A good way to train your horse to be less clumsy and more agile and confident is to compete in trail challenges. Not only do trail challenges promote skills that will make your horse a better riding horse, but it also will develop a stronger relationship between you and your horse.
Some trail challenges take place on a six to eight-mile trail, utilizing both natural and man-made obstacles. Other trail challenges take place in an arena, with only man-made obstacles.
If the challenge takes place in an arena, some examples of the types of obstacles offered will be crossing a pile of poles without knocking a pole down, walking over a tilting bridge, or having the horse turn itself around on a small pedestal.
If the challenge takes place on a long trail, the obstacles will include streams, bridges, walking up and down hills, dragging a log, opening and closing gates.
To equip your horse properly for trail challenge training, you need a comfortable saddle that fits your horse well, a saddle pad, bridle, and bit.
The first important step in training is to teach your horse to walk slowly. He will not be able to move quickly when he needs to go through a trail obstacle. Therefore, his first lesson must be to slow down and move carefully.
Next, you will teach your horse how to use a neck rein instead of a direct rein. In other words, you will teach your horse to respond to your body cues rather than the actual reins. This keeps your hands free to do other things when you are on the trail or in the challenge arena.
Next, put some poles on the ground and teach the horse to step carefully over the poles. This is an important lesson as the horse learns to think about where he steps.
A lot of ranches offer trail trials to get you and your horse ready for a real trail challenge. All sorts of practice obstacles are offered at a trail trial – bridges, gates, water, terrain, slides, step-overs, ditches, jumps and side passes.