Oklahoma Trail Horse
Trail Riding Etiquette, Rules, and Trail Tips
Bridlewood Equestrian Oklahoma
If you're going to go trail riding, you owe it to your fellow riders to learn the rules they go by, as well as the rules of whatever property you're riding on. Trail manners count. Knowing how to act on a trail will make sure you are a welcome partner on the next trail ride.
Best thing you can do is make sure you and your horse have as much experience as possible before going to a large ride. Trail etiquette (or lack of manners) is the reason horseback riders tend to not participate in large organized trail rides.
While the majority of riders are safe and courteous, it only takes one or two to ruin a day of horseback riding due to their lack of good judgment or etiquette.
Prepare your horse for the trail at home.
Too many people are riding horses that aren’t ready to be on the trail (this goes for both the people and horses). Although, we do enjoy watching a horse buck off a rider that does this to them. Don't be cheap entertainment for the rest of us -- work this out ahead of time.
Don't bring you horse on a trail ride unless it is physically fit, calm, and experienced for the situation you are heading into. If your friends are going for a 25-mile ride and your horse has been in a stall for 3 months – Don’t go.
“Ride time” does not mean “Show-up time.” You should be saddled and ready to ride at your appointed ride time. Be considerate, don't make others wait on you. Habitually late people tend to take shortcuts to compensate for their lack of time management. The place to try out your new gear is at home in a controlled environment. Try out your new breast collar or rear cinch before you get to the trail. Don’t practice or experiment with new things on the trail. If you arrive for a trail ride late and the group has departed. It is safer to return home than to ride alone.
In organized rides, there will be a short briefing before each ride. Horses should be saddled, bridled, and ready to ride 10 minutes prior to the designated ride time for the briefing.
Be aware of how you park at the trail head. Leave enough room between vehicles to safely tack and groom. Nothing is worse than after a ride, to find your trailer blocked… or maybe angry waiting riders that you have blocked?
Clean up manure at trail head/parking areas. Scatter manure piles at stopping spots. Pick up left over hay and your trash and a few pieces of trash left by others.
Emergency ID and numbers should be on both the horse, rider and vehicle .
Remember that if you have an accident and you become incapacitated for one reason or another, the emergency personnel and police will most likely not have a clue how to handle your horses. In a visible place in your tow vehicle and/or trailer, put a list of emergency numbers for them to call - your veterinarian, friends, or family members who would be able to help make decisions about your horses. Put ICE on your cell phone.
Someone in your riding group, should always carry a emergency bag for rider and horse. Carry your cell phone, matches, knife, and whistle on you, rather than on your horse, in case you become separated.
Practical trail horsemanship includes carrying at least the following:
A hoof pick or some device for cleaning the feet; a knife for the quick
cutting of tack and equipment that gets hung up, halter and rope or similar gear for tying a horse quickly, safely, and securely in the event of a trail emergency.
For bridling or unbridling, the horse should not be tied since safety is
jeopardized if the horse pulls back. Instead, the lead rope attached to the halter should lie over the handler's arm or shoulder. For the process, the halter may be either left on the horse's head or fastened around the horse’s neck.
The wider stirrup helps prevent the riders’ feet from going to sleep, allows shifting of weight to a wider surface and helps reduce strain to knees and ankles.
Evaluate the size relationship between stirrup and boot. If the stirrup is so large in proportion to the boot that the foot could extend through the stirrup, you jeopardize your safety. By the same token, a stirrup that is disproportionately small for a boot could also become jammed.
When dismounting or mounting on a hill, do so on the uphill side, whether it is the near or the off side of the horse.
A flank strap that hangs so low it could catch the horse's foot when striking at a fly, is dangerous and is improperly tacked. A breast collar should fit snug above the working shoulder, the tie strap should be loose enough as to not cut into the muscle of the horse, but tight enough not to trap a hoof during a possible fall.
Always “quick tie” your horse as high as possible. A good height for tying, whether at a trailer, tree, or fence post, would be that of the horse’s withers. Lead slack should not be longer than the neck of your horse. The tie's length must not be so long that the horse could catch a foot over the rope while pawing or nibbling at ground level. For a standard length, the halter snap when unfastened would hang almost to the ground, preferably not touching the ground at bedtime since the rope can stretch during the night. Also acceptable is a length a few inches shorter if there is the possibility of the halter catching on a trailer fender.
