Trail Riding: Position in a Group

Editor's Note: This is Chapter 16 of Happy Trails: Your Complete Guide to Fun and Safe Trail Riding by veteran author and horseman Les Sellnow. The book is available from

Once you've completed your preparatory work at home, you're ready to take your horse on a trail ride. You should pick an easy route for the first ride--one with no serious challenges. And, even better, you should ride with someone aboard an experienced trail horse.

Position in a Group
On your first ride, if possible, start by letting your horse follow the experienced horse. Does your horse walk along quietly with at least a horse length between him and the horse in front, or does he want to tailgate the lead horse without watching where he places his feet? You want a horse that is comfortable anywhere in a group, but you don't want him walking with his nose on another horse's rump. If you have a tailgater, you'll want to check him up quietly anytime he comes within less than a horse length to the horse in front of him.

Find out next what happens when you're the leader. When you put the horse up front for the first time, make sure you know the trail and are certain that no scary obstacles are ahead. By keeping the ride free of challenges the first few times, you can get a better idea of how he'll react to being the lead horse in a group. Encountering scary obstacles while in the lead should come later.

Your hope and goal should be that your new trail horse will walk along with confidence while, at the same time, being fully aware of all that's going on around him.

It's a good idea, if possible, to have at least two other companions on the first ride. Then, you'll be able to put the horse between two others and check his reaction when there's a horse in front and one behind him. Some horses don't mind following but become nervous when a horse is behind them.

If your horse is apprehensive about having another horse and rider behind him, you should desensitize your horse to that situation. The rider following you should be mounted on a calm, steady horse. Ask your companion to close the gap between horses slowly. Have the trailing rider move up fairly close, but not too close, being aware that your horse might become frightened and kick. Then ask your friend to ride alongside your horse, first on the left and then on the right. The aim is for your horse to realize that there's nothing to fear from having a horse behind or beside him.

Your goal on an initial trail ride should be a highly pleasurable experience for the horse with a lot of walking and trotting along established trails in the company of calm, well-mannered equine companions. You may, perhaps, include an excursion or two off the trail into some brush to make sure the horse looks where he places his feet.

Of course, riding with companions is not always possible. If you are taking that first trail ride solo, you should exude patience and calmness. The horse will depend on you for his security. If you are calm and quiet, you communicate that all is well and he has nothing to fear.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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