Trail Riding Etiquette for Horse and Rider

Trail Riding Etiquette for Horse and Rider

Learn safety tips and the rules of the road while trail riding.

trail ride on the prairie (Credit: AQHA)

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Etiquette and safety are close relatives that share a proportional relationship. In many cases, a lack of one creates a breach of the other. Poor etiquette typically leads to unsafe activities, while excellent etiquette paves the road for safe trail riding experiences.

To keep riders in your group safe on the trail, you should, at a minimum:

  • Nominate a leader or trail boss.
  • Ride at the level and speed of the least experienced rider.
  • Ask the group (and get consent) before increasing speed.
  • Communicate concerns clearly.
  • Maintain 10 feet or more between horses.
  • The lead rider should notify others of danger; each following rider should pass the message along.
  • Carry a cell phone on your body (not on your horse).
  • Carry a trail map.
  • Pack a first-aid kit. (Here's a list of must-have's for your equine first-aid kit.)
  • Require all youth to wear ASTM/SEI-approved helmets(Note: helmets should be replaced after every fall.)
  • Strongly recommend that all riders wear ASTM/SEI-approved helmets.
  • Always return to the trailer or barn at a walk.

Preparing Your Horse

Make sure that your horse is ready to trail ride. Horses need to build their muscle strength and endurance gradually, just like humans.

It is important to condition and desensitize your horse well in advance of a trail ride. This takes time and commitment. Conditioning rides should be conducted over similar terrain (i.e. riding up hills regularly in advance of a hilly ride) and in well-fitted tack. Arena riding generally is not adequate conditioning for trail riding.

Proper hoof care is vitally important to the soundness of horses used for all riding. Many horses are most comfortable trail riding with shoes (or specialty boots), and you should discuss the best option for your horse’s hoof care with your farrier.

Other considerations for your horse’s well being while trail riding:

  • Allow your horse the opportunity to drink at every water crossing.
  • Check your tack regularly for proper fit.
  • Examine feet and legs carefully after riding.
  • Pick feet before and after every ride.
  • Groom or wash your horse before and after every ride.

In Summary

In the horse riding world, there are universal etiquette practices and specific etiquette for a variety of situations. Often we don’t think of trail etiquette immediately, since trail riding is often a recreational activity without the formalities of arena riding or competition.

However, understanding and practicing good trail behavior makes the experience more enjoyable for everyone.

The best tips for trail riding safety are packed into one free e-book from AQHA: Trail Ride Safety Tips. Download the free Trail Ride Safety Tips e-book.