As fall arrives, many riders take to the trails. In fact, The Horse magazine found in a survey that more than half of riders declared autumn as their favorite season to ride. And with many riders stuck inside more than they’d like, a little time on the trail is a perfect retreat.
It’s not hard to see why, with the beautiful foliage that colors trails during the fall; combined with the cool-but-not-cold temperatures and a sunny day, it’s hard to resist taking a trip to the nearest trailhead with your horse. Here’s a few more reasons why a trail ride might be just what the doctor ordered.
But you don’t want to go trail riding unprepared—there can be many hazards and a lot to keep track of, so it’s important that you and your horse are ready before you saddle up. We made a list of (almost) everything you should consider before trail riding.
Are You and Your Horse Ready?
- Master the basics.
Make sure you have your basic skills such as steering, voice commands such as “whoa” and the control of all four gaits, ready before you go on the trail.
- Check your horse’s fitness.
Is he able to handle the trail you’ll be riding? This is especially important if it will be at least partially uphill or mountainous.
- Get your horse used to trail riding.
If your horse is anxious of being on a trail alone, make sure you build his confidence by going on short rides with him. Soon he’ll be hitting the trails with confidence!
- Introduce your horse to traffic.
If he hasn’t ridden near roads before, start small. A good starting point is a back road that doesn’t get much traffic and stays mostly straight. Avoid narrow roads and ones with blind corners.
- Ride with a buddy.
Trail riding is safer with a friend—if you get hurt or lost, having someone to help you or call for help could save your life. Plus, it can be more fun!
Be Safe, Be Prepared
- Wear a helmet!
No matter where you’re riding, wear protective headgear with ASTM/SEI certification—anything can happen on the trail, and a helmet could save your life!
- …And reflective gear.
You should wear reflective gear whenever you are riding near roads to make it easier for cars to see you; and if you’re riding in the evening or at night you should wear reflective gear no matter where you are.
- While you’re at it, equip your horse with reflective gear, too.
The more visible you are, the safer you are. Remember that trail riding season is also hunting season—make sure that hunters see you and know that you and your horse are not targets! Reflective tack like a riding sheet or halter will let everyone know where you are and give you an extra degree of security.
- Check your tack.
You definitely don’t want your equipment breaking on the trail—check everything before you leave to make sure it’s in good condition!
- Take a cell phone.
You never know when you might need to make an emergency call. If you have a pair of breeches or tights with a phone pocket then that’s perfect, otherwise you can find a phone armband, legband or holster on Amazon. Make sure to have the phone on your person and not on the horse, so you don’t lose the phone too if your horse bolts.
- Wear leg protection.
With mud, branches and roots, uneven terrain and more, trail riding can pose a number of hazards for your horse’s lower legs. If you think you might encounter rough or potentially dangerous terrain, it’s smart to equip your horse with the necessary protection—you can read our handy guide to find out what type might be best for the conditions you’ll face.
- Bring first aid.
It’s smart to pack a small first aid kit to bring on the trail with you in case there are any minor injuries you need to care for—bandages, gauze and the like.
- Use bug spray.
If it’s warm out, you’ll want to spray yourself and your horse so you won’t be bothered by insects out on the trail. Another alternative is to use a fly mask or ear net to keep the insects away from your horse.
- Be aware!
This is probably the most important safety advice when you’re on the trail. Be aware of your surroundings—is there anything that could trip or hurt your horse, or make him spook? Pay attention to your horse as well—is he relaxed, or frightened? Being aware will help you and your horse (and other riders) to avoid emergencies.
- Be careful when it’s wet.
After it has rained, or in damp spots along the trail, be sure to ride with caution. Rocks and other objects can be slippery.
- Take it slow.
Don’t rush through a trail, especially if you’ve never ridden it before. Take your time around obstacles or other tricky parts like a downhill incline. You’ll be more relaxed and more safe! (And don’t be afraid to dismount too if that will help you or your horse.)
- Do serpentines.
When a horse knows that he is on his way back towards the barn, he may speed up as he anticipates getting home. To keep him focused you can do some serpentines (safely) while on the trail, until you get to the barn.
Trail Riding with Others
- Keep your distance.
Make sure to keep a safe distance between you and other horses while on the trails. Some horses don’t like other horses being too close to them. Typically, about one horse length between you and the horse in front of you is safe.
Not all riders are at the same level, or are as comfortable trail riding. Before trotting or cantering on the trail, make sure that the other riders are comfortable with it.
- Riding with mixed experience.
If you have different levels of riding ability or experience, have a more experienced rider in the front and another at the rear. This will help keep order, and they’ll be able to check that everyone is present and enjoying themselves.
- Stick together.
When you transition to a faster gait—and even when you’re just walking—make sure that all horses are together. Horses have a herd mentality and don’t like being left behind. This is also true if you’ll be crossing a road or a river (or another obstacle). Discuss the crossing beforehand so that everyone’s on the same page and is comfortable with it.
- Be courteous.
You never know who you will meet on the trail; be courteous to others trail-goers like hikers, bikers, runners, walkers and even other equestrians enjoying a trail ride, and follow the right of way (equestrians usually have the right of way, but you might allow someone else to pass you if for example they’re a mountain biker going up a tough incline).
- Clean up after yourself!
When trailering to state parks or to other places, make sure you clean up after yourself. Don’t leave piles of manure or other debris behind for others to clean up.
Trail riding is great way to enjoy the outdoors on horseback, explore nature, and spend time with your horse. If you prepare thoroughly and stay mindful, it will be a fantastic experience!
What about you? Any tips for being safe or having fun on the trail? Let us know in the comments below!