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Going for a ride outside the confines of the arena can be enjoyable and exhilerating, whether riding along wooded trails or in open fields. However, riding outside also has its challenges and dangers. Many horses are just more exciteable in an open environment and there is generally more for a horse to react to along trails as well.

Being able to trail ride safely is a goal for many new riders, and a very good goal no doubt, but I believe that is important not to underestimate the dangers of being out in the open on the back of a horse. Even the most experienced and well mannered horse will spook, bolt, or buck if the circumstances are right.

Trail riding will be both safer and more enjoyable when a rider has developed the necessary skills to stay on and control the horse, even in challenging situations.

In today's video, I talk about a few of the essential skills for trail riding.

Hit play to watch the video below, then leave a comment with your own trail riding experiences!

See you in the comments,

Callie

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52 Responses

  1. I absolutely love your videos! I am the new owner of an OTTB and although I’ve owned other horses befor him, he is my first OTTB and it’s been a while. I am now nearly 50 years old and am proud to still be in the saddle.

    Thank you for all of your informative videos and all I am re-learning through them. I share them freely.

    Could you do a video on tips that could tell me what would make posting easier and by that I mean the actual rising out of the saddle? Also some tips on rock bruised hoofs and how to know when to call a Vet, OTTB’s I’ve learned, have very thin hoof walls, I finally opted to get mine shoed.

    Another great video would be on best ways to deal with lazy barn owners and how to motivate them to get repairs done more quickly without coming off like you are troublemakers.

    We are new at this mom and pop barn and we have noticed that these people would rather work on beautifying their home than on necessary barn chores and repaires. This has become rather frustrating and when we take the matter into our own hands, they are quite displeased as well.

    We do not have a nearby barn with an outdoor arena at the same price and we would hate to lose this place as it is close to our home, yet we have to worry about our horse getting injured at all times. Then again, we just bought him and he has survived there for 5 years. Am I being over-protective?

    I would just like to see the other fence fixed,as they could tangle in the lose electric wire and injure themselves in it. What do you think?

    Again, great videoes and thanks for all you do and teach us!!! You are greatly appreciated!!!

    Susanne (208) 866-6091

    1. Hi Susanne,
      Thank you so much for your comment and I am glad you are enjoying the videos! Great suggestions for future topics, I really appreciate them. I don’t blame you for your frustration at your current barn – wire fencing can be very dangerous to horses especially if it is loose. I suppose it is an individual decision on the pros and cons of having your horse close but risking injury. Here is one idea – is your board rate there at market level. If you are willing to pay a bit more and could get other boarders to committ as well you could go to the owner with a proposal of something like “if you repair or replace all the fencing, clean the barn, etc. we will all be willing to pay $25 or $50 more per month. Just an idea, but that could be a win/win both ways.

  2. Excellent video with great tips. What about when you’re out on a trail and you have a refusal and horse starts to back up, what then ?? You can turn in circles but if that doesn’t work….?? Thanks,

    1. I would sit there until he moves forward. Alot of it is nervousness so just stay put or maybe just a touch with a stick. It is sometimes a battle of wits but if he knows you’re ok with what’s ahead he’ll be better. I ride with my dog and sometimes the horse sees the dog’s not spooked so just goes ahead (but after a bit of a tantrum admittedly)

      1. Just saw this second comment – yes that is basically what I did – but I was encouraging him forward after he would stand and take in the opening for a moment or too. I don’t think there would be any harm by having even more patience by just waiting and rewarding forward movement either!

