Trail riding is inarguably one of the most enjoyable equestrian pastimes for both rider and horse. Planning ahead and following some basic safety guidelines will help ensure that your ride has no unpleasant consequences. A great day on the trail can easily turn into a disaster without out proper planning.
It goes without saying that both horse and rider need to be in good physical condition before embarking on a trail ride. Reschedule the ride if there is any sign of illness or injury.
Preparing For A Trail Ride
Several days or weeks prior to the ride obtain a trail map, preferably a topographical trail map, showing terrain details such as elevations, narrow areas or rocky outcrops. Be aware beforehand of the challenging areas you may encounter on the trail and be sure that you and your horse are experienced enough to handle them. Trails are often labeled with beginner, intermediate or advanced ratings. Choose the trail that fits your skill level.
Although falls on the trail are rare and occur only in extreme circumstances, prepare yourself for any eventuality by learning how to fall off your horse by rolling away to minimize injury. Practice and preparation are the keys to avoiding serious physical damage. Always carry a first aid kit in your saddlebag.
Research the types of wildlife that inhabit the trail area and be prepared to deal with sudden encounters. For example, if bear sightings are common in the area, be prepared to make noise along the way or tie a bear bell onto your gear. Most bears avoid humans and retreat from noise but become aggressive when suddenly startled. It is helpful to familiarize yourself with the tracks and paw prints of wild animals in order to recognize the types of animals that are currently sharing the trail with you and your riding group.
Western Trail Ride Weather Concerns
On the day of the ride, check the latest weather carefully to be sure there are no storms on the horizon. Pack the trail map, a compass, a GPS and your cell phone. Your cell phone should be packed on your body not in a saddlebag. If you should become separated from your horse you want your cell phone to stay with you, not galloping away with your horse. Likewise, you’ll want to carry some form of identification with one copy in your pocket and another copy in your saddlebag.
Pack the trailer carefully with all the necessary tack and grooming items needed as well as first aid supplies, an extra halter and lead, repair items, food, and water. Use a checklist to make certain you have everything needed. Double check the list and be sure all packed items are stowed properly and the trailer is securely latched.
Trail Riding Safety
Be sure to inform someone of where you will be riding, when you expect to return and provide them with your cell phone number. Check in with them when you return. Always ride in a group or with at least one other rider. Invite your friends to take this ride with you and enjoy the day together. It doesn’t get any better than spending the day with your horse, good friends and Mother Nature.
Begin the ride by walking your horse for the first half mile or so to warm up. Ride single file on narrow trails. You can ride side by side on wider trails and spread out in open areas or fields. Change the lead horse periodically and stop occasionally to let everyone catch up. Although it is easier to converse when the horses are closer together, for safety’s sake always leave at least one horse length between horses to avoid kicking. A kicked horse’s response can lead to a chain reaction endangering everyone following behind. Travel at the speed of the slowest horse or the most inexperienced rider and never run to pass.
If there have been recent rainstorms in the area you may encounter deep mud or flooded areas. If the ground appears unstable it is best stop your horse, dismount and check the terrain. Walking your horse across muddy or flooded areas is safer than risking slips or falls. If the trail is too unstable, find another route and avoid the area.
When walking up and down steep hills, sit in the center of the saddle and lean forward to assist your horse with weight balance. Once again it is wise to walk your horse up and down steep hills or over loose rocks.
If your trail includes crossing heavily traveled roads, cross these roads as a group rather than leaving one stranded alone which could lead to panic and bolting.
In addition to encounters with wildlife, you will likely meet up with ATV drivers, bikers and hikers, some with loose dogs along. These trails are available for use by anyone, most are respectful of each other. A very few will challenge the right of horses to be on the trail. It is best to move to the side of the trail to allow other users to pass, be courteous and friendly and continue on with your ride.
Walk your horse for the last half mile of the ride to cool down, feed and water it and check for sores, minor injuries or tick bites before returning home.
Night Trail Riding
Night trail riding presents additional dangers and is not generally encouraged. The night vision of horses is about equal to that of humans, not very good. They lack depth perception making it more likely that they will not see rocks, holes or other obstacles in their path. Night trail riding is a dangerous undertaking and very stressful for the horse who is much more comfortable in the stable when darkness falls. If you choose to take a night trail ride, schedule it on a familiar trail, during a full moon to take advantage of as much light as possible, wear reflective clothing, use reflective tack and most importantly keep the ride short.
As riders we may often use the groomed trails made available to us through government funds or private donations. It is important to remember we are representing equestrians as a group and should conduct ourselves as such. Follow all posted guidelines, treat fellow trail users respectfully and pick up after ourselves. Leave no trace. A pristine trail should be available to the riders that come after you.
Plan ahead for safety and enjoy making memories on a pleasant day in beautiful surroundings.