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.