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Most horses have a favorite position in a trail ride line up. Some prefer to be in the lead and will prance and jog ceaselessly if they are not in front. Other horses like to bring up the rear, and will balk at going forward if asked to lead. Still others want to be somewhere in the middle, preferring the safety of having a horse in front of and behind them. 

Then there are also the horses that don’t want any other horse even close to them, pinning their ears or kicking out if others come up behind or heaven forbid… try to pass!

Trail rides are more safe and fun for everyone, horses included, when each horse is confident and comfortable in any position. 

This can be achieved by forcing it – putting the balky horse out front and making him stay there, no matter what. But as with most training challenges, easing in and out of the challenge is more effective than tackling it head on. 

For several months, I have been living at a ranch in Southern Mexico, helping to train the young horses here in exchange for learning about distance riding and the opportunity to ride in beautiful, sprawling open spaces. 

Most of the horses here on this ranch have been competitive endurance horses, and the owner, Mary Jane, has developed a system of games that teach the horses to be comfortable in any position, as well as passing and being passed. These are key skills for a competitive endurance horse, where throwing a fit out on the trail is not only dangerous, but a senseless waste of energy. 

Through these games, horses and riders become more confident and skilled riding out.


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31 Responses

  1. My TB mare has started backing up when she doesn’t want to go anywhere unless it’s where she wants to go.”on a trail around the barn area. She has just started pulling this lately and if you’re riding next to a planted field and she backs up into the crops that’s a big problem. I sometimes turn her in a tight circle and that helps but she’ll go for awhile and start doing it again. I wanted to start Fox hunting her in the fall but I don’t think I’m going to be able to do that if she continues to do this. She might be better away from home. I’ve taken her once to a park with another horse and she was good there. She will also do that backing up in the ring too if she decides she’s done!

    1. Does she do this on the ground too? Do you ever carry a whip to encourage her to move forward when she begins to back up? I would recommend trying that – of course in the area first!

      -Julia, HorseClass Community Manager

  2. How do you know which bit is good for which horse?
    How do I know my trainer has the correct bit for the various lesson horses I ride?

    1. Hi Christina, this would be a great video for us to cover in a future episode. Thanks for the suggestion!

      -Julia, HorseClass Community Manager

  3. Great training tips! Curious how you encourage them to lead when they won’t? Recently went out with 3 mares who all refused to lead resulting in a close collision when the lead lost her cool, spun around on a tight trail and caused havoc with everyone else. Any suggestions are appreciated.

    1. Sorry to hear that Monica! It could be a lack of confidence on the horse’s part. Was there something that spooked them? Have you practiced any of these games that Callie has recommended?

      -Julia, HorseClass Community Manager

  4. My horse will only be up front. I can take him to the back but he will push thru his bit to get to front. It’s very trying!

    1. These exercises are great for mixing things up on the trail Tina!

      -Julia, HorseClass Community Manager

  5. Hi Callie: As always a great opportunity to learn something. It was not so much a challenge for me as my horse learned very quickly that I did not want her crowding the horse in front of her. I like a length between us. The first trail ride I spent 90% of my time reminding her. The second ride, 10% and on this last ride she monitored herself. She is getting better at not being grumpy at the many dogs who accompany the group. Maybe I am too!

  6. My girl is happy in any position when out on a trail ride so I’m very fortunate however I’d like to know, how can I get her comfortable riding level (side by side) with another rider? For some reason she just won’t keep level she’ll either walk forward or behind but never beside which makes it hard to have a conversation on the trails….

    1. Lorelle, have you practiced this yet in the area? How does she react in that setting?

      -Julia, HorseClass Community Manager

  7. My mother told me once, one pair of her grandparents who had businesses in rural Australia went to church every Sunday in their three seater horsedrawn. One individual pony had been a circus horse in a previous life and insisted on leading the line of families going to church, galloping from behind and out of control until they were in the lead. Dangerous and embarrassing.

    1. Potentially very dangerous Mike! These games are beneficial for not only training but safety purposes as well.

      -Julia, HorseClass Community Manager

  8. I ride both horses and bikes. These games remind me of group rides when biking. We form a pace line in which the lead cyclist takes the wind and the followers are all riding in the slip stream. The lead can’t keep taking all the wind so has to be relieved periodically. Game 1 is one way. Another way that suggests a game for horse riders is the lead rider pulls off to one side and slows their pace and lets the other riders pass them and then jumps on as last in line. This is not game 2 since all riders continue in the same direction. All of these games are great. I might try them tomorrow with our group of (horseback) riders. Thanks for the great idea!

