Dave Seay Progressive Horsemanship
Horsemanship. Straight, stop, wait.

Trail Etiquette – Keeping Your Distance


Nobody likes a tailgater, and while riding on horseback is no exception! In this session, Dave Seay will share some ideas on how to help your horse feel good about his place in line while heading down the trail.


By giving your horse something constructive to focus on, you can help to diffuse worry about who’s ahead, who’s behind, or who’s back at the barn. One approach that Dave likes to practice is to simply ask the horse to walk in a straight line, and to stop and wait while staying straight.


Start by asking your horse to walk straight down the middle of the trail. If your horse is straight in his mind and focused on walking straight, then leave him alone. But, if any part of your horse starts to veer off from going straight, like the head, neck, ribs, shoulders, or hips, then help them to stay on the line by putting each part back on track.

“You want your horse focused on going straight” says Dave, “but if the horse is going along nicely, and looking over here and looking over there, and his body’s still going straight and his body’s nice and relaxed, that’s alright, I like a horse that’s curious, I like a horse that’s taking in their surroundings, that’s fine. But if they’re all braced up I’ll try and help them a little bit, try to help them relax by feeling the parts that are braced up, it’s not necessarily the whole horse that’s braced up, it could be just certain parts of the horse are braced up.”

Dave believes that horses are not looking for something to be afraid of; it’s usually the people who are. And once the people start looking for something they’ll get the horse looking for something too. Then when the horse does react, it’s not because he’s trying to get a away from whatever’s out there, it’s because he’s trying to get away from who’s riding him! They’re just trying to preserve themselves.


Next you want to ask your horse to stop while still keeping straight. Your horse needs to stop and just wait there without being held until you give him a definite queue to ‘go’. Your legs should be completely relaxed at all times and hanging like ropes down the sides of your horse. If your horse is leaning forward, then he’s still thinking about going. You may even try asking your horse to lean back a little before going.


Watch this short video to learn more about "leaning".


As you can see in the video, feeling which way your horse is leaning will help you to know which way he’s thinking. Excellent timing will be the key to your success if having trouble getting your horse to wait for the ‘go’ queue. You’ll want to time your queue just at the very instant your horse is no longer thinking about going. This may be for just a fraction of a second, but it would be the only place that you could put leg on the horse without having him jump out from under you.


So while your horse is waiting on you to give the queue to ‘go’, you need to be waiting on your horse to let you know when that exact moment should be. The leader in the decision to ‘go’ needs to be you, and that needs to be clear. Too often we allow the horse to make the decision first, maybe because we weren’t paying attention, or maybe because we figured we were about to go in that direction anyway, but as soon as you turn that decision-making over to the horse you’re no longer the lead partner.

Dave says, “Every time we allow the horse to walk forward, every time we allow the horse to speed up without us asking them to, then we’re saying ‘it’s alright’ to run away, because we’ve allowed them to make that decision; at the walk, at the standstill, and so on. Then when we start going faster speeds it just gets out of control, but they think it’s ok, and they’re right because we said it was ok.”

Stopping and going again is something you almost can’t practice too much of, even if just as a communication checkpoint. If your horse starts going too fast or too close to the horse in front of you, stop again and try to keep him straight. Wait for him to relax and then give him the queue to ‘go’. They should not go unless you give them a queue to do so!


If you are specific and consistent, your horse will soon know exactly what distance you want between you and the horse in front of you, but it’s the riders responsibility to figure out how far back that is. The rider needs to be paying close attention to the conversation going on with the horse, and to determine how consistent we want our horses to be by how consistent and specific we’re going to be.



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