Trail Etiquette

Learn to be safer and more polite on the trail.

Learn to be safer and more polite on the trail. Part One.

In the horseback riding world there are universal etiquette practices. Journal photo.

By Essie Rogers of the Kentucky Horse Council

Etiquette and safety are close relatives that share a proportional relationship.

In many cases, a lack of one creates a breach of the other.

Poor etiquette typically leads to unsafe activities, while excellent etiquette paves the road for safe riding experiences.

To keep riders in your group safe on the trail, you should, at a minimum:

  • Nominate a leader or trail boss
  • Ride at the level and speed of the least experienced rider
  • Ask the group (and get consent) before increasing speed
  • Communicate concerns clearly

The Horseback Riding Program is designed to reward AQHA and AQHYA members who spend time riding American Quarter Horses as well as other horse breeds.

  • Maintain 10 feet or more between horses
  • The lead rider should notify others of danger; each following rider should pass the message along
  • Carry a cell phone on your body (not on your horse)
  • Carry a trail map
  • Pack a first-aid kit
  • Require all youth to wear ASTM/SEI-approved helmets (helmets should be replaced after every fall)
  • Strongly recommend that all riders wear ASTM/SEI-approved helmets (helmets should be replaced after every fall)
  • Always return to the trailer or barn at a walk

Make sure that your horse is ready to trail ride. Horses need to build their muscle strength and endurance gradually, just like humans.

It is important to condition and desensitize your horse well in advance of a trail ride. This takes time and commitment. Conditioning rides should be conducted over similar terrain (i.e. riding up hills regularly in advance of a hilly ride) and in well-fitted tack. Arena riding generally is not adequate conditioning for trail riding.

Proper hoof care is vitally important to the soundness of horses used for all riding. Many horses are most comfortable trail riding with shoes (or specialty boots), and you should discuss the best option for your horse’s hoof care with your farrier.

Other considerations for your horse’s well being while trail riding:

  • Allow your horse the opportunity to drink at every water crossing
  • Check your tack regularly for proper fit
  • Examine feet and legs carefully after riding
  • Pick feet before and after every ride
  • Groom or wash your horse before and after every ride

To participate in the Horseback Riding Program, you simply log the hours you spend riding your American Quarter Horse, and as you move up through 10 thresholds – from 50 to 5,000 hours – you earn different awards.

In the horse riding world, there are universal etiquette practices and specific etiquette for a variety of situations. Often we don’t think of trail etiquette immediately, since trail riding is often a recreational activity without the formalities of arena riding or competition.

However, understanding and practicing good trail behavior makes the experience more enjoyable for everyone.

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13 thoughts on “Trail Etiquette”

  1. I think you could have covered more trail riding courtesy also in this article. When riding at a park or area that has many riders not riding in the same group, it is just common courtesy to allow faster riders to pass or to yell a “heads – ups”, passing on the left for those who want to pass, etc and common courtesy to say a thank you to those who have taken the time and care to move their horses over. If you have a horse who may kick, it works well to voice a concern to other riders and to put a red ribbon in your horses tail. Where I trail ride often, there are many riders who are very friendly and courteous, but I also run across many who just expect you to get out of their way or run their horses up on another horse, etc.

  2. My favourite Trail Ride hands out a set of rules when you register:
    – No stallions, dogs, smoking or alcohol on the trail
    – Leave at least one horse length between horses and pass only with permission.
    – No riders are to ride ahead of the Trail Boss.
    -Children under 18 must wear appropriate head gear and be supervised by an adult.
    – Footwear with a heel must be worn when riding.
    – Horses that kick need to wear a red ribbon in their tail.
    – Respect other people’s property when riding near crops, buildings or cattle when riding in a pasture.
    – Carry your own water but leave nothing behind.
    They also had a person stay back in camp prepared to pick up an injured horse or an injured rider. There was always a selected person to ride drag andd make sure that no one got left behind and on more than one occsion picked up a dropped camera.
    Just a few things that people may not think about when going on an organized ride.

  3. An additional courtesy is:

    Do NOT ride up behind other horses on the trail at a fast gait, especially on steep hills! The sound of thundering hooves from out of nowhere causes even a calm, quiet horse to feel nervous or to spook because they think a predator is chasing them.

    Also, a big tip…if riding alone, be sure to tell someone at camp where you’ll be going and an estimated time you’ll return. We ride a lot in deer country…in the fall they are mating. They can jump out and even run into your horse, leaving you on the ground or injuring both you and your mount. Be safe–be aware.

  4. I disagree with the item which states: “Allow your horse the opportunity to drink at every water crossing.”
    If your group size is 3 or 4, this is OK. Otherwise, the solution is to have the lead rider determine drinking ops at only specific locations. Often only a few horses can access a stream at a time creating a dangerous logjam at the stream. Common sense should tell riders whose horses have finished drinking to wait across the stream for those that follow.
    Wash your horse before and after a ride? What’s with this obsessive desire to have a super clean horse? Before the ride, a good brushing is necessary to avoid trapped dirt and debris which can irritate the horse when saddled. After a ride on a hot day, giving your horse a hose down seems fine to cool him, but washing, especially with soap, will remove the horse’s natural oils on his skin which are needed for all kinds of reasons.

  5. i like all the coments here and the one about washing your horse before a ride, i think isnt good but after one sometimes is verry nesacary if you have been on muddy trails ans they have sweat a lot i often give mine a bath after the ride in th emountains as they sweat lots in the summer, come fall just a good brushing often does the trick after they have dried out. and be safe out there and watch out for your fellow riders and other users of the trail systems

  6. You should also put the most experience riders through out the train of horses and the inexperience in the middle next to someone who is more experience. caring a walkie talkie for the lead person and the drag person to help with communication.

  7. I think depending on how strenuous the trail ride, a horse should be ‘hosed down’ afterwards, but not bathed unless it’s absolutely needed. If it were a summer ride, I always always hosed my horse’s legs and her belly to cool her down. It’s just good judgment on the rider’s part. I agree with the red ribbon on the tail for kickers, though, I’ve been on rides where they’ve done that. Additionally, always be prepared on the trail. Equipment breaks at the worst possible times.

  8. I always carry spare pieces of leather ( leather shoe laces ) on the tie rings of my saddle. Given them away three times but never needed them myself. Looks one up from good old binder twin ! I also carry a sanitary pad and vet wrap in my horn bag, people or horses, soaks up the blood and doesn’t stick to the wound.

  9. If you ride on public property, don’t just assume your group has the right of way to pass and “demand” a returning group coming back down the trail to get out of your way. The group I ride with is always willing to make out horses get off the trail to let others coming back through pass by.

  10. Thank you all for the great comments. I want to clarify that this article does not instruct you to wash your horse before and after every ride but to EITHER groom or wash your horse before and after every ride. Having a clean horse both before riding and after riding is important in maintaining horse health and wellbeing. In some instances bathing may be appropriate but as many of you correctly pointed out, a good grooming is usually best.

    Happy trails!

  11. I was riding with a young woman who kept asking me “does your horse kick?” I responded, “follow at a safe distance because every horse is capable of kicking.” Always exercise common sense so that you can keep you and your horse out of harm’s way.

  12. A good tip is that if you have to cross a road, wait and cross as a group. Many times, on trail with a group that crosses in small clumps there will always be one or two horses that get jumpy when part of their group has crossed and they haven’t. This could lead to a horse bolting into traffic to catch up with the group. Also, if your horse is a kicker and others are passing, turn his rear to the side of the trail away from other horses. My gelding used to take random shots at passing horses until I learned to turn him!

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