As horseback riding for pleasure continues to gain popularity as a leisure activity, more and more horses and riders are taking to the public and private trails scattered throughout the country. Trail riding provides an excellent opportunity to relax and recharge in settings featuring abundant natural beauty. This activity also gives participants the chance to simply get a break from the mechanized world and step back to a simpler time. Riders can heighten the benefits and enjoyment of this activity by following several strategies designed to promote good trail etiquette and responsible riding.
Choose the Right Trail:
The first step in tail riding etiquette is to choose the specific trail wisely. Very few trails are actually designated for use by horses and riders only, so the chances are very good that you’ll be sharing the trail with hikers, mountain bikers, and others. Some trails specifically prohibit horses, so look for the international symbol at the trailhead portraying a stick figure horse and rider indicating that horses are allowed. If you see the figure with a circle around it and a slash through the center, that means that horses are not welcome on that particular trail.
Choose the Right Horses:
Attempting a difficult or long ride with an inexperienced mount often results in unpleasant consequences, especially on trails where hikers and mountain bikers are well-represented. Horses that spook easily can put everyone in danger, particularly on trails featuring low visibility due to excessive foliage, sharp turns, and significant increases in elevation. Also, keep in mind that swiftly moving bikes may spook even seasoned trail horses, so consider finding a trail that’s off-limits to mountain bikers. Horses may also be startled by the sight of hikers carrying heavy backpacks and those with canine companions in their group. Well trained and experienced horses are a must.
Yield Right of Way to Other Trail Users:
Combined use trails average about six feet in width, although some may be wider to create natural firebreaks in areas prone to seasonal wildfire activity. Trails in many national parks, however, are frequently only one or two feet wide. No matter the width of the trail, always keep to the right hand side to allow faster moving users such as those on bikes to easily pass. This will also prevent head-on collisions on trails with twists and turns that limit visibility because other experienced trail riders will also be sticking to the right side. If you’re on a narrow trail and hikers are behind you and want to pass, simply pull off to the side of the trail and allow them to go by.
Take Care of Your Horse:
Keeping your horse hydrated and otherwise well-cared for during the duration of the ride is another essential component of good trail manners. Allow your horse to drink when you come across creeks and streams, make certain the tack fits properly, and thoroughly groom your horse and pick its feet before and after every ride. A horse that’s thirsty or uncomfortable may be prone to nervous and perhaps cranky behavior on the trail and may even come to associate trail riding with negative experiences.
Be Friendly to Other Trail Users:
Hikers in particular may be intimidated by a group on horseback simply by the sheer size of the animals, so diffuse this by saying hello in a friendly fashion and engaging in a small amount of cheerful conversation. Talking in friendly tones also assures the horses that the unfamiliar humans don’t pose a threat. Curious children may request to pet the horses. Allowing this promotes good trail relations, and most horses aren’t averse to the attention. However, before they approach your horse, have groups of children quiet down and tell them to move slowly and remain in front of the horse in order to avoid spooking it.
Proper trail etiquette also involves taking ownership for your own safety and the safety of your mount by packing proper first aid essentials.