How to Trail Ride?

While taking PJ on a hack today I wondered how great trail horses are made.  Sure, the easy answer is you expose them to lots of different places and things in a confidence building way.  But what I’m talking about is the real practical instructions on how to go about doing this.

I was thinking about it because all PJ wanted to do was look around.  Not necessarily in a “oooh something to be afraid of” way but more in a “ooh, that’s nice, and ooh, that looks interesting” kind of way.  Yeah, there were a couple of “ooh what’s that?” snorts but overall he was great.  However, I wasn’t sure how I should handle his wanting to look around.  I see a few options:
1.  Let him look around.  Will this make him more used to things because he checks them out on his own?  Or will he be more prone to spooking because he’s not listening to me (or watching where his feet are)?
2.  Be firm and make him pay attention to me by doing lots of bending and leg yields and things to keep him busy.  I can see this being good because it teaches him that he has to pay attention to me no matter what, but then will he really get used to being in the great outdoors and will he enjoy it?
3.  Just get after him when he looks around but leave him alone otherwise.  I kind of like this one, but I’m conflicted about whether I should let him look around in the first place, and he does a lot of looking around.

I want to be safe out on the trail above all else, but I also want to enjoy trail riding.  Also, I want PJ to enjoy trail riding.  Anyone have any ideas?

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One Response to How to Trail Ride?

  1. Annette says:

    My first horse was the best trail horse ever, but she was born that way.

    My other horses had to learn. I allow them to look, but don’t allow them to tense. I want my trail horses to be aware of their surroundings – it’s when they fall asleep in boredom that they tend to trip, spook, etc. My OTTB is a terrible trail horse, but slowly improving. He gets a loose rein and gets to look around as long as he’s relaxed and paying attention to me and where he’s going. Really, for him, distraction vs. interest are hugely different so it’s an easy line to define. For a less expressive horse, it may be different. My mom’s horse is one I won’t let look around, because in her case if she’s looking she’s trying to find something to spook at, and not paying attention to where her feet are. She’s less curious about the world in general, though. But she does really enjoy just relaxing down and out and moving forward.
    I’ve found regardless of personality getting a forward, marching walk is key. Once you have it, they let you know pretty quickly if they’re ones who can look around or not.

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