    2. Hi Stephanie,
      This is what Red used to do – and he was doing some of this in that short clip going through the break in the woods. The best thing to do when the backing starts is to sit back, make sure you are not inadvertantly pulling on the reins, and quietly add pressure with your leg (or tap with a whip if you happen to be carrying one) to ask for forward. When they do go forward, even if its just a step, release the pressure. Keep your patience and repeat. When a horse backs up, you want to ask for forward not you have to be careful not to do so to aggressively, because the “burst” behavior of backing up can be rearing. You generally don’t want to add a lot of excitement or energy or punish the backing up because this can add to the anxiety that probably triggered the behavior in the first place.
      When they are backing up in response to not wanting to go past or through something on the trail, be patient and remember that horses don’t think in terms of time – they just remember if they went by the obstacle or not. However, as humans, we get frustrated when something takes longer than we think it should. For example, in that clip I used here with Red, when I was riding, it seemed as though it took forever to get him through that opening in the woods. But when I went back to look at my helmet cam video, it was only 6 minutes! So patience is good. I don’t usually turn in circles unless I feel the horse is going to rear and I need to do so for safety because I feel that circling never teaches them that go forward is the right answer. Hope this helps! Callie

      1. Hi, i also sent you a chat on facebook about this topic, but good thing I found these comments too. I have the same problem, and I am willing to try and be patient and keep slight pressure until she goes forward… But still I am scared that in letting the horse take very long before passing I am learning her to not listen to me when I ask something. She is 4 years and also trying out what she can or cannot do, I am also not sure if she is scared or just being difficult as with a group of other experienced horses there is no issue to follow them. I dont like making my horse mad but maybe it is goed to apply a lot of pressure once and release when she does listen instead of lotle to no reaction to slight pressure? She does start rearing and bucking when I apply more pressure and need to release a bit for safety.

        1. Hi Sarah, I am just getting caught up on blog comments now! Regarding pressure out on the trail to pass something, I will apply pressure when they are no longer investigating the object, I try to apply enough pressure to trigger a response but not enough to initiate a fight. As soon as they begin moving forward or get locked into the investigation again I release. I find that if a horse is in the middle of checking something out and too much pressure is applied they are likely to immediately resist and do some kind of conflict behavior like backing up quickly, rearing, kicking out etc. So I try to time my pressure and release to avoid these, hope this makes sense!

  3. I just took my horse on a trail for the first time and everything went well. I had some experience with trail riding earlier, but this horse has never been to one in years.
    The story of this horse is… Interesting. When I got her, it was impossible to trot around the arena. She isn’t afraid of anything, never spooks, but her previous owner is a truck driver who has no idea how to ride, so the horse picked up lots of bad habits, including not going where you want her to go.
    In 6 months, I managed to get from learning to walk in a straight line to cantering on a trail and it’s really nice.
    Before the truck driver got the horse, she was supposed to be a stunt horse, so spending a little time getting her to remember her previous training was enough. I didn’t really have to do anything training related, just correcting bad behavior and I was set for success.
    Turning at the canter is still not 100% reliable, but we are getting there.

  4. Really strange that I get your video through today as I went out on my first trail ride on my own today , I had it in my mind set that I was just going to go round the first field from our yard, take my mobile phone , wear florescent top and put a neck strap on my pony.
    I am quite a nervous rider and since I have loaned this pony I have been out with others , followed my husband on his bike and so on ,but not just me and pony.
    He loves to just tuck in behind head down ,so to start with that was weird as his head was up ears forward, really slow leaving yard, and up hill in first field, and I almost got off ,but I really wanted to do it so I talked out loud to myself and to him, and if I felt worried just hooked my fingers under neck strap which really helped.
    I’m so pleased we did it only ten minute ride but I did pick up some great coping strategies that I can use again.
    He is a fAntastic pony and if I didn’t have him I may not have felt able to do it
    Thanks again Brilliant and important topic
    Love western saddle

  5. Great tips in this video on trail riding and the skills you need to be successful on the unpredictable trail ride. Years ago, I had several bad experiences on trail rides, but was fortunate that I didn’t get hurt. I have been on two trail rides in the past 1 1/2 years and both went well, but I must say that I always feel a sigh of relief when they end on a positive note. I think the ring is a better place for me at this stage in my riding skills, but hopefully, someday I will be more excited about the experience of the trail ride. Thanks for another great video…the quality of this video was terrific and Red Rider is a beauty πŸ™‚

  6. Thats the first thing I said when I saw this Callie, OMG she’s in a western saddle! haha! I enjoyed the videos of Red on Training journals so I LOVE seeing his improvement here in this one. Izzy does a lot of these behaviors so it was great to see how to handle them!

