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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7 Responses

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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?
    Susan

  7. 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?

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