Training a Trail Horse (and me) - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 17 Old 09-14-2019, 02:56 PM Thread Starter
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Training a Trail Horse (and me)

Hi!

I'm not sure where to start but ill start at the very beginning.

I am 21 years old and have been riding since I was 4. Ive gone back and fourth with disciplines (English-western-hunter-jumping-reining-back to jumping) but id mostly just like to do recreational riding since I don't find shows that exciting anymore. Anyways, I had a horse a few years ago who was fairly green and very spooky (and apparently still spooky to this day). I was doing very well with him for the longest time and we were working on hunter jumping with him which he excelled at. about 2 years into our training together (mind you he always spooked randomly but never bothered me much), he had a really bad spook and took off bucking and rearing and I ended up falling off and breaking my wrist, 4 ribs and my collar bone due to him stepping on me while having his freak out. I am thankful it wasn't worse than that due to him being a 16.2hh draft cross. After I recovered, I continued to ride him but gradually got more and more wary of his spooks to the point where I could no longer ride him without feeling terrified. I sold him eventually and have had a few horses since then, but due to university, personal issues, and a feeling of insecurity with my riding, all have ended up being duds. Not that there was anything wrong with them per say, just wasn't a good match because even if it was an accidental spook, it would terrify me.

Ive always taken lessons from experienced coaches and theres not too much I can do due to it being less of a horse problem and more of a me problem. I've recently been looking into getting another horse due to my mental health being better which has bettered my confidence a bit, even though I do suffer a bit from confidence issues still.

To the point of this post, I basically am asking for advice on 2 things.

1) How do I train a horse to be good on trails?
- when I say this, I know I have to look at horses with a good basis on trails first, and it all has to do with their demeanour. I'm more so asking how do I get a horse to its top potential on trails? do I just plunge in and deal with the issues when they come to hand? what do I do when they decide to spook at something?

2) How do I help regain my confidence back?
-again, I know this kind of stuff takes time, but its been about 4 years and I've ridden a fair amount of good horses but even 1 silly spook sets me right back to the start.

any advice is appreciated!
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post #2 of 17 Old 09-14-2019, 03:51 PM
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I've never had the experience of a really bad spook that ended up getting me really hurt. Even so, I get scared when a horse spooks, and I HATE that feeling. I would not ride a horse , at all, that spooks regularly.

But, as we all know, you can't eliminate spooking altoghether from a horse. You can, however, get them so they mostly spook in place.


Since you say you did mostly riding with a focus on showing, I'm wondering if did you ever work much on how to disengage a horse? As a tool to stop a spooking horse? How much time have you spent riding outside, on trails?


Maybe you should start out taking yourself on a trail riding vacation, like out in Montana or something, riding out on some big trails, but on a horse that is very well trained and super confident. You build your comfort zone that way, first. You feel how good it feels to ride out on a horse that is 99% reliably not going spook on you. You start to let that fear fall behind you.


Then, yes, in looking for your next horse, you evaluate the temperment first. Then I'd suggest you learn ground work skills to get your horse really connected to you and focused and do some work building HIS confidence.
Of course, that opens up a whole kettle of fish in that different people will recommend different trainers to 'follow'. For that, I guess you'll have to do some research. There are ooodles of discussions on various trainers , on this forum.


anyway, have you worked with a trainer to learn how to do groundwork with horses, and if so, in what way?
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post #3 of 17 Old 09-14-2019, 04:03 PM Thread Starter
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@tinyliny When I used to show and I had a horse spook I would just kinda keep them moving forward and not pay too much attention to it. Mind you this was only if it was a cow hop or slight burst forward and this was also before my accident. Ive been trail riding a bit but more so in groups on seasoned trail horses because I used to help out with riding camps.