    1. Hi Myaklynn,
      I thought you would enjoy the western saddle for a change… I think others did as well πŸ™‚

  7. Hi Callie, thanks for the video. I wanted to ask you what kind of bridle was that, it looked like a bit less one.
    Thanks!
    Nancy

  8. Hi, do you have any tips on group riding on trails? Especially to teach your horse not to crowd the horse in front of him without pulling on the reins repeatedly and making a hard mouth. I also feel her threatened by horses behind when I’m asking her to back off.

    1. Hi Beth, good questions! I would go out when you have a friend who can ride with you in a very controlled, training mindset type of ride. Practice having your horse stay further back, reinforcing a slower walk with praise and softening the pressure with the reins. You could also work on having your friend come up behind you purposely to help work on getting your mare used to this as well. In a controlled environment (instead of a big group ride) you can more easily ask your friend to stop and wait, or create situations to help you work on training issues.

    2. Here is another idea – you could also try using some of the bending I was showing here, but also do a little leg yield (bend, then send your horse sideways a bit). This would help create distance from the horse in front of you and also means less pulling then trying to just slow your horse’s walk if they are anxious.

  9. Callie, great video and it would have been interesting to see how you got Red through the gap in the hedge. What bit were you using – does it pull on the poll? Or go on nose like a hackamore?

    1. Red wears a Dr. Cook bitless bridle – it is a crossunder style bitless bridle and works by applying pressure to the poll, nose, and under the jaw. I basically kept asking him to go forward, releasing when he would go a step forward, and then applying the pressure with my legs again when he would start backing up. I rode Red for 8 weeks and there is an entire collection of videos with him in Training Journals if you are interested in seeing more! (You can find that in the “training courses” section).

  10. Callie – I loved this training video. I wanted to ask you if you think it is ok/advisable to trail ride with a dressage saddle. [that is what I own] Is it best to purchase a western style saddle? I appreciate your time in answering.

    Thank you.
    Linda

    1. Hi Linda, I would trail ride in your dressage saddle! I was only riding in a western saddle here because this was Red’s (the horse I was on) saddle.

  11. Great topic and thanks, Callie! I believein the value of taking horses out as often as we can to give them variety and keep them fresh (interested and willing) for work when you ride again next day. In New Zealand we love to go to “outriding” to the beach and forest. Do you advise riders heading out to take a small kit in case of need on the trails, e.g., a hoof pick, small water bottle, for instance? Wondered if you’d ever needed them. Thanks, Melanie

    1. Hi Melanie,
      I used to do some endurance riding and would take water for me, a sponge to cool my horse, a small collapsable hoof pick, vet wrap and gauze, and a pocketknife.

  12. Hi Callie, I really enjoy your videos. They are very helpful! I have a question about what to do when trail riding with a group of horses and when the other horses get out of sight my horse get really upsets and he will hop around and buck…how can I stop him from doing this? Thank you! Karen

    1. Hi Karen,

      This is a tough question because it is very natural for a horse to become anxious when separated from others. The best advice I can give you is to systematically work on teaching him to be alone – ride off from the group but then circle back. Hold him back for only a few minutes then allow him to return to the others. When he is getting upset, focus on keeping control of his body by asking him to move a bit to the side as he goes along, or bend one way or the other. This can also give him something else to think about other than the fact that he is being left alone. In this case, I would also think about having a lot of patience and being reasonable in your expectations. Only the most confident and independent of horses can remain unaffected emotionally when they are left behind.

