What to do if Your Equine is Not Good at Trail

horsemanship and training trail riding Mar 31, 2024
ladies riding in a group

If you ask 100 people if equine are good on the trail riding, I expect 95% would rave about their horses/mules.  What about the other 5%?  I own one of those mules.  Well, if he is in the middle of a calm group, he is solid, but if I put him in the front, then it is like I am riding a completely different mule.  Here are four tips for helping develop your equine into a pleasurable trail riding experience.

Step 1:  Prepare

Riding in an arena is an enclosed area to develop a good stop, work on transitions, and introduce obstacles.  My mule is always very cautious of dark objects, flapping tarps, loud objects being dragged around him, and areas where something could be hidden such as under a teeter totter bridge.  Being able to address some scary objects in an arena has helped my mule, JoJo, react less and trust in my decisions more. 

Step 2:  Fill Your Tool Belt

Lessons are always a fantastic way to work on developing better horsemanship to be able to deal with a noncooperative mule.  Be sure and ask around to make sure the instructor you have chosen to listen to is worthwhile.  Also, do not pass over trainers that train horses.  A lot of the training is the same, and a lot of mistakes have nothing to do with the mule or horse, but with the rider.  To use an analogy, you want to fill your tool belt with as many ways to deal with situations that arise on the trail to ensure your safety.  You do not have to figure everything out for yourself, take a lesson from someone that has probably already worked through the same problem several times.

Step 3:  Baby Steps

Ride in a small group with experienced riders and equine.  Do not choose a large event such as a parade or a once a year event to work on getting your mule better at trial riding.  Choose an easy trail with a small group.  After that ride ends on a positive note, choose a longer ride with the same perimeters.   Toss in a challenge and ride in different orders of the pack.  This part of the training reminds me of when I first started driving a car.  I would go on a short drive with one other experienced person; then the drives got longer.  It wasn’t long until there were more people in the vehicle or before I was driving in crazy congested areas and having to deal with unexpected stimuli that was new for me to see.  Imagine a farm girl from Texas driving in New York City.  My mule will gain confidence just as I did over time and with increasing difficulty.

Step 4:  Philosophy

I keep a log book that includes the lessons I take and the training I do with each equine we have at our ranch.  Over the course of a few months I had taken a horsemanship lesson with three trainers; one Amish trainer, one show horse trainer, and one extreme obstacle trainer.  In my notes from each lesson had the words “Be a better leader”.  It took my half a year to figure out how to be a better leader for JoJo.  I had to be firmer and stand my ground.  If he told me no when I directed him to go into a ditch, then I had to stand up to him and say yes.  It can be nerve wrecking to enforce that you are the Alpha, but it can be done with patience and a tenacious spirit.  When you stand up to your mule, time and time again, they learn that when they say no, and you say yes, that they should change their mind quicker, because you are not backing down. 

My journey with JoJo is ongoing as he is developing into a better and more confident trail riding steed.  He is getting more confident with every mile.  The no’s are getting fewer and the reactions are becoming more manageable.  You too can have the same growth by riding in an arena, taking lessons, riding in small groups, and becoming a better leader. 


Written by Brandy Von Holten 

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