Trail Riding Rules: Equestrian Etiquette

Trail Riding Rules: Equestrian Etiquette

Knowing who has the right of way, rules for group riding, tail-ribbon colors and Leave No Trace ethics will make you safer and more polite on the trail.

trail ride up a hill (Credit: AQHA/Tara Matsler)

text size

Part of good trail riding etiquette is ensuring that you are respectful of trails and land areas. This begins with your arrival at the trailhead. Some ways you can mind your trail manners include:

  • Park only in designated areas.
  • Tie only to your trailer, designated tie areas or using a safe high tie (do not tie directly to trees).
  • Keep your horse moving while he passes manure on the trail.
  • Take out everything that you bring in. Pack it in, pack it out.
  • Stay on the trail – do not create pass arounds.
  • Only enter waterways at designated crossings.
  • Avoid muddy trails. If you have to pass through mud, do so at a walk.
  • Obey all signage. Do not ride in areas where horses are not allowed.
  • Abide by all voluntary trail closures.
  • Collect muck and scattered hay from your tie site and dispose of it at home or in a designated area.
  • Fill in uneven areas created by you or your horse.

Sharing Multi-Use Trails

Many trails are multi-use and open to a variety of users – hikers, mountain bikers, dog walkers, etc. It is important that equestrians communicate with other trail users in a productive manner. When you encounter other users on the trail, remember that horses have the right of way. Make it a safe trail riding experience by:

  • Talking to the hikers or bikers.
  • Asking them to step off the downhill side of the trail while you pass.
  • Sharing the number of riders in your group and asking them how many are with them.

Rules for Group Trail Riding

Courtesy is important when you are riding in a group. Some trail tips to be respectful to other members in your riding party are:

  • Waiting for gate openers/closers.
  • Waiting for all horses to drink before leaving a watering area.
  • Moving downstream to allow other horses ample room to drink.
  • Waiting for riders who might be having a hard time crossing water with their horses.
  • Waiting for riders who have dismounted or are off for any reason.
  • Not running up behind or alongside other riders.
  • Passing on the left.

Tail Ribbons and Their Meanings

If your horse exhibits behaviors that require special consideration, you should tell all members of the riding party about those issues and place a ribbon of an appropriate color in your horse’s tail and mane. The following are common ribbon color codes:

  • Red = Kick
  • Green = Novice
  • Blue = Stallion

Remember to keep an eye on safety, obey land stewardship rules, be courteous and wear all the right ribbons to have an enjoyable ride every time.

More information on safe trail riding and how to prepare your horse for the trail can be found in the Certified Horsemanship Trail Guide Manual.