How To Trail Ride Like A Pro

Maybe I’m lazy. Maybe it’s because it’s 6:00AM and I don’t drink my latte with a double shot of espresso until 10:00. Maybe it has to do with the fact that every article I read tells me my horse needs hill work. Or, most likely, I’m ring sour from being stuck in the indoor all winter. Whatever the reason, lately when I go riding, Derby and I end up miles away from the barn and any 20×60 arena.

It starts with, “Let’s work on a hill today,” but that first hill leads to a meadow, which leads to a steeper hill that takes us into the woods, which connects to another meadow, which slopes nicely into a very gradual hill, and before I know it it’s an hour later and we’ve walked and trotted hills and galloped around meadows. We end up back at the barn eventually.

There are so many wonderful benefits to working your horse on the trail:

  1. He learns to navigate various footing
  2. Working in a frame up and down hills makes him strong and balanced
  3. He has to be attentive because holy crap there’s a deer! And a whole herd of collegiate cross country runners! Look out for that little dog! (and my favorite) Quick jump over that groundhog that ran across the path while you were cantering!
  4. Riding outside of the ring also builds trust. I trust my horse not to dump me on the ground and run home alone; he trusts that I won’t steer him into a ravine of lions or quicksand.

There is a fellow boarder where I keep Derby that almost exclusively trail rides her horse. This wouldn’t be “unusual” except that she schools most of the grand prix movements while on the trail (#lifegoals). This got me thinking. I can do that. Not the grand prix part, but the part where I incorporate what dressage we can do into the hack. So not only do we go up and down hills on the bit and gallop to satiate the thoroughbred tendencies, but we do shoulder-in, haunches-in, leg yield, and transitions between the gaits. Halt, walk, halt (he hates that), walk. Now I’m starting to feel a little less lazy.

But some days I ride on the buckle. We come to a fork in the trail and I close my eyes and keep myself centered. “You pick. Where should we go?” He always chooses the path less traveled.


What benefits are your favorite for trail riding your horse?

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