10 Expert Tips on How to Ride a Horse Trail 

Nicky Hoseck

At Wild Coast Horses, we’ve been leading multi-day horse trails for over 20 years, so when I say we’ve seen it all - I mean it!

I’ve ridden with polo players fixated with an imaginary mallet, dressage riders disgruntled by the lack of flying changes, and endurance riders whose long stirrups leave their weight firmly on the horse’s back, regardless of the terrain. Don’t get me wrong - I loved riding with all these people, but the horses weren’t quite so chuffed!

You might be the star of the show in the dressage arena, but when you get out on trail, a whole different set of rules apply. People of all disciplines come to Wild Coast Horses to experience the exhilaration of a fast-paced multi-day trail ride, but not all are as prepared for the challenge as they might think. 

Although the rules on overnight horse trails tend to be minimal, I would like to offer a few expert tips that will help you enjoy the ride, give your horse confidence, minimise disruption to other riders, and keep your trail guide smiling.  

 #1 Stay Present 

I often find myself daydreaming while riding and have to remind myself to pay attention to the horse and what's going on around me. While we want you to relax on your riding holiday, we also want you to be in the moment. 

It's partly a safety thing - if you're not paying attention, it will take you longer to react should your horse spook or stumble, increasing the risk of an accident occurring. But it's also about being present to fully experience and appreciate the journey - the sights, sounds and smells of nature that you're immersed in.

#2 Loosen Your Reins 

I know your instructor told you to maintain supple and steady contact at all times, but she didn’t expect you to be riding for five to six hours a day. When you’re trotting or cantering, some contact with the horse’s mouth will help him balance and move confidently, especially over difficult terrain. When you’re walking along, however, it’s time to give the horse a chance to relax, and that means learning to let go. 

#3 Keep a Light Seat

Some riding disciplines require the rider to maintain a deep seat at all times, but with modern trail riding, the emphasis is on helping your horse over whatever obstacle awaits him, which means carrying a bit of your own weight. If you’re tackling a steep incline, cantering long distances, or trotting over uneven ground, your horse will be more balanced if you can stand up in your stirrups. 

Sometimes known as hunter seat or two-point, this position sees you balance over the withers, lifting yourself out of the saddle to allow the horse to use his back muscles more effectively, thereby reducing uncomfortable tension. 

#4 Prioritise Horse Safety

The first step in looking after your horse is remaining present and being observant of any obstacles or potential dangers around you. 

On an organised overnight trail, your guide will point out any tricky spots, holes, obstacles, and other potential dangers, but it’s up to you to supervise your horse when these arise. That means guiding your horse away from drop-offs, using subtle cues and aids to keep them on the path, and following the advice offered by your guide when navigating rocky sections, steep inclines, river crossings and other natural obstacles. 

#5 Respect the Guide 

You might have ridden more trails than your guide or even have started riding before they were born, but they know the trail and the horses, so deserve your respect. If the guide says it’s safe to canter, trust them. It won’t be the first time they’ve ever attempted it (we do that when there’s no one else around), and would only make the suggestion if they were confident it was safe. 

Similarly, if they ask you to stay behind them or stick to the left of the trail, accept that they know what they’re talking about, even if you think you know better. 

#6 Dress Appropriately 

Tight pants and loose reins are the best way to tackle a long-distance horse ride. Baggy pants will bunch up against the saddle, causing lumps of fabric that grind into your sensitive flesh. Underwear should be practical and plain - lace and other decorations only lead to embarrassing chafes and rubs! 

Quick-drying riding pants or tights are more comfortable than jeans or heavy jodhpurs and won’t become stiff and abrasive if they get wet, making them more comfortable for longer distances. 

Layer your tops so you can adjust for changing weather conditions on the trail. A lightweight long-sleeve shirt protects your arms from brush and sun exposure.

Pairing short riding boots with half chaps will be more comfortable than wearing long riding boots that take forever to dry and may get damaged. 

Of course, an internationally approved helmet is also essential, and a pair of gloves is always handy for preventing blisters.  

Try to avoid loose-fitting clothes that may upset the horse by flapping or cause potential injury by catching on tack or trail hazards. 

#7 Help Your Horse 

Loosening your reins in the walk and using a light seat uphill and in the canter will go a long way to helping your horse, but there are others you can do from the saddle to make his life easier. Letting him drink whenever the opportunity arises may seem blindingly obvious, but if 10 horses are crowding around a 2-foot puddle, it’s not always as straightforward as you might have envisaged.

Similarly, getting off when riding downhill or if your horse is struggling with a muddy patch or section of difficult footing can also help give him confidence and make him more comfortable. 

Offer some words of encouragement, gentle leg pressure, and rein contact to provide a sense of security, and allow your horse time to stand and rest whenever the group comes to a halt.  

#8 Keep Up

If you see a herd of horses in the wild, you’ll notice that they rarely allow much space to appear between each individual. That’s because a gap in the herd is an opening for a potential predator. Horses like to stick close together - it gives them safety and security and minimises the risk of attack. 

Admittedly, on a week-long beach ride, you’re unlikely to encounter any predators, but your horse doesn’t know that, so making sure he’s with the herd is the best way to keep him calm and comfortable. Slower horses may need a bit of encouragement if the pace is fast, but resist the urge to lag too far behind as this can make them anxious about being left alone. 

#9 Practice Digital Detox 

As a horse trails guide, there’s nothing more disheartening than seeing riders glued to their smartphones. I know you want to capture the best moments on camera and share your wonder and delight with your friends on social media, but that’s what the evenings are for!

When you’re in the saddle, stay present, smell the roses, breathe in the ocean air, and let your thoughts align with your horse’s rhythm, creating a deeper connection than you’ll ever get with Wi-Fi!

#10 Space Out

A funny thing happens to horses on trail - they suddenly forget all about personal space. In the field, they’ll politely give each other a wide berth, avoiding the gnashing teeth and flashing heels, but once they’ve got a rider on their backs, they abandon all responsibility. 

While riding, be aware of your proximity to other guests, giving them as much space as your horse will allow. Admittedly, some trail horses like to hug the tail of the horse in front, which can make maintaining a proper distance challenging. However, tailgating not only annoys the riders ahead of you, but also puts you at risk of being kicked should that horse suddenly stop or act up. Similarly, if you know your horse kicks, keep your distance and warn people if you notice them coming too close.


No two trail rides are ever the same, and neither are any two trail horses, but if you can apply as many of these tips as you can remember, you'll create a more comfortable and pleasurable experience for yourself, your horse, and your fellow riders. You'll also stay in your guide's good books, which is always a bonus!

At the end of the day, trail riding is about getting out into nature, escaping the daily grind, and spending quality time with your equine buddy. Sure, there are some basic rules and etiquette to follow, but if you stay present, keep your horse's needs in mind, and maintain some basic trail courtesies, you'll be well on your way to an unforgettable adventure.

So go forth, embrace the freedom of the trail, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Your horse will thank you for it...even if he can't articulate it with words.

Put these tips to the test by booking yourself a saddle on our next Wild Coast adventure!