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Trail-Riding Safety
Words of wisdom from experienced trail-riders

This is a compilation of tips from several old-time trail-riders, many decades, and thousands miles of trail riding experiences.

Before you go
• A small bell attached to the girth helps prevent collisions with bikers, hikers, and bears.
• A luggage ID tag on a headstall with contact information expedites locating the owner of a loose horse.
• Keep your cell phone on you, not on your horse.
• Wear a helmet.
• Your emergency kit should include a hoof-pick, first aid products and vet wrap.
• Bring an ID and emergency medical info.
• Identify beforehand, the leader, the drag, green horses, green riders, grazing spots, rest spots, cantering and trotting areas, kicking horses.
• Horses that kick should wear a red warning ribbon on their tail.
• In large groups the lead and drag riders can communicate by walkie-talkie.
• Trail riding is for horses that are physically fit, calm, and experienced enough to negotiate the trail.
• A horse that has only been ridden once a week for thirty minutes, is unfit for a two-hour trail ride.
• Resolve training and behavior problems before trail-riding.
• Practice mounting and dismounting from both sides of your horse before trail-riding.
• Teach your horse to walk up and down hills.
• Bring a garbage bag to collect your horse’s manure.
• Practice several walk-halt transitions before setting out to make sure that you and your horse are in tune.

On the trail
• Do not ride alone.
• Keep one or two horse lengths distance between horses.
• Don’t be a passenger, ride every step with your horse.
• Dismount and calm an agitated horse from the ground.
• Do not ride a trail or engage in activities beyond the ability of any horse or rider in the group.
• Be friendly and courteous to hikers and bikers.
• If you hear someone coming toward you, stop and call out to make sure they are aware of your presence.
• Pair young or inexperienced horses and riders with a calm experienced horse and riders.
• Do not separate buddy horses.
• Stay together; do not go off in separate groups.
• Do not trot, gait, canter, or gallop off away from the group.
• Make sure that everyone is prepared before transitioning to a faster gait.
• Do not race.
• Do not rush up to or speed past the rider in front of you. Instead, quietly explain your intentions and calmly pass.
• Stay on the trail, do not short-cut switchbacks.
• Do not pass where the trail is narrow or dangerous.
• Do not trot, gait, canter, or gallop on narrow trails, especially where there are blind corners.
• The leader should warn those behind about obstacles or hazards ahead. The drag rider should acknowledge that he or she has heard the warning.
• When going downhill, slow down and put extra distance between you and the horse in front of you; in case the horse stumbles or falls.
• Go uphill without stopping so that your horse doesn’t lose his momentum and cause the horses behind to lose theirs.
• Riders going downhill yield to riders traveling uphill.
• Always yield to riders with children.
• Don’t cause brush and limbs that interfere with your path to snap back and hit the person or horse behind you.
• Do not allow your horse to lie down in water or sand. Be on your guard if your horse starts pawing water.
• When crossing an obstacle that a horse behind you may jump, move out of the way of the landing area.
• When crossing obstacles let your horse have the rein he needs to balance his head.
• If a horse refuses to cross an obstacle, the entire group should stop and wait while the rider dismounts and leads the horse across the obstacle and remounts.
• During breaks, do not tie horses up by their bits. Tie-up or remove the reins and tie the horses with halters and lead-ropes. Loosen the girth.
• If someone needs to dismount, EVERYONE should stop and wait until the rider has remounted and is ready to ride again.
• Everyone should remain at the watering site until each horse has had an opportunity to drink.
• Ride the faster gaits as you go away from the staging area, but walk back to the staging area to prevent runaways.

Most of all, HAVE FUN!

Chris Forté is the owner of the Equine Behavioral Health Resource Center. This article was first printed in the Equestrian Connection: the Pacific Horse Advertiser, April, 2013.

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