If a hay net is used, it must be tied high enough to prevent the horse
from pawing into it especially when empty. Rope nets have a ring at the bottom which is used to prevent bag from hanging to low.
Always ride with a buddy, and let someone know where you are riding, and at what time you are expected to return, even when riding with a group..
Don’t ride off, while someone is trying to mount. Wait until all riders are mounted and ready to ride before any horses move out for the trail.
Riders/ Parents should be responsible for conduct of their children and guest. Riders under 17 years of age will be accompanied by a parent or adult sponsor, that will ride with them.
NEVER allow your horse to nose to nose another horse. Don’t let them go "visit" other horses on their own. Horses should not sniff to be friendly. It has the potential to spread disease and some horses will take this as a challenge and strike out.
A horse that tends to kick, has a Red ribbon in her tail, a Green ribbon for a
“Green horse or green rider,” Yellow for a Stallion. (Tail and Forelock)
Every horse should be treated like it has a red ribbon. If you do have a horse
that you know does kick, it's your responsibility to know how to take away the hindquarters to avoid a kicking situation. When riding a young horse, put a
red ribbon in their tail. 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.
Don’t pony horses when you’re with a group unless you are packing.
Stay behind the Trail Boss and in front of the Drag Rider.
You should always be able to see the rider in front of and behind you. If not, call loudly to regroup.
Don’t Tail Gait. A long established standard dictates that a rider should keep at least one horse-length behind another except when overtaking to pass. A minimum of two horse-lengths, however, might be necessary on uneven terrain to allow for better visibility and reaction time. When you encounter a short bridge on the trail, ride horses across one at a time. Allow more than the usual single horse length between each horse over longer bridges. A distance of at least one horse length (about 10 feet) should be maintained between animals on all trails. Don't tailgate!! When going uphill, keep at least two lengths between horses. On downhill routes, maintain at least three horse lengths between animals.
If nature calls and your horse has to pass some manure, maintain movement at the same speed as other horses. This spreads the manure and prevents another horse down the line stopping in a potentially unsafe location and/or without warning.
Be courteous on the trail, announce when you are ready to pass, "Rider, may I pass on your right?". “Hole on the left please?” When passing a horse on a trail moving in the same direction as you, let the rider and horse know you're approaching simply by saying, "Trail, please". The rider should then move to the right as far as is safe or simply stop their horse for the approaching rider to pass.
One of the first rules of trail riding etiquette is to make sure that the trail one is riding is a horse trail! Most trail systems use international trail symbols -- a stick-type figure on a horse. This sign designates a trail for horsemen. If the sign has a red slash over the figure, this means the trail is closed to horsemen. And other trail systems use a combined sign. One that shows all users with the exempt ones having a red slash over them.
Be Aware!! Who Yields?
It depends on where you are riding as to who or what you’ll encounter. In wilderness areas, you’ll probably come across hikers, horses, llamas, mules and other pack stock. In many other areas you’ll also encounter bicycles and motorcycles. There are some simple "rules of the road" that apply to trail use and right of way. The best thing for your safety and that of others using the trail is to be aware of your surroundings. Most often you can see a problem and deal with it before it ever gets out of hand. Though there are universal rules for right-of-way, not everyone on the trail follows them. The general right-of-way rules are:
Uphill traffic has the right-of-way -- regardless if its hiker, biker or horsemen!
Mountain bikers yield > to hikers.
Cyclists and hikers yield to > horseback riders. …
In some instances, even though you have the right of way you may be better positioned to yield to another trail user -- be considerate. Basically, whoever can get off the trail easiest should do so. Common sense and courtesy are much more important than who has the right of way.
If you see a hiker that you don’t think your horse has yet noticed, it is a great idea to yell ahead to the hiker; “Hi there! Great weather we are having today!” When they respond, your horse will know they are there and is much less likely to spook. Voice contact is a great way to ensure your horse doesn’t get surprised. Stay relaxed yourself and keep talking to the hiker and your horse if he is nervous.
