01 Jul 16 Horse Trail Riding Tips: Ultimate Guide
Trail riding is a fun activity in horseback riding that almost everyone enjoys. It allows you and your horse to get off the property and experience some nature and new obstacles. It’s personally one of my favorite things to do with my horses.
If you’re preparing for your first trail ride or you’re willing to become more of a trail riding enthusiast, then there are some things to keep in mind before hitting the trails. It’s always important to make the safety of yourself, your horse, and your riding group your first priority.
Here are 20 tips that will help you to have a fun and safe trail ride, for everyone involved:
TIP 1: Take a Trail Buddy
Our first tip is one of the most important things to remember when trail riding: take a trail buddy. This is vital especially if you’re going off the property to a location you are unfamiliar with. A trail buddy can be another riding friend or your instructor; it should be someone who has the ability to handle their horse on the trail.
There are a number of reasons to bring along a friend whenever you go trail riding; however, the biggest reason is for your safety. Too many times, riders go out by themselves and are thrown or lost. It can take days to find them. By having a trail buddy, one of you could go for help if need be or apply basic first aid.
Always remember that two minds are better than one. I also find that the majority of the fun that came from trail riding is getting to talk and tell stories as I ride side-by-side some of my closest friends.
TIP 2: Bring Extra Gear and Equipment
Whenever you head out on the trail, make sure you pack extra equipment. This can look like storing extra reins and clip-on horseshoes in your saddlebags. In the event that a piece of tack breaks or an extra piece of equipment is required, you should be well equipped to handle the situation.
If you plan to trailer your horse to the trailhead, always pack extra of each tack piece. This means an extra halter, bridle, and girth at least. All too many times I have forgotten a piece of tack only to realize it once I have reached the destination. This can easily through your day off to a bad start and may even jeopardize your chance to ride.
Utilize space in your saddlebags by storing extra equipment you may need on the trail. I always recommend bringing an extra pair of reins. Reins can be used not only to steer your horse but also to tie a tourniquet or act as a sling in a medical situation. Prepare and fill your saddlebags beforehand to make sure you are prepared for the trail.
TIP 3: Check the Weather Beforehand
Always check the weather report before you decide to go on a trail ride. One of the worst things is getting stuck out on your horse in the wilderness in inclement weather. If the forecast is calling for a chance of thunderstorms or snowstorms, its best to refrain from going out anyway.
Rain can also turn a relaxing trail ride into a daunting nightmare. It can make the trails slick and cause visibility to be poor. I don’t consider myself a fair-weather rider, but if there’s a chance of rain in the forecast, I rather stay closer to home than risk getting drenched in cold rainfall.
Nonetheless, weather can change in an instant, different than what’s predicted, so always pack a lightweight rain poncho. I always bring a saddle cover as well in order to protect my saddle from getting wet.
In this video, I mention some more helpful riding hacks that you can apply to your trail rides:
TIP 4: Carry a First Aid Kit
One of the items that you carry in your saddle bag should be a first aid kit. In the event that someone falls off or a horse gets injured, the wounds will need to be attended to until you can get more professional medical attention.
Having cleansing wipes, gauze, roll bandages, tweezers, scissors, and antiseptic cream on hand can be used to treat both horses and humans. Other items you may want to include specific to horses would be vet wrap, fly repellant antiseptic, duct tape, and a snakebite kit.
If you want to learn more about equine first aid kits, check out this kit on Amazon by clicking here.
TIP 5: Make Sure Your Horse Can Behave in a Group
If you want to go on group trail rides with your friends, it’s important to know if your horse can behave in a group on the trail. Some horses will kick out or get nervous around other horses, which can make the trail ride dangerous for everyone involved.
Before you go out on the trail, ride with a group of riders in the arena. This will allow your horse to get used to being in a large group of horses. You may notice that your horse will either be more of a follower or more of a leader.
Some horses like to stay in the pack of horses where they feel comfortable while more dominant horses usually like to be out in front leading the group. While a leading horse is usually a bold horse when it comes to crossing obstacles, these horses can sometimes start a ruckus if they are stuck behind another horse.
Doing group exercises beforehand that will help your horse learn to stay calm even if they’re stuck in the back can make a real difference on the trail. dedicate time to training in the arena and working out the quirks that may come out on the trail.
TIP 6: Respect The Abilities of Other Riders In Your Group
Growing up, I went on a group trail ride with a bunch of kids from the lesson barn. We consistently rode together and would gallop around the fields bareback…oh to be young. One day, we ran into another rider from the stable out on the trail. She insisted on joining our group. No one really knew what her riding level was, but when we went galloping up the hill as a group and soon found out.
Long story short, she fell off her horse and never rode again. To this day I still feel bad about pushing her to do something she wasn’t ready for and not taking the time to learn what her experience level was.
The fact of the matter is a trail ride can become dangerous for someone who is being pushed by the rest of the group to do something that they don’t have the capability to do just yet. Respect the riders in your group and their abilities. They should be the ones to set the pace.
TIP 7: Never Tie Your Reins to a Tree
One principle that is known as basic horse knowledge is to never tie your horse off using the reins. The reins are connected to the bit; if the horse were to freak out and pull back while being tied, they could easily do damage to their mouth.
For this reason, I recommend always carrying a halter and lead rope with you if you are going on the trail. You’d be surprised at the number of times you may have to dismount and tie your horse off. Bringing a halter along will make things much more manageable when this happens.
