By Evon Montgomery
One of the most popular activities many riders want to enjoy with their horse is a nice leisurely trail ride, whether for an hour or a whole day. But if you and your horse have never ventured out of the ring and onto the trail, there are a few steps you’ll want to follow to make this transition a smooth and safe one.
1. Master Stop, Turn, and Trot in the Ring
Before you ever leave the ring, you first want to make sure that you and your horse can stop, turn, and trot. If you can’t trot and feel comfortable, you’re not ready to leave the ring, because you will need to step over trees, go through creeks, and up and down hills, so it’s not going to be a comfortable ride if you’re not familiar with trotting. Once you can comfortably and confidently walk, trot, stop, and turn, then it’s time to venture out of the ring.
“Start in the ring, practice obstacles and be sure you can walk, trot, turn and STOP!”
2. Ride the Outside Perimeter of the Ring
The next step is to set up obstacles on the outside of the pen or arena in which you’ve been riding. You want to choose items that will simulate things that you might encounter out on the trail. For example, if you know that your neighbors always have the garbage can out, practice riding past a garbage can. If you know the neighbor kids ride bicycles, practice that.
It’s helpful if you have someone there with you for this, even if it’s not an instructor or trainer. The idea is simply to have someone there to be your safety blanket in case something exciting happens. I always say, start simple. Ride around the immediate outside perimeter of the arena. This gives your horse comfort going around this border, and it gives you comfort that you’re not too far away from the barn. Practice everything you’ve been doing so far, including walking, stopping, turning, and trotting.
If your horse is getting a bit anxious during this exercise, leave the perimeter open so you can ride back inside, then go back out again. Repeat this in and out pattern until both you and your horse feel bored. A good measure of your confidence and comfort level is boredom. Once you both reach that point, you’re ready for the next step.
“Now practice your obstacles just outside of the ring. Master walk, trot, turn and STOP ! Go back in the ring during the session if you have to. Then come back out. Safety nets are helpful.”
3. Go for a Trail Ride
Once you’ve practiced riding around the perimeter of the ring, the next step is to go for a trail ride. Have someone go with you for the first time, ideally with a seasoned trail horse who won’t be trotting in place, prancing, or kicking at you. Find a horse who knows the job and can be calm and relaxed. You definitely don’t want to hit the trails for the first time with a group of 20 people and attempt to join an organized trail ride—it will be an organized disaster! Instead, go with just one person at a time for a short ride of about a half an hour, and come back alive.
After you’ve gone on a few of these short, calm trail rides, you can start moving forward. Keep in mind that you’re going to be sore in places that aren’t usually sore when riding in a flat ring, so give your body enough time to adjust as well. Once you and your horse are ready, you can start adding challenges, such as a few extra riders, a more difficult trail, or a longer ride. As you continue to progress along, you can then decide if you’re ready to haul your horse somewhere for a trail riding event.
“Try going away from the barn and coming back safely, when you are ready, take a safe friend and go for a short test ride. These simple steps will help build confidence for both you and your horse. These exercises may seem simple to some riders, but to other riders this will be a challenge. Live to ride another day!”
When trying any new challenge with your horse, remember to make it simple, make it successful, then move on. With a little patience and persistence, you and your horse can be hitting the trail in no time!
Life is an Adventure, Saddle up and Ride!