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Exercises for Trail Rides

The Certified Horsemanship Association shares great exercises for you and your horse while on the trail.


What are some good exercises to do while on the trail?

For the answer, we looked to our friends at the Certified Horsemanship Association.


With the change in the weather, it’s a great time to get out of the arena and enjoy the trail. We all know that there is no better way to spend the day than just being out in nature with our horse and maybe spending time with friends. I often see people riding past my house to get to the state park. I have often observed these riders talking or even texting on their cell phones while riding along the trail. I think when we do this sort of thing and not pay any attention to our horses, we are missing a great opportunity to enhance that bond with the horse that we all want so badly.

For me, a trail ride is a great opportunity to tune up my communication skills with my horse and spend the time improving my relationship with her. With all of the changes in direction and obstacles, it is a perfect time to work on our communication skills. The following are some things I recommend, depending on the terrain and the level of training your horse has.

    • Practice having soft eyes. Pick a focal point way down the trail and see how many things you can be aware of besides that object.
    • Practice your breathing. Deep abdominal breath results in deep relaxation and loose joints.
    • Practice asking your horse to relax. Lower his head so that his chin is at the level of his knees. Allow him to stretch out his back and get loose.
    • Check your skeletal alignment. See if you can stand in the stirrups without first having to move forward. Can you walk down the trail in a standing position with perfect balance without having to hold on to your saddle?
    • See how soft you can get your horse in the bridle. When you think you are soft, cut it in half.
    • If your trail is wide enough (you only need about three feet) see how softly you can leg yield from one side of the trail to the other. Leg yield around and past trees, rocks and any other objects that you are approaching.
    • If you come to a turn on the trail, do a turn on the forehand to change directions.
    • Practice transitions within the gait. Get a walk so slow that if it were any slower it would be a stop, then softly bring it up to a working walk.
    • Do walk-to-trot-to-walk transitions. See how softly you can apply the aids to get your transition. See if you can get a change with just a change in your breathing.
    • Practice getting your left and right diagonals by feel. Only look down to see if you got it right.

Of course, safety always comes first. So make sure you can do these exercises in a safe environment before you practice out on the trail. Doing these exercises out on the trail will go a long way to get your horse really tuned in to you. It will reduce the times he spooks at the squirrel, the rattling leaves or the horse-eating chipmunk scooting along.

Enjoy the trails and your improved relationship with your horse.

Jim McDonald,
AQHA Professional Horseman and CHA and Centered Riding instructor

*AQHA and the provider of this information are not liable for the inherent risks of equine activities. We always recommend consulting a qualified veterinarian and/or an AQHA Professional Horseman.