I also went trail riding in Arizona this past winter and it was absolutely delightful and is the biggest reason I would like to get more into active trail riding eventually. (not just atv trails)

Ive been working with a trainer all my riding career and one of the main things we worked on with my old problem horse was ground work. like lunging in noisy areas, making him come up to whatever it is that he spooked at (if there was a source) note that usually there wasn't a culprit to his spooking and it was more so due to his previous owner because whenever he'd take off, she'd dismount and put him away. no disrespect to her, as were kind of in the same boat now except for putting them away.
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post #4 of 17 Old 09-14-2019, 05:38 PM
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I have always subscribed to the philosophy, "if it has a heart and pumps blood -- it is unpredictable". There isn't a horse on this earth that doesn't have some level of spook to it:)

I have done hard trail riding my entire life. some of those horses I broke from the moment their hooves hit the ground, others I bought green.

My best advice for you is to find a horse that already has a lot of miles of solid trail riding OR ranch work under its girth. By trail riding I don't mean in the woods behind the boarding barn or down some neatly manicured bridle path at a Metro Park. I mean a horse that's been exposed to all sorts of elements:)

That kind of horse will be rather costly but, given that you still have some insecurities, you are much better off spending good money up front for a BTA trail horse:).

Depending on how much horse sense the horse was born with, a horse as young as five could be considered. My best "no-fear" trail horse was born that way. He only spooked hard two times in his 27 years. One was the day a fawn jumped out from the brambles beside us and ran underneath him; he was only a 3 yr old at the time.

The second time, Duke was in his early teens and we had just moved across country. Someone shot a rifle off, just around the bend, on a trail, where we couldn't see. It echoed off the rocks and caught him off guard. This was the same horse who, a few years later, only flicked an ear when an idiot semi driver let off his Jake brake right beside us to see what the horse would do.

Duke was as solid as they come but even he had his limits.

Look for a solid/ethical horse NOT a pretty horse. You can't ride it's head and you can't ride it's color:). The horse has to have good work ethic to begin with and demonstrate a willingness to share the safety of the ride with its rider. From that point, the onus will be on you to not let the horse down:)

A Good Horseman Doesn't Have To Tell Anyone; The Horse Already Knows.

I CAN'T ride 'em n slide 'em. I HAVE to lead 'em n feed 'em Thnx cowchick77.

Last edited by walkinthewalk; 09-14-2019 at 05:45 PM.
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post #5 of 17 Old 09-14-2019, 06:31 PM
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^^^^ This, it could cost a little (or lot) more to find a good sensible trail horse with lots of experience on all kinds of different terrain but in my opinion for you if you can afford it, it would be the way to go,
You are obviously a good rider and just need a good trustworthy horse to regain your confidence and buying something that is not the right one could lead to training expenses so best to go for the well trained horse to start with, I'm sure with a horse like this your confidence and skills will come right back to you.
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post #6 of 17 Old 09-14-2019, 09:23 PM Thread Starter
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@walkinthewalk its all so simple sounding buts its so true! but sometimes even on the most experienced horses I still go into mini panic mode even if its just a little cow hop and its gotten to the point where its annoying more than anything because no matter what I can't seem to kick it. thanks so much for the helpful reply!

@Woodhaven thank you so much! I appreciate the feedback.
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post #7 of 17 Old 09-16-2019, 01:11 PM
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Buying an experiences, seasoned and dependable horse is the way to start. With insecurities you should not be concerned about training a trail horse. Every horse is going to eventually offer a challenge in one way or another. It has been my experience that those challenges show up as you cover the miles together. In becoming a team you depend on the horse and the horse depends on you.
I am a trail rider...not "just" a trail rider (many of us here object to the "just" part). I love getting out on a trail, it's beautiful, and you never know what challenge might pop up (sometimes literally). I'm not as brave an I used to be but I trust my horse enough to relax and enjoy a nice walk in the woods but always aware that there is the possibility of the unexpected.
There are trail competitions if you want that sort of activity, but start out just for the pleasure of it. And start with a horse that is not a project. Time for that later.
Wishing you success and miles of enjoyment.
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post #8 of 17 Old 09-16-2019, 01:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pheobe111 View Post

To the point of this post, I basically am asking for advice on 2 things.

1) How do I train a horse to be good on trails?
- when I say this, I know I have to look at horses with a good basis on trails first, and it all has to do with their demeanour. I'm more so asking how do I get a horse to its top potential on trails? do I just plunge in and deal with the issues when they come to hand? what do I do when they decide to spook at something?

