Honestly, sounds like you've got a good plan. You are right, exposure is key. As he is exposed to being "left behind" and then realizing he can catch up, he will be okay. I'm assuming you ride with experienced trail riders? I always ride with my BO, while she is on her experienced, docile trail horse. He rarely spooks, and never kicks. Thus, as a back up plan I can put my horse in that horses rear until he calms down, then try again. Again, don't do that unless you know both horse and rider, and definitely not unless you have to.
What her and I do, is always take a "green" trail horse with an experienced one, no matter who is on which one. Then I will tell her hey I need to work on buddy sourness (following too close). So we will stop when we near an open area. Then I will ask her to slowly walk away, only about 10 feet or so, while I am stopped. If my horse moves, I circle him. When he is CALM I move him forward and allow him to catch up. This way he learns 2 things: 1. I am in charge and we only get what we want when we are calm and 2. You ALWAYS rejoin your buddy.
As he gets more comfortable, make the distance longer. Once he has long distances okay, go a short distance out of sight. Also, on trails there will often be short paths which split and then come back together, such as a split around a big puddle or tree. Have your horse go the opposite "trail" as the other horse. So if they go right around the puddle, go left. This way the horse can still see the others, but he is being directed away from their exact same direction and is learning, once again, that he will always return to his friends. Start small, and build on it. You will both earn confidence this way.
The barn i'm moving to is apparently full of people who trail ride every weekend. Also, I have a few friends who are willing to met me at the park and ride, they both ride on trail a lot and have pretty experienced horses. He used to lead trails, I used to lead trails of 14/15 riders through the park on him, he was always a little spooked but he was 5 at the time. He also doesn't mind working by himself, he's often times better by himself at least at the barn we're at now he is. I wouldn't mind doing small stints on the edge of the trails by himself.
I'll definitely try those exercises for getting him out of his buddy sourness, making another horse walk away would be a great way of dealing with it. I'm sure the people i'll ride with won't mind helping me out with that.
Oh and be patient with him. I have NEVER seen a horse that hasn't been trail ridden much take it in stride. They are out of their comfort zone, thinking of predators and their instincts can kick in. Like you said, good experiences will definitely help. They have their good and thei bad days, but my BO and I have successfully trained MANY horses, from green Arabs, to Tennessee walkers, to Andalusians to w/t/c on trails calmly. It just takes time and persistence. Good luck
I have mountains of patience with him. Luckily I like him way too much to every get really angry with him. Even when working in the arena he has bad days and off days, I don't mind that. Thanks.
Biscuit is/was a nose to tail trail horse. His former owner only rode him about once a month and it often wasn't him...it was ANYBODY. Mostly non riders so they wanted Biscuit's nose in Cutter's tail!
I have had a hard time backing Biscuit off of that. Our other horse Sarge doesn't mind at all but Elan (cousin's horse) kicked him in the chest one day which surprised me and my cousin as Elan has kicked ONCE since she bought him a number of years ago. They converged on a trail and I think Elan was startled. Another friend's mare doesn't LIKE a horse too close and will raise up and kick in a flash so it has been those experiences that have let Biscuit himself know that following too close can be painful!
Each time he'd get to close I would half halt him and give the command "ease back". This was a chant on some rides
and soon I had the confidence to MAKE Biscuit lead. I never could get Biscuit to go away from other horses but now I can. Leading is a good thing...there is no tail to follow! I continue to work with Biscuit on this; it is a deeply ingrained habit for him as he was encouraged to do this. So patience and perseverance is winning the race on this.
Good luck with your move and hope you are having happy trails!!!
I might try teaching him the ease back command, just to make the distinction so he gets that when he's on trail and I say that he needs to do something specific. He's pretty easy to teach new things to so he should get it. He used to lead on trail very well when I first bought him and it was his job to lead on trail every day, 4-5 times a day. (he worked as a trail guide horse at the park we're moving back to) so I would be willing to try him in the lead.
You didnt mention how old he is, and are you sure his saddle fits ? If so and he is acting this way after 6 or 7 you may need to think logically and cut your losses and find another horse. I know we all say persiverance is a virtue and we don't wanna give up, but a horse like that is going to hurt you, Being a little spooky and getting nervous is one thing, but repeatedly going into bucking fits over it would have me sending him down the road one way or another. Life is too short and there are too many great horses in the world. I have played that game with horses and spent a couple years working, paying trainers, lots of miles almost every weekend, till one day I just admitted I was trying to make a horse into something he just wasnt going to be. Ask your self if your hobby is trail riding or breaking horses. Id rather ride in my free time on a horse I don't have to fight with or be afraid of.
He's 10. His saddle fits. He has, how to put this... a wonky hip. His bucking was really getting out of hand when he was about 6, I gave him 2 years off work while being chiropractored and left to enjoy his little life. When I brought him back into work, due to his weight issues, I took things really slowly and we're just now reintroducing small sessions of canter work back into his routine. He is still routinely chiropractored and with the exception of the 1 buck last September he hasn't bucked with me on since he was 6. I think the fear still lingers around for me because I remember how big his bucks got when he was sore years ago. I maintain that if he's not up to doing the work I ask then I will retire him and keep him as a pet. So far he's worked admirably and has done the things i've asked with little complaint.
Rust me, if he got dangerous I wouldn't risk my welfare riding him. I'd retire him in a heartbeat. I think as far as my lingering fear is concerned I just need a few good experiences on trail to get over it.