Nasty horses in the back. If your horse is unruly, he should bring up the rear where his poor behavior will not be witnessed by the other horses and cause them to get upset as well. And, if you are lucky, he may learn a thing or two from watching calmer horses in front of him all day.
Tie a red ribbon in the tail of a horse that kicks. If you are following a horse with a red ribbon, obviously it would be safer to maintain a little more distance between you, but also you might be extra watchful for signs of forewarning: pinned ears, swishing tail, hind leg at the ready, etc. Remember that your horse could move to avoid the kick and put you in its path instead. A broken leg or knee from a kick 10 steep miles from the trailer is no fun.
Mares in season and stallions can present special problems on the trail. They require an extra level of attention on the part of the rider and the others in the group. If you are riding one, be extra vigilant of her/his behavior. If you are not, but they are part of your group, keep an extra eye out on these animals. Ideally the rider on either of these animals would be an experienced horseman, but we all know you can’t count on that. Warn oncoming riders if necessary. And then also consider that any horse you may pass on the trail could be a mare in season or a stallion and that the rider may not be experienced.
Watch the footing, especially on uphills and downhills. Gravel on rocks is like ice. Wet bridges can also be very slippery. If you encounter problems, warn any riders behind you.
When leading and/or riding with anyone behind you
- Always ask before trotting/loping
- Warn of holes, bad footing and other dangers
- Warn when you are stopping
- Warn if a branch might snap back in someone’s face
- Keep track of other riders behind you
- Take turns leading, if possible…share the dust.
When you reach a watering area, take turns and don’t crowd. Wait for everyone to finish before moving off. And remember your Leave No Trace ethics: do not destroy additional water front so you can all water at the same time. Use only the obvious area where animals come down to drink.
Stop if there is a wreck. This should be pretty obvious. Your help may be needed. But also, once again, horses are herd animals and do not like to be left alone, especially in an unfamiliar area. If you ride off, while someone is trying to mount back up, their horse could panic and take off to catch up with the group.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics:
- Don’t cut switchbacks.
- Try not to walk through soft, wet ground. Horses’ hooves are sharp and destroy vegetation.
- Pick up all your trash, including cigarette butts, and pack it out.
- Pick up other people’s trash to keep places as pristine as possible and set a good example.
- Be respectful of those who live there and those who will visit behind you.
- Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
Always be prepared for the idiot or the inconsiderate. Be prepared for someone to take off at a gallop while you are mounting, bump into you from behind or stop dead in front of you.Keep your comments to yourself (or pick your battles). Unless the situation is a health risk or puts a life in danger, refrain from passing on your horsemanship wisdom. Many people may not respond well to a “know-it-all” or will resent the implication that they are stupid. Your “helpful suggestions” may cause more harm than good.
Additional safety items
- Always carry ID on your person and on your horse in case you become separated.
- Tell someone where you are going in case you don’t come home, even when riding with a group.
- Carry basic survival gear on your horse and at least the bare minimum on your person: cell phone, matches, food, water.
Following basic trail etiquette can help ensure the safety of you, your horse safe and others who you ride with or meet on the trail. But just as importantly, it can keep the trails open to horses. Many trails are closed to horses because of riders who abused the privilege. It is a privilege as much as your right to ride these trails. Remember that you are always an ambassador of horseback riding and that we all share the outdoors. If non-riders always meet a courteous and polite horseman on the trail, their impression of all of us will hopefully remain positive.