5 Tips to Brush Up On Skills for the Trails

As the weather continues to get warmer, you may be itching to get your horse out on the trails again. But if your horse has been out of work over the winter or if it’s been a while since you’ve been on the trails, you might be in for an interesting ride. Brush up on these important skills before hitting the trails to help make the trail ride more enjoyable for both you and your horse.

Response to Leg Cues

Your horse needs to promptly respond to your leg cues before you head out on the trails. He should yield to your legs when used independently, and should also be willing to walk forward when signaled by both of your legs. This response to your leg cues will also be important if you need to circle your horse on the trail.

If your horse does not yet fully respect your leg cues, spend some time working on them in the arena before getting out into open space. Use the amount of leg necessary to get the desired response from your horse, then immediately remove the pressure of your leg once your horse responds. Repeat this process, using less and less pressure each time, until your horse responds to more subtle leg cues.

Acceptance of the Bit

Your horse also needs to accept and be respectful of the bit. Ask him to travel in the arena with his head in the desired position. Your horse should be soft and accepting of the bit at all gaits. If your horse fights the bit, braces against it, or throws his head up in the air, then the bit that you’re using may be the wrong style for your horse. Try using a milder bit, and make sure that your hands are forgiving of your horse’s mouth.

Speed Control

Work with your horse at all gaits until you can easily rate his speed. Many horses become “quick” on the trail, so it’s a good idea to put in some extra work on slowing your horse down. Remember to use your seat and your voice to help slow your horse down, rather than relying solely on your reins to do the job.


Dedicate time to working on halting your horse. Ask him to stand quietly for a time before allowing him to move on. If your horse has difficulty standing for long, start by asking him to stand for small amounts of time and then gradually increase the duration.

While you’re working on the halt with your horse, this is also a good time to review mounting from the ground. You may need to dismount and remount on the trail, and that’s not the time that you want to learn that being mounted from the ground makes your horse nervous.


You never know what you’ll encounter on the trail, so a brush-up on desensitization each spring is a good idea. Present your horse with foreign objects, like a tarp or a baby carriage, and work with him until he is comfortable approaching and touching them. The more objects you expose your horse to, the more you can build his trust in you and his ability to recover from scares.

If you spend some time preparing for your first trail ride of the season, it should be more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Image Source: flickr.com/photos/mysticcountry/3567641913

Original Source: 5 Tips to Brush Up On Skills for the Trails

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Comment by Classic Equine Equipment on May 12, 2014 at 12:38pm

Thank you Marlene Thoms for sharing your insights and experience on trail riding.  It sounds like you have a lot of experience!

Comment by Marlene Thoms on May 10, 2014 at 11:19am

All good basic reminders. I have just restarted trails the last couple of weeks with my Arab. He does get wound up easily on the first few rides, and being an Arab, he has all ten of his senses on full alert for everything. Of course you really hope you don't have to meet a huge noisy horse-eating dump truck along the way. My rodeo days are done, so I need a quiet ride. Ha,ha, Wrong Horse! The only thing that works well with my guy to keep his adrenaline down a bit is lateral neck flexions, which seem to reset his brain for a time.When he is good, he is very, very good.....

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