Avid equestrians regard trail riding as a peaceful and picturesque way to enjoy the outdoors. Horseback riding in scenic areas, such as national parks and forest preserves, is a popular recreational practice, particularly for equine enthusiasts. However, certain preparations may be needed, to minimize potential dangers and to maximize enjoyment on the bridle path.
Certainly, the most important groundwork for equestrian trail riding is proper and sufficient training for both horse and rider. Seasoned equestrians with quiet, well-trained horses are most likely to return safely and uneventfully from the trail.
Still, surprises may await horseback riders on the trail. Horses may be more likely to shy, spook, spin, bolt or buck in unfamiliar woods than in their home arenas. Equestrians do well to prepare ahead of time.
10 preventative pointers for open-air horseback riding trips
Consider these 10 basic, but essential, steps horseback riders can take (in additional to equestrian training and smart horse selection) to prepare for a safer trail ride.
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1. Share the trail riding itinerary with a non-participant.
Veteran trail riders almost always alert someone, either at home or at the barn, whenever they set out for off-property sojourns with their horses. Ideally, equestrians leave their cell phone numbers, along with their time of departure, planned horseback riding route and projected time of return.
This way, if these riders fail to return within a reasonable time period, others may take notice.
2. Carry personal identification for trail rides.
Although a driver’s license is certainly not required for horseback riding or equine driving, smart equestrians tuck their licenses (or other current IDs) into pockets before hitting the trails. Health insurance cards are a good idea as well.
If an accident should occur on the trail, this information may be needed.
3. Take a cellular phone on trail rides.
Cellular phone service may be somewhat unreliable in remote trail areas, but a cell phone is still a must for equestrian trail riding. Of course, it is a good idea to set cell phones on silent for horseback riding, so incoming call or message alerts will not spook horses. And equestrians do well to refrain from using cell phones while on horseback.
Many savvy equestrians include an ICE (in case of emergency) phone number on their cell phone contact lists.
4. Tag the tack with personal identification information.
Occasionally, riders may become separated from their horses on the trails. Bucking and bolting does happen.
If an equestrian labels both bridle and saddle with personal identification data, helpers who may find or retrieve an errant horse will find it easier to reunite the two. This information should include the rider’s cellular phone number.
5. Affix trail tags to the saddle.
Many forest preserves, nature conservancy areas and parks require the purchase of trail passes (annual, monthly or daily) for horseback riding. Often, these are sold in the form of plastic tags, which may be attached directly to an equestrian saddle. These tags usually contain serial numbers, which also assist in identification of horses, if they are separated from their humans.
Such tags should be visibly displayed, so ranger staff members can spot them easily.
6. Wear proper equestrian equipment.
Safety on the trail is greatly enhanced, if equestrians wear the appropriate apparel and equipment. Fashion may not count for remote riding, but sturdy boots (with small heels for stirrup security) and hard-shelled safety helmets are essential.
Horseback riders with considerable trail riding experience seldom set out without bandannas and belts, as these accessories can be useful for on-the-spot bandaging or tack repairs.
7. Tote water and healthy snacks on trail rides.
Drinking water and simple snacks are also important for trail riding on horseback, particularly if excursions are expected to last longer than an hour or so. These may be placed in saddle bags, fanny packs or saddle pad pockets – keeping riders’ hands free for holding the reins while mounted.
8. Fly spray horses before hitting the trails.
Even horses who seem relatively unbothered by pesky pests in the riding arena may grow irritated by flies and mosquitoes on riding trails. A thorough fly spraying can enhance enjoyment and increase safety on the trail.
9. Inspect all tack and equipment carefully before going off-property.
All bridles, reins, saddles, girths, horse boots and other tack should be examined thoroughly before trail riding. Broken straps, loose buckles and other issues need to be addressed to prevent off-property mishaps.
Also, saddle pads must be checked for bumps, debris (such as burrs, pieces of straw or other poky items) before tacking up horses for the trails.
Many equestrians pack extra reins and even horse halters for trail rides, as these may be handy in emergencies.
10. Never go trail riding alone.
Often ignored (to riders’ peril), this is the cardinal rule of equestrian trail riding. Horses are herd animals, and trail buddies are essential to horseback riding safety on bridle paths, equestrian trails and open lands. Few horses are comfortable exploring unfamiliar territory without equine companions.
Ideally, the beginning trail rider (or the equestrian with a less experienced trail horse) will set out with a more seasoned pair for the first few rides.
These advance steps can make equestrian trail riding safe and successful, clearing the way for future saddled-up sojourns.