When you’re riding your horse and you come to a hill, how does your horse get to the top? Do they walk quietly and steadily, or do they pick up the pace and run to the top? Unless asked to jog or lope, your horse should not change pace when going up a hill. And yet, this is a common problem horse owners face – hills feel more like the backstretch of the Kentucky Derby than a relaxing trail ride. You may worry that when you reach the top, you won’t be able to stop.
With the right approach, you can teach your horse to walk up hills quietly. As with so many other aspects of horse ownership, teaching your horse this skill requires a gentle, patient approach, clear communication, and consistent practice.
The Importance of Walking Up Hills
Horses often run up hills because it is physically easier for them. If they run up a hill and the rider does nothing to correct them, then they assume that this behavior is acceptable. Before long, running up hills becomes a habit for the horse, and they won’t change that habit unless you teach them a new way.
While running up hills may be easier for your horse, it is undesirable for a few reasons. A sudden increase in pace may unseat the rider. Perhaps you, as the horse’s owner, are used to this habit. But if you let a less experienced friend ride your horse, they may be startled when your horse runs up a hill. You would not want them to fall off or hit themselves on the saddle horn. Part of responsible horse ownership is making sure your horse is safe for others to ride, too.
Running up a hill also leaves your horse more prone to injuries. They may step into a hole that you could have avoided if they were walking steadily and responding to your aids. You don’t always know what’s on the other side of a hill. So, you want to reach the top feeling in control and able to survey the rest of the trail before proceeding.
Finally, walking up hills is good for improving your horse’s fitness. When your horse runs up a hill, they are primarily using their forehand. If you encourage them to take their time and walk, they’ll be using their hindquarters to push themselves uphill. This will help build muscle in their hind end, which is good for long-term soundness and proper self-carriage.
Teaching Your Horse to Walk Up Hills
In our training video, “Teaching Your Horse to Walk Up a Hill and Not Run,” we show you a simple, reward-based method to teach your horse this skill. We never recommend punishing or scolding your horse for running. Instead, our method shows you how to communicate clearly with your horse, make walking the more desirable choice for them, and reinforce this behavior to make it a new habit.
Our method is great for horses who are still learning to listen to riders’ aids. We also recommend it for horses who are new to trail riding and beginning to navigate uneven terrain for the first time. Even if you have a more mature horse who has always had a habit of loping uphill, we’re confident this method will help them turn over a new leaf. As always with any horse, teaching them requires patience and consistency.
Our Relationship-Based Training Approach
Remember: horse ownership is built on trust. Riding is so much more enjoyable when you can trust your horse, and when you can feel that they also trust you. Your trail rides will be more enjoyable – for both you and your horse – when hills no longer involve rushing and worrying about injuries.
Trusting your horse to walk steadily up hills is just one element. At Easy Horse Fix, we have a full library of resources that can help you form a trust-based relationship with your horse and then introduce new training techniques built on that relationship. To access these videos, check out our membership plans HERE, and select the one that best fits your needs.