Trail Riding Etiquette and Safety Tips
For both groups of riders, observing some basic safety guidelines can enhance the experience or give them the courage they need to venture out onto trails. In truth, there is no better bonding and training experience with a horse than a good hack in the countryside.
First, a horse must be preconditioned, mentally and physically, for trail riding. They must know how to cross water obstacles, be able to back, pass other horses, turn in tight spots, cross wooden or noisy bridges, follow a proper distance from others, load in trailers, be generally desensitized to sights and sounds, and physically fit. Start by training in basic trail maneuvers at home, gradually moving up to short rides with experienced trail horses. Once hacking, observe the following safety guidelines:
1. Do not trail ride alone. Even if you know the way by heart, situations can arise where having a second rider to send for help may be a lifesaver.
2. Check all tack thoroughly before you head out. If something looks worn, change it. Bring spares, particularly reins, as well as a leather repair kit.
3. Carry essential equipment: A charged cell phone; enough bottled water for rider and mount; electrolyte gels or snacks; dunking sponge or spray bottle to cool down the horse; hay and grain if it’s a long ride (feed combination of both, all grain can cause colic); spare hoof boots; and a first aid kit (pre-packaged kit available from State Line Tack, below).
A horse that is salt and mineral depleted will not drink water. To avoid that problem, two hours into the ride, feed electrolyte paste or bars and allow the horse to drink a small amount of water (not cold).
Bring spare reins that can easily be attached:
For dusk or night riding, wear reflective gear and pack flashlights and spare batteries. Visit the Recommended Products page for reflective items for you and your horse.
4. Do not ride trails that you have not walked beforehand. Is that a muddy field or could it contain quicksand or other hazards? Unless you walk the course first, you will not know. No matter the temptation, do not venture out onto unknown territory. Stay on marked trails. Also consider that fields can change based on prior weather conditions.
5. Ride a safe distance from other horses – one horse length behind is good.
6. Look for low-hanging branches or other hazards and alert riders behind you of their presence. It’s easy to get distracted. Ride aware of your surroundings yet relaxed.
7. Plan on who will be lead rider heading out and returning home. It is preferable that a group switch lead from time to time throughout the ride so everyone can gain experience, but knowing beforehand who is in charge of these two parts of the ride can avoid confusion.
8. Establish hand signals and vocal calls that the lead rider will use to signal a change in pace or emergency stop. Do not change pace until everyone is prepared for it; check visually that everyone is prepared and has gotten the signal. Never change gaits rapidly or horses behind you could get hurt. When lead riding, do not allow stragglers to fall too far behind.
9. Having a trail kit in front of the saddle instead of stashed in a saddle bag behind can provide easy access to maps, flashlight and other essentials. I recommend the kit below. Keep your phone, however, on your person, should you become separated from your horse. In addition, consider investing in a trail saddle – it should be sturdier than your regular saddle with a padded or gel seat, and also include a breast strap/collar for additional safety.