Some horses are naturally brave. Others can learn to be braver. So if you have a horse that is spooky and nervous on trails, don’t worry. With your help, patience and guidance, your horse will become a more confident and happier trail horse. Here are some methods I have successfully used on how to train your horse to be more confident on trails. Give them a try:
1. Be confident yourself as the horse rider
Your horse will take its cue from you. If you are nervous it will wonder what there is to worry about and start looking for things to worry about.
Also remember that what concerns us usually doesn’t worry horses. Horses have horse brains, we have human brains. We do think differently!
2. Ride with another confident horse and rider
Horses are herd animals and they get their confidence from the herd. If you ride out with another confident horse and rider, your horse will learn to relax and enjoy himself or herself. Keep the group small – to two or three horses, if your horse is very nervous, as a large group may overwhelm him or her.
Let the other more experience or confident horse lead your horse when you are experiencing a problem. For example, if your horse does not want to walk through a puddle, follow the other horse through the puddle.
3. Walk on a loose rein
It’s always tempting to shorten one’s reins when a horse is tense or jogging. I’ve found that the sooner I lengthen my reins, the sooner my horses learn to stretch out and relax when on a trail. It’s almost as if I’m giving the message “don’t worry – there is nothing there, I’m not worried, and we are just having a quiet walk”. I also consciously relax my body. It does sound counter intuitive – especially if your horse is dancing around – and I have had a lot of that – but it does work.
4. Give your horse constant praise
Each time your horse walks past the smallest thing that they normally would have spooked at and didn’t; or looked at and didn’t, really make a fuss – give them a pat and praise them. The more you do this, the more confident they will get. They will also feel more secure with YOU as their rider and protector.
If they won’t go past an object or are being spooky you need to assess if they need to be reassured to get them past, or if they need to be urged on more strongly with your voice, legs and maybe get a smack. This really depends on each horse’s temperament and their relationship with you. I have found that some horses respond well to strong urging once or twice, and then, once they realise they are safe with me, respond well to praise and don’t need strong urging again. Other horses will test me once in a while and need a stronger hand. While others want to be your friend from the beginning, try to please and respond very well to praise.
5. Regular trail rides
It’s very important for you and your horse to go on regular trail rides in order for your horse to gain confidence. You should go at least once a week so that your horse sees it as “every day” work and not something out of the ordinary. Your horse should look forward to it and see it as a regular break from work in the equestrian school and his or her usual routine and training.
Wishing you and your horse happy trail riding!
“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”