A horse’s natural predator comes swiftly and quietly. A man on a silent, fast moving, HORSE EATING bicycle can come from behind. quickly and quietly before you know it is coming. Find out if there are more in their party and tell them how many in your party. Ask them to stand off on downhill side of the trail. Encourage cyclists and hikers to verbalize. Once again, horses are prey animals and often attacked from above, so keep the scary looking thing down low. It can also be easier to control a horse going uphill if he spooks. Never, never, never have a hiker or backpacker or biker or other horseman or anybody step behind a rock, a tree, a bush or out of sight. If the horse has seen him, he's looking for him! And with the sudden disappearance the horse can become more nervous and upset. To a horse, that disappearing what-is-it could suddenly bounce out and eat 'em. Even if completely out of sight, a snapping twig or a rustling branch as a horse goes by can spook the animal. So keep the other trail user in open sight -- and TALK.
Most other trail users are intimidated by the size of a horse. And they just don't know what to do or where to go! So say "Hi" and tell 'em what to do. If the hiker is on a hill trail, have him move to the downhill side of the trail and stand there -- continue carrying on the conversation with him as you ride by. On flat trails, have him move to the left side of the trail so you can stay on the right side and continue carrying on a conversation.
If someone wants to stop and pet the horse and the horse is agreeable, let them. It's good public relations. A lot of hikers may never have touched a horse before. And with groups of kids, they love talking to and petting a horse regardless of how dirty and sweaty the horse is!
Single riders will yield to pack strings and groups.
On a narrow trail, a rider on a slow horse must give way to others
asking to pass as soon as a safe spot appears available.
Downhill riders will yield to uphill riders. Uphill traffic has the right-of-way -- regardless if its hiker, biker or horsemen! Downhill traffic should yield by waiting at the top of the climb or at the first safe spot to stop.
In theory, vehicle to rider.
Crossing Roads.. Always cross as a group. Never leave a horse(s) separated on busy road traffic. By law, vehicles should yield to pedestrians /horses. If possible, flag traffic to stop, and then cross the road as a group. Otherwise, take your time and wait for a safe crossing.
When crossing, first horses should move far off road and wait for the last horse, before proceeding on trail.
When being passed by a vehicle on a narrow, precipitous road, the rider
should be riding or move to the inside against the rise of the hill or bank.
Don’t forget to use your “please” and “thank yous”. We all want to be respected when passing others on the trail, and the best way to do that is to be respectful of them and to take any opportunity to educate others of a horse rider’s needs on the trail. If you neglect to be respectful of a mountain biker, they are likely to be less concerned about using courtesy with the next horseback rider they pass
Don’t make a court case out of it. If you have room to move and its safe, do it -- use common sense not your testosterone. Don’t preach the rules of the trail to other trail users. Ask nicely and you’ll probably get cooperation.
When being passed by motor vehicles or mountain bikes, on a narrow road or mountain trails, keep the uphill side rather than along the downhill edge of the road.
If a trail rider is having difficulty controlling their horse they should step off the trail, out of line to restore calmness to the horse. This can be done mounted or dismounted.
Don't leave any horse/rider at an obstacle if that horse is having trouble crossing it (bridge, creek, etc.); most horses do NOT like being left, and that can turn into a dangerous situation (it can also sometimes help get the horse across when done correctly.
When traveling down the trail with multiple riders, as you cross
rough terrain, each rider should wait for the horse behind him, so
as not to whip lash, the last rider. This will allow each horse to
safely cross at his own speed, without “fear of losing the herd.”
Walk your horse when going up or down a hill or gully. Do not trot
or canter away from hills! This may endanger other riders.
Go straight. When on a hill, go straight up or straight down, never
sideways. Your horse has better traction going straight; even if he
slips and slides he will be less likely to fall. If you go sideways
around a hill, he could fall flat and crush your leg. But if you head him straight down a hill, he can slip and slide all the way down and still keep his feet.
Stay on top. It's usually safer to stay on your horse going down a steep hill, if you keep him pointed straight down. He usually has better traction with four feet than you do on two. And if you lead him, he might slide right into you. Or, you might slip and fall in front of him. If you must get off, stay to the side and well out of his way. (The same rule of thumb applies to any slippery downhill footing - such as going down a steep bank.)
