What do you do to prepare yourself and your horse for riding stretches of dangerous or difficult terrain?
I want to be able to ride my horse on a nearby trail soon, but I've been told there are narrow trails and steep cliffs along the way. My mare is quite sane and surefooted, but what can I do to prepare us for this trail? I don't want to be stupid and get us hurt, but I also refuse to live in fear of harder trails.
Exactly. So long as she keeps her head while you're riding, whenever you come to a rough patch, just give her her head and let her go. Don't get a death grip on the reins with the idea that you can pull her up if she starts to fall. A horse on the trail needs the full range of motion in their neck to keep their balance so if you've got her mouth in a bind, she can't balance effectively. Don't try to micromanage her either. Just hang on and let her pick her way across the rough patches.
Horses won't fall down a steep hill on purpose and so long as you trust her to manage her own body, you'll be just fine.
Be realistic in what you expect your horse to cross. There are places that I get off and lead the horse. Just to make it easier for the horse to cross a difficult section of trail. Slanting sheets of granite. Lots of blow down trees etc. all require different actions.
Know what the footing is and how your horses shoes will react with it. Steel shoes slip on Granite, But seem to hold pretty well on sand stone. Aluminum shoes hold better on the granite but wear out much faster. Ice, snow, mud, mossy rocks in a river etc. Just anticipate how slippery it might be and whether the horse would do better with out a rider.
There are times and places to just get off and lead. Be careful that you don't get stepped on. Some horses may jump a creek that you are leading them across and land on you.
Some riders are comfortable riding across narrow rocky areas. Others get off and lead their horses. Nothing wrong with either choice. Do what you are comfortable with
If you get in steep, or challenging areas. Keep your horse slowed down, Make him think and pay attention to what he is doing
Horses can go where you would not imagine they can go, BUT, they do it much better without a rider. Like Jon said, nothing wrong with walking if you question the trail at all. Much better to be save than OOPS, we just fell of the mountain. The more you ride the more difficult trails, the more you'll learn what you can and can not handle. Although going up is much easier for the rider, it is much more difficult for the horse.... Before you tackle some of those very steep trails, make sure your horse is conditioned for them, and most of all stay out of their mouth.
I ride in an area with numerous deep canyons and the advice I offer is to keep your horse in shape and trust your horse. I ride 5 times a week or more in the deep sand of the cotton fields where I live and that keeps my mare in shape. I ride in places like the pics I see above and will be the first to tell you that you must work your way up to deep and steep. I remember the first time I took my mare to a steep and deep place and was so pleased and the past 5 yrs she has progressed. I see where someone else said stay out of her mouth and that is so true. Start out with trails that have small terrain changes and see how your horse does and keep progressing from there. Also remember it is okay to get off and walk across or down with your horse. I have seen some riders so afraid that they affect their horse and both end up in a bad predicament. Happy Trails
Whatever body else said. Practice riding out alone in your area and work in the arena. Set up obstacles, get your horse thinking about where to they put their feet.
You need to trust your horse and they need to trust you. If you are going out with another horse, he needs to rely on you not the other horse. If you ask him to wait, your horse needs to wait. If you are leading he needs to follow not try to rush over you.