  13. I have only been out twice with my mare, and I added a little extra safety equipment to add to my confidence. An awesome bomb proof (so far anyway) riding buddy, a padded safety vest, and saddle with substantial knee rolls and a grip handle. My plan is to increase by 5 – 10 minutes each time. It’s working so far!!

  14. I grew up riding my horse in the Arizona desert. My horse had been mistreat by her previous owner and would spook even at me raising my hand to scratch my head. So riding was always an adventure.
    Where I ride now we will ride in the fields and woods on the property. Take day trips to Hibernia Park and we frequently camp and trail ride at Fair Hill (MD) or Assateague on the beach. We may have anywhere from 8-20 riders.
    We have had trouble most often with horses that don’t like the covered bridges and bridges over highways. Also had a horse that refused to cross a creek. Horses that don’t want to get on the trailers- getting better.
    But I think the most exciting was a moonlight ride on the beach where we encountered a wild stallion who was interested in our mares and followed us for miles all the way back to our camp. Fortunately we had set up a temporary electric fence, but he hung around most of the night keeping all of our horses on edge.

    1. Hi Shanna,
      Sounds like you go on a lot of really interesting rides! Maybe I will run into one day in Hibernia Park πŸ˜‰

  15. Solid advice. And the most important may be a good seat, the ability to ride out a spook without making things worse by pulling on the reins, or squeezing with the legs. I ride in narrow wooded trails and invariably, sooner or later, a deer or a turkey will rush out of a bush just as one is riding by.

    1. Good advice, Rob! We don’t have many deer or turkeys in the fields around my barn, but a rabbit rushing out from the corn will elicit a big spook too!

  16. Thanks as always for another helpful video. I think having a horse with trail experience is important for the amateur rider. Even if the trail itself isn’t one the horse has done before, a good trail horse is far easier in strange situations than a skittish beginner. I have also worked up gradually to trails on the barn property, going a little farther from the horse’s stall and paddock on each ride. My old gelding used to be nervous on trails but he got better as we rode away from the barn just a little at first and then increasing the distance a bit more each day until he became quite confident after a few weeks. But generally, I think it’s best to leave the actual training of trail horses to the professional riders. :>)

  17. Hi Callie, thanks for some good advice for riders venturing out on trail rides for the first time. I enjoyed watching your video. I am 46, and have started riding again after a break of 15 years or so. It really does feel like starting over again, and I felt quite nervous in the beginning. I have a wonderful Quarter-horse gelding who is very confident riding in an arena, but less so once we go out. We live in rural Australia, and get to meet kangaroos, rabbits and the odd echidna out on the bush trails. My horse is always looking for monsters around every corner, and I really appreciate what you said about expecting things to NOT go as planned. I have found that introducing him to unusual objects in the arena – such as tarps, plastic bags, umbrellas – helps me prepare for his reactions when we are out, and seems to make him more confident in me as a leader. I can imagine him thinking “okay then – if you say so…” As with most things, the more we practice riding out, the better we get.

  18. Good basics about preparation for trail riding. This is what I do with my mare and plan to do with my 4-year old who was started under saddle last summer, about a year ago. We went out to the back pasture alone after working in the arena about a couple of weeks ago. He had been ridden out there twice before with another rider on my mare. I was so proud of him when we went out alone. He didn’t like some objects in the shed as we went around the corner, was very “looky”, and even just stopped at one point. I gently coaxed him on and talked to him and he moved on. We had just gotten out into the big pasture when there was a big shotgun blast from fairly close, maybe a couple hundred yards away. He jumped and did a 180, I talked to him and moved his hips around, and we were OK. He hears gunshot often, so I knew this would happen one day! Then on the way back we walked past some yards and there were barking dogs. He didn’t like the little Chihuahua, and again jumped. I walked him forward to see the little dog, and then we walked on. He is a pretty cool and level-headed little guy and I’m looking forward to ponying him for the next year on trail with the help of his trainer, and then taking him out with my riding group. By the way, nice saddle, Callie!