2) How do I help regain my confidence back?
-again, I know this kind of stuff takes time, but its been about 4 years and I've ridden a fair amount of good horses but even 1 silly spook sets me right back to the start.
1. Training a Trail Horse


Time and patience

There are no classes you can take, no trainers for this. It's a school of hard knocks sort of thing. You need a horse with the right mind for it, and sometimes that mind can come in a surprising package. A horse that's a NUT in an arena may make a trustworthy trail horse. A horse that's bombproof around a crowd at an event may come unraveled like a cheap sock when confronted with a bunny skirting across the trail... or a pack of hogs.

Find one that's not an idiot 'in the wild' and that's where you start... but you may not know what you have until you try it. Find a group of sound, sane, and safe people to ride with, don't go alone. Find low drama people who just want to be out and about with their horses.

Then try it. And then keep trying it. Trail riding is amazing good fun, but also a lot of work. It can get your horse's mind right, and get them fit in a way arena work can't. But again, be sure you have the right horse to begin with and therein is the million dollar question.

Spend a lot of time around your horse. Know who they are, what makes them nervous, what boosts their confidence, what's their currency. Know your horse.

Traditional desensitizing is good stuff. Grocery bags, crackling water bottles, water crossings, dogs, hikers, bicycles, dirt bikes... atvs... be prepared to introduce your horse to these sorts of things and gauge how they handle them. Work on the things that cause freak outs at home or in some other controlled environment BEFORE you hack out. Learn to recognize the signs of a problem early and learn how to defuse the situation before it spirals out of control. You have to have excellent situational awareness for this type of thing... be looking a head for problems, pay attention to what your horse is telling you early and often and listen to him.

Are you planning on day rides or camping? For either, your horse needs to be able to stand tied, all day long in some cases. They need to be able to ground tie, possibly be hobbled.

2. How do you regain the confidence?

Time and patience. There are no shortcuts to it. Start small, work your way up as your confidence begins to rebuild. Go on short rides on trails with trusted friends who have trusted horses. Remind yourself to have fun and LAUGH. Trust me, if you're laughing and having fun, your horse knows it and will respond in kind. Work on riding a little more relaxed each time.... deliberately control your heart rate, the tension in your muscles, especially the seat and leg, soothe yourself and you'll soothe the horse. Remind yourself that your fear will be sensed by your horse and you could start a feedback loop - you're scared, he's picking it up, and getting nervous, you're scared of him because he's starting to act crazy because he's sensing your scare so he's getting scared, he doesn't know what you're scared of but it must be HORRIBLE if it's scaring you! and then you just end up with a hot mess.

Long answer short for both questions: Go and do. Know yourself, know your horse. Start small, work your way into bigger, longer rides.
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post #9 of 17 Old 09-16-2019, 01:50 PM
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PS. If you get that Pepto horse in your other thread, he'd probably make a good trail horse. If you said it, I missed it, but I'm assuming he's been a ranch horse. Ranch horses have been there, done that. The type of agility he should have may translate into being sure footed.



(Has he done ranch work? What's his 'job' right now?)

"We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us."
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post #10 of 17 Old 09-16-2019, 02:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pheobe111 View Post
Hi!

1) How do I train a horse to be good on trails?
- when I say this, I know I have to look at horses with a good basis on trails first, and it all has to do with their demeanour. I'm more so asking how do I get a horse to its top potential on trails? do I just plunge in and deal with the issues when they come to hand? what do I do when they decide to spook at something?
I can offer suggestions on this part of your post. There are training programs out there that are specific to trail horses. You might google "trail horse trainers" to see if there are any near you. Any natural horsemanship method that uses relaxation to build a horse's confidence will also help (I personally like Warwick Schiller and Buck Brannaman). Taking your horse out on trails and working through his hesitation slowly and gently (desensitization) can also help. Taking in-hand walks on trails will help your horse gain experience and confidence.

Building your relationship with your horse and gaining his trust will be crucial. Then the horse can look to you as it's "lead mare" to see if he is safe. Your confidence will tell him if things are OK.
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