a girl riding a dark horse around bizarre obstacles like barrels, tires, pool noodles, flags
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Trail Riding 101-Get Outside Safely | Groundmaster

Trail Riding 101 – Get Outside Safely       

Trail riding in the fall is the perfect time to hit the trails with your horse.  Cooler temperatures.  Brilliant color in the trees.  It doesn’t get much better than this!  To make the most of this opportunity, and thoroughly enjoy your time on the trails with your horse, keep safety in mind.

two people riding horseback through a forest

Trail riding “101” is NOT going to prepare you to pack into the backcountry or set up camp for the weekend.  But for getting out to local parks and riding well-marked equestrian trails for a few hours, most of these safety points are simply good ole’ common sense. 

Don’t Ride Alone

Unless you’re an uber-experienced rider on a bomb-proof horse, it’s never a good idea to ride out on the trails by yourself.  Things happen, horses react – fast! 

While the unexpected is a big part of the ride’s thrill, having a buddy may help minimize any danger.  Having a buddy may also compound a scary situation, so choose your trail riding buddies carefully. 

Remember, horses are herd animals AND prey animals.  Their instinct is to sense danger and get away from it.  When one horse gets excited, the rest of the herd tends to follow suit. It’s always more fun and relaxing to ride with skilled, confident riders on experienced horses.

IF you decide to do ride out alone, be sure someone knows your location and planned route. Let that person know when you start and what time you expect to return to the trailer or barn.  Be sure to let your person know when you’re done!

a single person riding horseback through a forest

Honestly Assess Your Ability

Be real with yourself about your riding skills and your horse’s readiness.  What are you ready to tackle?  What are the boundaries of your confidence level?  Whether you are a seasoned pro or beginner, this is an essential step for both finding appropriate riding buddies and picking fun locations to ride.

Maybe you’re a great rider, but riding a young or green horse.   You might have a lot of confidence, but your horse likely doesn’t yet. Trail riding with very seasoned and confident horses will be a great help to your young horse.

If you are a beginner rider, hopefully, you are riding an experienced horse.  Most experienced trail riders will bend over backward to help you get out on the trails.  Everyone has to start somewhere!  Be honest about your skills, then watch and learn from your riding buddies.

A word of caution here – just because you are honest about your abilities doesn’t mean everyone will be honest about their abilities.  You’ll know these “trail riders” when you see ‘em, and you’re probably not gonna want to be with ‘em!

They’re the ones whoopin’, hollerin’, jerking their horses’ around, galloping across rocks, or up and down hills… You’ll hear ‘em before you see ‘em, and they’ll stir up even the calmest, most experienced horse in your group. These people don’t have their horses’ or even their own best interests in mind, so don’t expect them to have your back!

Remember what your trail riding goals are, and choose your riding buddies accordingly!

Prepare Your Horse

Jumping from the arena straight to the forest is probably not the best plan with a young or green horse.  “You didn’t learn to drive on I-30 through downtown Dallas during rush hour, so don’t put your horse where he’s not prepared to go,” says clinician Ken McNabb in the December 2020 Western Horseman magazine.  “It’s important to ride your horse outside with confidence. You want to be able to do the same things outside that you were doing in the arena. Create the same horse out there that you have in the arena.”

That can start with short working sessions in the pasture, where you practice walking, trotting, loping, stopping.  Then incorporate obstacles that might be spooky, like logs to cross, bridges, and even strange things that might never be seen on a trail, such as tires, tarps, and pool noodles.  

a girl riding a dark horse around bizarre obstacles like barrels, tires, pool noodles, flags

Photo Courtesy of Claudia Dineen

Even though your horse probably won’t have to cross a tarp on the trail, overcoming this obstacle is an exercise in partnership for you and your horse.  McNabb says, “My approach isn’t, ‘I’m going to make this horse cross this tarp.’ My attitude is that my horse and I are going to conquer this tarp together.  Every time the horse tries to cross the tarp, I release my pressure and reward him.  In no time, the horse becomes more confident in me.”

When your horse is confident in your leadership, he trusts that you’re not going to get him into a dangerous situation.  He believes that if you don’t think it’s scary, then it’s not scary. 

Confidence isn’t built overnight.  Take your time to prepare your horse, then you can hit the trails for fun!

Keep Your Phone on Your Person

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Getting out in nature is a great way to break free from the tiny screen that holds us captive most days.  But carrying your cell phone is also an essential safety precaution – just in case. 

What will you do if your phone is in your saddlebag when your horse dumps you and runs off?  Something about being up a creek without a paddle comes to mind. 

Carry your phone on your person.  Pockets are useful but not always the most secure.  Consider investing in a phone case that attaches securely to your belt or leg, like the Horse Holster.

Plan Your Route and Follow Your Plan

The very best trail riding day can come to a crashing end if you realize you’re lost.  It can happen even on well-marked trails if you get lost in conversation and miss a turn.

If you’re riding in an area you’ve never been to, do some research first. Find trail maps, look it up on Google Earth, talk to other riders on social media to learn as much as you can.

Once you decide on a route for your ride, try hard to stick to that route.  It’s easy to get distracted and want to explore branch-offs and game trails!

Conclusion on how to weigh your horse without a scale

The joy of trail riding comes from getting out in nature and exploring with your horse and horse buddies.  It’s relaxing, exhilarating, and no two trips are ever the same.  For these very same reasons, safety and preparation are essential. 

Do your homework.  Hook up with some experienced trail riding buddies and make a date with the great outdoors!   Oh, and HAVE FUN! 

Where is your favorite trail ride destination?  What do you love about it?  Let us know!  Maybe we’ll join you!



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