When allowing your horse to “blow” while going uphill, turn your horse across the trail, resting your horse so that all four hooves are on ground that is as level as possible. Pause at the top of a climbing hill, and check your horse’s P&R’s before you continue. (Pulse and respiratory)
Wait until the first horse has cleared the top if you are going up a hill.
Turning around / reversing on the trail. Plant your hindquarters, Turn your horse’s head to the downhill or the steep side while turning. Always turn your horse to the down hill side. He can see his front feet and won’t step off the trail. He cannot see his back feet or where he is putting them as well, so you want to keep those on the trail.
Don’t cut the corners on “switch backs.” Stay on the trail. Do not take shortcuts.
Watch the footing, especially on uphill and downhill. Gravel on rocks is like ice. Wet bridges can also be very slippery. Walk on pavement.
Warn if a branch might snap back in someone’s face. Tree branches...I know for a fact that timing is important and holding a branch is nice, but if timing is not good at the moment...leave the thing alone.
DO NOT hang back so you can gallop up on the rest of the group. It's dangerous and incredibly rude.
Before transitioning to a faster gait, check with the group to see if everyone wants to transition. Then make sure everyone is ready before you start. TAKING OFF unexpectedly can lead to the weak rider falling off...
Don’t drown your horse. Unsnap or remove martingles
and tie downs when crossing deep rivers. (Notice
tie down on horse in photo)
When crossing deep water, watch your horse to make
sure that they don’t try to lie down with you in the
saddle. If your horse starts pawing at the water,
there’s a good chance that they’re thinking about laying down. Many horses like to lie down in water after a hot day of trail riding, it’s refreshing!
When at a watering spot, wait for the other horses to finish. Leaving while another horse is drinking can cause that horse to stop drinking. When you reach a watering area, take turns and don’t crowd. Wait for everyone to finish before moving off. Be considerate of other horses; move away from the entry point if it is safe to do so.
Sponging at water stops is usually beneficial for the horse-- You may cool your horse by applying water to the neck, between legs and anywhere on the horse that has veins near the surface.
A sponge on a rope or string, to wet your horse’s neck on a hot day, is a good way to cool your horse without having to dismount at a lake or stream..
The initial method for watering the horse on arrival at a lunch stop
should be at the rider’s discretion. If the horse is not in good condition, perhaps overstressed or overheated, the initial water intake should be limited to a few sips (for example, ten swallows, then ten more in ten minutes). Later on, free choice of water can be considered. An unstressed horse, in top condition, however, might profit by drinking fully on arrival when it is thirsty, thus dehydrating well.
Regardless of the weather, keeping the legs wet from the knees and hocks down likely aids in removing residual heat and limiting swelling.
Riders should hose down the horse at the most appropriate distance from a faucet . Verses the less thoughtful rider or anyone who creates a mud hole for others at the water source, or who unduly monopolizes a water source.
Never permit a hot horse to “gorge” himself on water when coming in to lunch stop or immediately after the ride.
Walk during the last 2 miles, depending on the length of the ride, the
longer the ride - the longer the cooling period.
After the cool out period, you may want to feed him a hay ration, saving grain until later. It is wise to listen for bowel sounds before feeding after a tiring ride. If the horse is showing signs of fatigue, it would not be wise to feed him grain.
You may wish to blanket your horse and use leg wraps for the ride home
It really is just common sense, common courtesy and good safe practices, no matter what your riding level, experience or skill is.
RESPECT THE PROPERTY YOU ARE RIDING 0N
Observe wildlife and livestock from a distance. Do not follow, herd, or approach them. Do not get between a bear and her cub(s). Where there is one snake, there is usually two or more. Same with deer.
Tying a bell on your horse, helps to keep wild game at a distance.
Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
In general, trotting fast or galloping on moderate ascents, descents, and
exceedingly rough ground is poor trail care.
- AS IN STAY OFF THE CROPS, and, of course have fun if you pack it in - pack it out. I could be wrong - but I think crushed empty drink/beer cans take up less space in saddle bags, than full ones do. That also goes for paper litter as well.
Be respectful of those who live there and those who will visit behind you.
Take only pictures, leave only footprints.