TIP 8: Have Your Horse Wear a Halter Over Their Bridle
When I go out on a trail ride, I always put the horse’s halter back on over their bridle and tie the lead rope off to the saddle. I do this for a number of reasons. Firstly, as mentioned in the above point, it makes it easier and safer to tie your horse off to trees and objects.
Secondly, if your horse is acting up on the trail, you can easily hop off and do groundwork using the halter they have on. This will get your horse focusing back on you and the commands you are giving. This is great for green horses or horses that haven’t been out on the trail much before. If you’re interested in learning basic groundwork techniques, click here.
Thirdly, having a halter already on your horse will make it easier to catch the horse if you fall and the horse takes off. It will also make it easier for ponying or helping another horse and rider who may need to be led through an obstacle.
TIP 9: Know Your One-Rein Stop
The first thing I teach anyone who is getting on a horse for the first time is how to do a one-rein stop. A one-rein stop is considered the emergency brake to your horse. This stop is done by grabbing one rein specifically and pulling the horse’s head around and to your knee.
This motion keeps your horse from being able to bolt, buck, or rear. Unfortunately, things happen on the trail that will sometimes startle your horse or cause them to act up. Knowing how to do a one-rein stop will save you from potential disaster and will allow you to get control of your horse.
TIP 10: Make Sure Your Horse is Physically Fit
Back when I was young and reckless, I competed in hunter paces. My partner and I’s goal was to always finish in record time. This took place in the mountains of Virginia, covering steep inclines and declines and plenty of trails to gallop through.
One time, we started out fast and covered ground quickly; however, halfway through, my horse was done. She could barely make it up a hill. I realized that she wasn’t as physically fit as I thought she was.
This can potentially be dangerous to your horse. Overworking your horse on a trail they’re not prepared for can cause injuries to their ligaments and tendons as well as cause them to have sore muscles or even tie up. The last thing you want to happen is to have your horse give up on you miles from home with no way to get back.
TIP 11: Be Prepared to Face Obstacles That Your Horse Isn’t Used Too
The great thing about trail riding is it introduces your horse to many things they may not come across in daily life. It gives them new obstacles to go through and new challenges to overcome. That being said, your horse isn’t always going to handle these new things with ease.
Having the knowledge and ability to get your horse passed new obstacles will greatly benefit you on the trail. Being assertive yet rewarding will go a long way with horses, as well as staying calm and collected.
Always prepare your horse as much as you can for new obstacles. A great way to do this is by putting your horse through some kind of desensitizing training. If you’d like to see the method I use for desensitizing, check out our article, Bombproof and Desensitize a Horse: The Ultimate Guide.
TIP 12: Choose Comfortable Tack…For You and the Horse
I once rode a 13-mile trail ride in a close contact English saddle…bad idea. Not even halfway through, my knees, lower back, and gluteus maximus were aching in pain. Not only that, but my horse had a very sore back the next day as well.
Since then, I’ve purchased a lightweight western trail saddle that has done both me and my horse some good. Western saddles naturally offer more comfort to the rider as well as evenly distributing the weight over the horse’s back instead of focusing it all on one area as the English saddle does.
When it comes to trail riding, comfort should be key. You’ll be in the saddle for hours at a time, and it becomes no fun when you’re in pain.
TIP 13: Always Have a Cell Phone On You
If you’re going out on the trails, you should always have your cell phone on you. If you were to run into a problem, you could quickly call for help. If you get separated from your group, you can call members of your group.
Having a cell phone on you is important even if you’re just walking into the pasture to get a horse. It gives you quick access to people who can help you.
Nonetheless, when you’re trail riding, you may not always be in an area that has a signal. When this happens, it’s vital to stay with your group and stay on the trail.
TIP 14: Stay On the Trail
To hikers and horseback riders alike, always stay on the trail! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of people wandering off the trail to then be lost for days. The fact of the matter is the trail is marked and the path is proven worthy; if you go off trail, you may run into loose rocks, cliff edges, and other hazardous landscape that can put you and your horse in danger.
Sometimes, the trail may not be marked clearly enough. Because of this, I recommend bringing a compass with you on your rides. The least it can do is point you in the right direction.
TIP 15: Know Proper Trail Etiquette
Knowing proper trail etiquette will keep you and other trail users safe. Not all hikers or bikers will understand how horses react to them approaching. Because of this, you want to do everything you can to minimize risk.
One thing I learned from foxhunting was if someone is coming up behind you, whether it’s a runner or a biker, pull your horse over the side of the trail, turning their head towards the trail and their hind-end away. This way, you take away the need for the horse’s natural reaction for something approaching from behind: to kick. This will also give the horse a chance to see what’s approaching.
Always be friendly to passers-by and call out ahead if you need to pass or go by. This will help all trail users to stay safe and respect each other’s space.
TIP 16: Carry A Set of Wire Cutters
This may seem menial, but you should always carry a pair of wire cutters when on the trail. On some trails, there may be loose wire hidden close to the ground; a horse can easily get caught in this wire and lose its cool.
Having a pair of wire cutters on hand will allow you to free your horse from any wire they get stuck in. To anyone who has dealt with it, wire, especially barbed wire, can be dangerous to a horse. Usually, if a horse gets caught in wire, they start thrashing around. Barbed wire will wrap and sink deeper into the horse’s skin if they do this.
Being able to act fast and cut your horse lose can save your horse from much pain and injuries. Chances are you will never need the wire cutters, but I rather be safe than sorry.
If you’re a rider where the weather can’t hold you back, knowing how to handle specific weather will come in handy. Check out our tips for winter horseback riding by clicking here.
I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.