There is nothing more dangerous or annoying than a person who is unaware of proper trail etiquette. To be fair, there are some things that many people do not think about while having a lovely ride on a sunny day. Here are some of the basics to remember so that your trail experience is pleasant for both yourself and the people you ride with and encounter on the trail:
- Stick to the edge of the trail. Even if you can’t see anybody in either direction, its wise to keep your horse towards they side of the trail. Bikers and joggers can come up quickly, seemingly out of nowhere. Avoid collisions or a spooked horse by allowing room for other trail users to pass without issue.
- Always walk when passing someone. Whether you are passing another rider, a bike rider, walkers or joggers, take the pace down a notch. By slowing your horse down to a steady walk, you allow him to evaluate the situation and will have less chance for a negative reaction from him. If your horse spooks while you are passing someone, it becomes dangerous for both yourself and the other party involved. Keep it safe by slowing it down.
- Ride to the ability of the least experienced rider in the group. If you are in a group of riders, no matter the size, do NOT do anything that any single person in the group is not comfortable with. For example, a group of 4 riders go out and 3 of them are comfortable doing walk, trot and a little canter if there is a clear patch (which I will address later) but the fourth rider is not comfortable doing more than a little trotting here and there. Don’t bully the fourth rider into trying to canter. By asking a member of the group to do something they don’t feel comfortable with, you put everyone in the group at risk . Ride to the lowest ability level or find a different group to ride with.
- Along with the previous point, do not be afraid to admit that you don’t want to do something on the trail. Your group should respect your request and not push you. Gently remind them that you feel you may compromise the groups safety through a particular action and that you just want everyone to be safe and smart.
- If you are going to head out on trail in a group, determine the ability and comfort level of the participants BEFORE leaving so that there are no shocks on the trail.
- Do not canter in groups. Unless you are a very experienced horse person and everyone with you is also very experienced, avoid group canters on trail. Horses are competitive by nature and will often try to be in the lead. This can cause matters to get out of hand and cause injury. If you are alone, and you feel like you just have to get in that one good canter, do it in an area which you can see for a good distance in each direction and only canter if there is no one within sight.
- If it is starting to get dark when you are on the trail, make sure you have a flashlight and reflective vest so that people can see you. This is especially important if you have to cross any roads to get to/from your trails. There are reflective bands that you can put around your horse’s fetlocks as well, which may be useful.
- Keep your cell phone with you in case of emergency. Whether you keep your phone in your saddle bag or pocket, let it always be easily accessible in case something comes up.
- Fly spray your horse and bug spray yourself. The bugs can be much worse on the trail than anywhere else and I don’t know a single person who wants to be eaten alive while trail riding. If you are focusing all of your attention on obnoxious bugs it leaves little ability to focus on what is going on around you.
- Wear a helmet. I know that it may seem silly on the trail, but you never know what is going to set off your horse and how he will react. It only takes a fall from 3 feet to make someone a vegetable or kill them. Protect your head!
I’m sure there are things I missed out on, but think these through and just remember to use your brain on the trail. If you have to think about whether or not you should do something on the trail, its probably a fairly good indication that you shouldn’t. Best of luck and fun to you all! Happy Trails!