Training ideas for Trail riding

_trailride1Today my barn friend took me and Kyra to the forest for a trail ride, here in BC, Canada. All went well and I realized that it took me many tiny training steps to turn my 11 months old feral filly into this reliable non spooking trail horse I have today.

I had to tame Kyra first, since she was born in a nature reserve and was not imprinted on humans and things like stalls, paddocks, all the sounds in a barn and so on. Then I had to teach her some basic skills like haltering and leading. When she was about two years old I started very slowly on her education on the long reins. When she was four years old I started her under saddle. By then she already knew the basic commands walk, trot, canter, halt and she could make left and right turns.

Kyra and I did a lot of despooking exercises over the years. In The Netherlands we had different challenges than here in Canada. Here is a list of challenges I specifically clicker trained her on:

  • walking through water
  • puddles on the street and on trails
  • pedestrian crossings and other markings on the road
  • shadows
  • overpasses
  • approaching plastic bags
  • flags & balloons
  • fireworks
  • all kinds of heavy farm equipment
  • cars & motorcycles
  • bike bells
  • cyclists with children and flags
  • cyclists on road bikes, which bike very fast and can sneak up on you because they almost make no sound. They often ‘travel’ in packs which can be very scary to horses
  • strollers & shopping carts
  • children on inline skates & skateboarders
  • road signs
  • rail road crossings
  • manholes
  • weird appliances for fresh water in the forest
  • people walking their dogs off leash

Useful trail skills
In horse agility training we practised a lot of useful things too. One of the things you encounter on trails can be a “squeeze”. A squeeze is a very narrow space. Horses usually don’t like to go through narrow spaces because it can be an ambush for predators. If horses are not used to going through narrow spaces they tend

Ready to go for a ride
Ready to go for a ride

to race through them to make the time they are vulnerable as short as possible. This can be dangerous if the horse doesn’t take into account that your legs make him wider.

On our trail ride we encountered several squeezes: gates that enclose the road with big boulders next to it to prevent cars from passing. Sometimes there was also a road sign next to it. That can be dangerous if your horse spooks and it hits you right in the face.

Getting your horse used to fly spray is also very useful in the woods here.

Trailer loading
We take the trailer to get to the forest, so in our case trailer loading is also a part of trail riding for us.

Here is the video of the trail ride:

Sandra Poppema

0 thoughts on “Training ideas for Trail riding”

  1. I love this list of things to de-spook a horse to. Did you do the water entirely in hand? Any chance you could do a write-up of how you manage it under-saddle if you did it under a rider? Always curious for ways to add more clicker training to my program – even if sometimes other dressage trainers look at me sideways

    1. Hi Kate, thank you for your lovely comment. I agree with you that every horse and also dressage horses should be all round trained. And some mental stimulation is good for their brain en mental welfare.
      I haven’t ride through water with Kyra yet, but puddles and knee deep water, see picture.

    3. I probably will make a video if I ride through water for the first time. I would try to go to the same water under saddle as I practised on a lead rope. Step by step and click & reward each step in the beginning of the process. After a few steps, according to how the horse reacts I would go out, take a brake and do a few more steps.

      I’d make sure the bottom of the lake, puddle is safe and my horse wouldn’t sink into the mud or slip as that could be traumatic.

      I do give online lessons, so if you would like some personal advice please send in a video. I will analyse it for you and I give tips to improve or for the next step in your training. Email me if interested at

  2. Wat leuk dat de vaardigheden die je met kikkertraining hebt geoefend zo goed zijn bevestigd dat je op je derde buitenrit ooit zo relaxed kan rijden. Ik denk dat ik mijn volgende paard ook anders ga trainen. Het lijkt mij heerlijk om zo relaxed te kunnen rijden.

  3. Thank you Lemondaisy. Hard to believe that she once was a very scary filly that didn’t trust humans or anything humanish. Now she is very confident and seeks peoples attention all the time. She is so human oriented now.

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