Trail In­sights

Learn eight boosts to on-the-trail con­fi­dence.

Horse & Rider - - Contents -

It’s dif­fi­cult to ad­mit when you’re afraid of your horse. But fear is com­pletely nat­u­ral and jus­ti­fied. Horses are large an­i­mals, ca­pa­ble of hurt­ing you if you’re not a care­ful, skilled leader/rider.

New rid­ers are of­ten more com­fort­able ac­knowl­edg­ing their lack of con­fi­dence, and as a byprod­uct are also the most likely to ask for help. Ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers who try a new skill or ac­tiv­ity, such as the com­peti­tor who takes her horse on the trail or some­one who’s come off a long break to re­turn to rid­ing, find they too strug­gle with con­fi­dence. But, un­like new rid­ers, they’re less likely to ask for help. Both types of rid­ers need to es­tab­lish their con­fi­dence.

When you’re in any rid­ing sit­u­a­tion, the more con­fi­dent you are, the less likely you are to find your­self in trou­ble. It also helps you feel more ca­pa­ble of con­trol­ling your­self and your horse in stress­ful sit­u­a­tions. Here I’ll share eight ways to im­prove your con­fi­dence for trail rid­ing, no mat­ter if you’re new to rid­ing or not.

Prac­tice, prac­tice, prac­tice.

The best way for any rider to build con­fi­dence is through ex­pe­ri­ence. The more sad­dle time you can get, and es­pe­cially un­der the con­di­tions in which you’ll com­monly ride, the more you’ll build your self-con­fi­dence. The longer you spend away from the sad­dle, the less mus­cle-me­mory you have and the more timid you’ll be. Rid­ing more of­ten is the key to be­ing con­fi­dent you can man­age your horse in many sit­u­a­tions.

In­stall the E-brakes.

A sin­gle-rein stop is your emer­gency brake. It’s a sim­ple ex­er­cise that dis­en­gages your horse’s hindquar­ters and makes it dif­fi­cult for him to put you in a dan­ger­ous po­si­tion. As soon as your horse’s back legs cross, he’s un­able to move for­ward or lat­er­ally to bolt. This keeps you in the driver’s seat. Mas­ter this ma­neu­ver be­fore hit­ting the trail. (Find the steps at Horse­

The Cav­alry stop is an­other way to re­gain con­trol if your horse spooks or tries to run off. It’s a two-rein stop, which ap­plies pres­sure at dif­fer­ent heights to stop a run­away. The lower rein acts as the brake while the higher rein keeps the horse’s head straight (see photo on page 33). Use this ap­proach when dis­en­gag­ing your horse’s hindquar­ters doesn’t work.

Use the two-rein stop.

A higher-level skill, the two-rein stop in­stills con­fi­dence in your horse’s re­spon­sive­ness and your abil­ity to con­trol him. To prac­tice at home, ap­ply slightly more pres­sure to one rein over an­other, like you would in a sin­gle-rein stop. At the same time, pick up the other rein to re­in­force the stop. Once his for­ward mo­tion ceases, softly ask for a few steps back­ward. Know­ing your horse has this level of re­spon­sive­ness helps you feel se­cure.

Pick up ex­er­cises from DVDs and mag­a­zines.

Con­tinue to ed­u­cate your­self and prac­tice new ex­er­cises and ma­neu­vers. Find a drill in a mag­a­zine, DVD, or book and prac-

tice it un­til you can mimic it with lit­tle dif­fi­culty. As you mas­ter new skills and ex­pand your rid­ing hori­zons, you be­come a more con­fi­dent rider.

Watch your horse.

If you don’t know what your horse is ca­pa­ble of, you don’t know if you’re pre­pared to han­dle it. Un­known, un­tapped po­ten­tial is in­tim­i­dat­ing, es­pe­cially if there’s added stress. Get to know your horse by watch­ing him when he thinks you’re not around, such as when he’s turned out in a round pen or pas­ture. See how he plays, how he in­ter­acts with other horses, how he moves, and how big his moves are. You’ll be more con­fi­dent if you know what you can ex­pect when he’s scared, whether it’s a slight crow-hop, a jump to the side, or a bolt. Once you know how he moves, de­velop the skills to han­dle those ma­neu­vers and be con­fi­dent you can gain con­trol on the trail.

Safe­guard your body.

Strength acts as a buf­fer against in­jury. It im­proves re­cov­ery af­ter a jar­ring or long ride and keeps you from get­ting hurt if you fall off. Ob­vi­ously, you don’t ever ex­pect to come off your horse, but if you’re less wor­ried about your body’s re­silience in any rid­ing sit­u­a­tion, you’ll be more con­fi­dent. Less-timid rid­ers pro­vide the lead­er­ship a horse needs to stay calm and con­trol his emo­tions on the trail. Phys­i­cal con­di­tion­ing is es­pe­cially im­por­tant for ag­ing rid­ers.

Use the right gear.

A hel­met, long pants, and boots are ba­sic safety items that help you avoid in­jury. Ex­posed legs can cause you to ride more timidly if you’re get­ting scraped against brush or de­vel­op­ing sad­dle sores on the in­sides of your legs. If you’re hes­i­tat­ing, your horse doesn’t have the guid­ance he needs to make de­ci­sions. He’ll take mat­ters into his own hands, bul­ly­ing you or act­ing flighty. Wear the safety gear you need to feel com­fort­able and safe. And be sure it fits.

Fake it un­til you make it.

If, even af­ter you’ve de­vel­oped the req­ui­site skills to be a con­fi­dent rider, you’re still timid, trick your­self. New ex­pe­ri­ences are al­ways a bit nerve-wrack­ing be­cause you don’t know what to ex­pect. Change your re­al­ity by telling your­self that you’re pre­pared, ca­pa­ble, and have planned to the best of your abil­ity. Some­times a sim­ple change of mind­set can dra­mat­i­cally boost your con­fi­dence.

Sin­gle-rein stop: Dis­en­gage your horse’s hindquar­ters to make it dif­fi­cult for him to put you in a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion.

The Cav­alry stop: Ap­ply pres­sure to both reins at dif­fer­ent an­gles to in­hibit a run­away that ig­nores the one-rein stop.

Trainer, clin­i­cian, and life­long cow­boy KenMcNabb hails from Lovell, Wy­oming. He helps rid­ers and horses build and en­joy part­ner­ships work­ing on the ranch and rid­ing on the trail. His show, Dis­cov­er­ing the Horse­man Within, airs weekly on RFD-TV. Learn more about McNabb and find his clinic sched­ule at ken­m­c­n­

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