for the correct response. Sure, things can go haywire and these animals are fast as cats, but trust and communication will keep the surprises to a minimum. 

Preparation is the second most important item on your list of things to have on a trail ride.

In reality, this could be a tie with Communication for the number one spot, so however you want to prioritize these things is fine.

Being prepared means that you have thought ahead and know what your reaction will be if something does go wrong on your trail ride. This doesn’t mean you should think of every bad crash you’ve ever heard about, nor does it mean you should be fearfully waiting to be dumped. It means that IF something goes wrong, you know what to do and are prepared enough that you feel a sense of control. 

If you have a contingency plan, you are prepared. Your backup plan should include all facets of both horse and rider. This means taking into consideration the physical, emotional and mental capacity of both yourself and your horse. 

Your communication level, your trust and your level of preparedness with your horse, on a ten point scale, should be at least a nine out of ten. You must be able to out-think, out-act and out-last anything your horse does when reacting to an external stimulus that is bothersome to his psyche, body or mind. 

What I’m getting at here, is look at and evaluate your horse on three things: 

—Training Level; especially in regard to his experience on the trail.

—Communication Level; with you, and his responsiveness to you.

—Reactivity Level; does he think first, waiting for you to guide him, or does he blow up and ask questions later? 

Do the same evaluation for yourself:

—Experience Level; more is better, especially if your horse is green.

—Communication Level; does your horse understand and respond quickly?

—Reactivity Level; do you wait for him to do something before reacting or do you anticipate and correct before the big blow up?

Once you are clear about where you and your horse fall in the above categories, choose rides that fit both of you.  If you don’t align perfectly, and your horse is not as far along as you, you’d ride at his pace and level, not yours while keeping the goal of a safe, happy and non-stressful ride at the top of the requirement list.

There is no shame in asking others to help, so get some experienced riders to go out with you on your first rides. Be sure to pick an easy, mostly level trail that has few bikes, hikers or other distractions so you can pay attention to enjoying your ride. The caveat is that they need to agree to put you and your horse’s safety above all else. 


For more free trail riding tips, go to https://lp.constantcontact.com/su/Qa0qA96/HorseClicks to get your free “Trail Riding Tips” booklet!

Happy Trails!



Tanya Buck
Published on 2019-08-30