  19. Hi Callie!
    I have just started taking my horse out on the trail. I am having a hard time slowing him. He still gets nervous and tends to speed up. I worry that I am pulling on the reins too much in an effort to slow him. I have not cued him to trot or canter on the trail yet and am worried that if I do he might really take off. Any tips to slow a horse that wants to go too quickly on the trail?

    1. The difficult thing with a horse that is too fast on the trail is that the speed usually comes from the emotional state of the horse. He is too anxious/excited/distracted by being out in the open that he isn’t waiting for cues or responding in the way he normally does. The best thing you can do is to keep your cues consistent, but work on changing his emotional state. getting him less excited. Perhaps try riding out more often so that he gets used to it, or going out with another horse. Even just spending more time out (longer rides) may help him get used to the trail and be less exciteable.

  20. Hi, you seem to have lots of control with your horses and I was wondering… my pony, Paley, has a good direction, [left] and a bad, [right.] So I was wondering how can I get her to be comfortable with both directions, Because when I try to get he to go right, she rears and turns, then canters off. Please help.

    1. Hi Bella,

      That is actually a loaded question, because there are lots of issues that could be at play here. To begin, I would practice walking a simple figure 8 pattern, make it as big or small as you need to.

  21. Hello Callie,

    I am a beginning adult rider, and I can’t tell you enough how much I have learned from watching your videos. This blog is just such a great resource for me.

  22. Hi Callie,

    I’ve been watching your videos for a couple of weeks now and REALLY like your approach to horse and rider!
    This entry got a little long but I left it because I bet I’m not the only one who struggles with fear. Maybe your reply will help us.
    I am 57 years old, bought my first horse since childhood at 50 and had a great time trail riding alone and with others for a year. One wintry day a snowmobiler pulling a skier blew her mind and she wanted to bolt. Because of the frozen ground and patches of ice, I held her back but didn’t have the skill to substitute movement. She reared I got off because I was afraid she would tip over. It was very scary for both of us. Rearing became her MO and after 6 months, tragic life changes (not horse related) I couldn’t get things right with us again, so I sold her.)
    Last month I started taking lessons. I talked very openly about my horse history and my fear and the instructor said he could help me overcome it. I said I wanted to learn everything I could from the ground up.
    First lesson was in the arena and went well, second lesson was out on trail. I was nervous at first but trusted the trainer and the horse was super calm. The ride went well until the horse I was riding slipped on a slick slope, fell and landed on my leg. Sprained ankle but thank goodness we were on soft ground. Scheduling my third lesson the instructor said we would go on trail with a couple of other riders to further build my confidence. But today on the drive out I began to feel apprehensive. When I arrived I told the instructor I would reschedule my lesson because I was feeling apprehensive. He tried to assure me that the horse I was riding would take good care of me. I reached out to pet the horse’s neck and he jerked like a shock went through his body. He mini spooked at a few things as we headed out. I felt either I was making him nervous, or something was up with him. Either way after a few minutes I made the decision to not go any further. The instructor asked me if I felt OK riding back alone…We hadn’t gone far but I said no!
    I am having such mixed feelings. I want so badly to understand and process/control? these feelings but the truth is I’m not there yet. And I feel embarrassed. And I do not want to give up! I am all too aware, maybe too aware of the effect my uneasiness has on horses and vice versa. We read each other VERY well.
    I want to build a rapport of communication, trust, and confidence with horses. Maybe start on the ground?
    Too bad we aren’t closer geographically, I would love to work with you.
    Thank you for all of the interesting and helpful information you share.