  9. Hi Callie,

    I had a wonderful experience going on a horse safari (as I call it) in the hinterlands of Rajasthan on a “Marwari” horse. We covered around 250 Kms in around 8 days.

    Being the least experienced rider among a group of very good riders from France, I was always positioned last or second last in the order. After a couple of days, I thought I could take the lead but on a trot. But my horse started cantering and then started galloping at top speed. Spurring my horse was another horse just behind me and it became like a race. It was thrilling and at the same time in hindsight frightening. My horse had a hackamore bit and however hard I tried to pull the reins to stop the horse it would not. At that speed I had to come to 2-point but that helped me to balance myself.

    Any idea on what could I have done different?

    1. Hi Sathya, I would recommend clicking here to watch a video on how to do an emergency stop in case that should happen again!

      -Julia, HorseClass Community Manager

  10. HI Callie
    I was interested in your trail advice as the group I ride in is very defined: one wants to be in front, one is definately behind. So the idea of asking the behind horse to ride beside us and end up in the front simply would not happen. He would just refuse to do it. So I am not sure how to move through this. My horse is a leader and has bucked dangerously when held back from being in the front. (when another horse passed him)

  11. These are all great ideas. We have done the first 2, but not the last one- at least not all horses at the same time!
    We have a few horses who will take the lead for awhile then suddenly “become broken!” That’s our own term for when they suddenly stop and just won’t go again until another horse takes the lead.
    Any suggestions for keeping the group together when the horses natural gaits are different. We will end up with the fastest horse way out front and they either stop and wait or they circle back or the others frequently trot to catch up. Or if the fastest horse is in the back he is “pushing” up into the one in front of him unless the rider constantly circles.
    Also, any suggestions how to pass a horse that might kick. We will have the rider on the horse that kicks turn a circle in place to keep the horse from being able to kick the one that is passing- they keep the head of their horse facing the passing horse. This works well, but do you have any other suggestions- sometimes the trail is too narrow to do this.

  12. Hi Callie,
    Really love your presentations, they are always so clear. I have had two challenges on a trail ride. One was when a pheasant suddenly flew out of the bush and the lead horse and my horse shied a bit and mine did a little dance. Luckily I stayed on. 🙂 The other occasion was when we were trekking through water and the horse in front of me decided to have a roll! Her rider leapt off nimbly and I urged my horse to keep moving with my heels desperately saying, “walk on, walk on, walk on!” I was so scared my horse would copy the other horse! I am always a bit nervous and tense when riding out and I know I will transmit this to my horse so I make a habit of singing.

  13. Thanks for this Callie. I have recently started to go out on trail rides again after a fall where I lost my cofidence completely!
    I’ve been nervous but ok except when trotting uphill behind another horse my horse tries to canter – this really freaks me out as the fall was caused by my horse cantering off with me. I think she does it to catch up more easily as we are usually with faster horses (or because I’m worried she will do it! – she usually lags behind but will take the lead if any horse is spooking.
    Any advice?

    1. Susan, it is difficult to say without seeing but it sounds like she may just be trying to keep up with the other horses!

      -Julia, HorseClass Community Manager

  14. Hi Callie, My issue is trotting or cantering on a trail with even one other horse. My gelding may severely lack confidence because when the other horse trots out, heaven forbid canters, he loses his mind and charges after. If I try to make a circle to slow him down, he throws his head and crow hops or possibly bucks. If I let him go, he runs up the back end of the horse, not simply passing, depending on the width of the trail. He’s run passed other horses, leaping over brush and bushes, not even looking where he’s going. He’s more controllable if he’s in the lead and he’s perfectly behaved when riding alone or in an arena. I’m having to ride alone since all my riding buddies like to at least trot. They either ride gaited horses or disciplines like eventing. I’d like to try riding with only one other horse on a wide safe trail and just allow my horse to go without attempting to slow him. Maybe he would learn he’s not being left behind and that I will allow him to run without pulling on him. Your thoughts?

    1. Trish I would recommend practicing these exercises to help!

      -Julia, HorseClass Community Manager

  15. Thank you. Just had a trail ride with many riders. My mare definitely has a spot she wants to be. In the middle. She is very insecure as leader and sure she is bait as the last horse. I will do the exercises and let you know how we progress.

  16. This is such a lovely set of games and recommendations. My horse is a bit worried about leading, although he is doing so more and more often. Our big issue is getting him to ride out on his own. Obviously because he’s made such a fuss before I’ve become much more nervous about it too. I am not worried to ride out on my own and used to do so regularly on my previous horse. But overcoming both our concerns seems to be a bit more of a challenge now.

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