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I am a 50 year old who bought a retired show horse that is 13. I want to trail ride her and don't know how to slowly get started. She is on 23 acres and some people ride on the property. I've owned her for 18 months and just walk, trot. I am a relatively novice rider and a little nervous. Thoughts of her spooking at things keep popping in my mind. I'm trying to get confidence to trail ride her, but not very successful at it. Please help..... I love her and she would never intentionally hurt me. I had a bad riding accident when I was 12 and didn't get back on a horse in 33 years. This accident happened on a trail. Help!! Help!!

- M. A.


You're a smart lady to go slow. Riding in the uncontrolled environment of a trail can lead to some significant -- and unpredictable -- hazards.

Did you ever go to summer camp? If you did, you probably remember another inherently dangerous form of recreation: swimming. How did the camp reduce the risk? By the "Buddy System," of course. The same approach works well on the trail. Buddy up with one of the other riders on that property -- a good, experienced rider on a steady, well-mannered horse. Explain your concerns, and ask the other rider to help you if something unexpected pops up. (Sort of like a pickup man at a rodeo, if worse comes to worse.)

Also, ride informed. Are there barking dogs along a certain stretch of road? Avoid it. Does your horse spook at running water? Stay away from streams.

Finally, keep riding like you have been: at a limited speed. A lot of accidents could have been avoided if the rider had kept his/her speed under control. Often, a horse will want to gallop on the way home. Start out on short trips, and don't allow the animal to run back. If it starts to gallop, turn it in a direction other than home and make it slow down.

Remember, a horse is not a car; you can't just turn it onto the "freeway" and expect it to always behave predictably. It's a matter of training, just like any other aspect of working with horses.

Happy Riding!

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