Sammy is supposed to have tons of trail experience. His former owners were a family where each person has a horse and often went on packing trips. When I test-ride him, we went out on a short trail on their property and he was amazing!
A few reasons I'm not quite ready:
1, I'm not solid enough on him yet. I've ridden him in the arena about 5 times and have to keep him at a walk -- he wants to break into a trot -- and when we do trot it's quicker than I'm comfortable with yet. I know I need to make sure I'm totally confident at controlling the walk and trot before taking him out of the arena, but I'm hoping that won't take long.
2, He has gotten nervous a few times in hand. Once a yellow jacket was harassing him (stalked him all across the property) and he wouldn't stand still. He didn't try to bolt away from me, but he was skittering around in circles around me to try to get away from it. Today, there was a deer on the other side of his turnout and he checked it out, snorted and then ran around his pasture a little bit but didn't freak out. After that we was nervous, though. I lunged him in the arena and he listened, but he kept looking at the gate that led to outside and was obviously still bothered. Then I hand-grazed him near where the deer had been, and he was ok but not totally relaxed. A sound came from that area at one point and he skittered a few steps forward before grazing again. I made sure to be extra calm and kept making him behave as I usually do (back when I tell him, respect my space, hold still while I picked something out of his forelock).
Under saddle, he has not spooked, but we haven't seen any scary deer-monsters while I've ridden, either.
The seller said he had never bolted, bucked or reared under saddle and also said when he's on a trail alone he sometimes stops and snorts but doesn't physically react otherwise. While that's comforting and one of the deciding factors for me in buying him, I know that there's a possibility she wasn't truthful and that even if she was, he's in a new place with a new rider, so I want to operate as though I don't know that.
Apart from just riding more and getting comfortable together, do you have any opinions or advice on how I can ensure our first trail ride is a safe one? I'm worried that if something goes wrong and he bolts or spooks badly enough that I fall I'll be afraid to try again for a while, and I'm the type of person where if I'm nervous about something, the longer I avoid it the harder it gets to make myself do it again.
Any exercises I can do, "tests" of our relationship that might indicate when we're ready, tips for problems we might run into, etc? I'd appreciate any help! And don't worry about insulting me with basics ;) I have pretty decent horse experience, but I'm a novice trail rider and a brand new horse owner, so everything helps!