  23. Dear Pat, I teach riding to disabled riders (autistic, cerebral palsy, MS). We go on short hacks (Uk word for trail ride). I suggest you look out for a much quieter, cob like, horse and start again. Go with people and tuck in behind them. Sounds like you have high energy and need to have lower energy horse, fatter and slower – something you really need to kick on. I’m the same age as you and completely sympathise. Don’t give up on your riding – either change your horse or instructor and…deep breaths. Stay safe. In the UK I’d put a nervous adult on a 14.2hh cob.

  24. Thank you Pippa. The first trail ride I went on the horse was extremely quiet and I didn’t feel (as) nervous with him. The horses energy really matters to me! I had another lesson yesterday and requested arena only. I felt very good on the horse even when the other horses in the arena ( there were 5 other horses loose in the arena to be used for a trail ride after my lesson) spooked at something and came running up from behind us. It was very windy so even in a “controlled” environment there was enough going on.

    1. I agree with Pippa! Your experiences have not been acceptable ones for anyone! There should not be free roaming horses in the ring during your lesson, the instructor should never send you back alone- ever. I’ll say it more bluntly than Pippa who is being more politically correct: You need a new instructor!
      One who cares about your well being and listens to your concerns. One who will start with the basics with you and build your confidence, then push you a little when you are actually ready.

    2. Hi Pat, Shanna is absolutely right. Seriously, go to another instructor. It is completely unacceptable to have loose horses in an arena while you are riding – especially given your nervousness. You are so lucky in the States to have trail rides so make the most of them. Here in the UK, we just don’t have enough as the country is so small and car drivers are extremely impatient and unsympathetic to horse riders. Consequently we have agoraphobic riders and horses! Hope it all goes well.

  25. Hi Callie, Thanks so much for your blog and all the great training videos. Red Rider is such a beautiful horse and I noticed he was wearing a bitless bridle. Was that a Nurtural Western bitless bridle? I have an English style Nurtural and was wondering how you liked yours for trail riding?

    1. This was actually a Dr. Cook Style – I have a few and yes, generally I like them a lot. It really all depends on the horse!

  26. Hi Callie,
    I am beginner adult rider, been learning for a year now with only weekly once lessons. I have learnt a lot from your videos. Thanks for your effort!
    I had a question: in a best case scenario how soon should i be able to canter with once weekly 45 mins group lessons? I know it depends on many things, but what would be an optimistic expectation? Right now, I am comfortable with posting trot and dont feel anxious around horses or get nervous when horses stumble or trip.
    — Amlan .

    1. Amlan, I think that is definitely a realistic expectation! How long have you been riding? It is just important to remember to keep your confidence level in mind because you don’t want to push it too far past your comfort zone!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. Hi Julia,
        Thank you for your attention and time. I have been learning exactly for a year. At first in private lessons for half hour, where i learnt walking and steering at walk. Then in the last 4 months or so, been in a group lesson for 45 mins once weekly. After one year, I am decent with posting trot. This means, I can get the rhythm of the horse pretty well. Sometimes, i lose the rhythm, but after one or 2 double bounces I can get back on rhythm. Then lose again, get again and so on. Sometimes the horses I ride would start walking even though I want them to keep trotting. I can steer and keep the fence decently (but not perfect). That’s where I am at after one year. Given this, how soon do you think I can start cantering and jumping? I am asking this because I don’t have a sense of accomplishment because there is no concept of exams etc. unlike in regular schools. So, I don’t know if I am too slow, am I doing ok? hehehe. I saw a video Callie made about goal setting, but those seemed to be very comprehensive including mindset etc., and not solely on skill/riding level. I understand different people learn at different rates but is there a “average” student expectation at all? I am really unable to gauge my progress as there aren’t many adult riders in the school I go to, at least not many I interact with due to different schedules etc. I am also not a full time horse person….so I don’t own or lease horses. I am just super motivated to learn :)…any ideas you can share will be very appreciated. I don’t want to push myself too hard, but I have already fallen off a horse once because it spooked, since then I have become bolder hahahaha. And I guess a little risk-taking is necessary to learn something new, what do you think?

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