Saturday, May 1, 2010

Manners on the Trail: Trail Riding Etiquette

By: Darlene M. Cox,

There are myriad ways to enjoy the great outdoors. Along with horse trail riders, hikers, bikers, joggers, 4-wheeler enthusiasts, packers (mules/llama), etc. can all be encountered along the vast trail systems that we frequent. Unlike driving a car, there are no official rules or laws in place for traversing our trails; however, we do have an “etiquette” system that should be employed and communicated to others if they may be unaware that such exists. Adherence to our etiquette system will ensure our enjoyment of the trail riding experience and our safety, as well.

Following are the rules for good trail riding etiquette:

1. All trail users yield to the horse. Horse riders are given the right of way among all other trail users. The reasoning for this is that horses can present a danger to everyone in certain circumstances and are therefore given the leeway to continue their forward movement. Bike riders should move to the side, dismount from their bikes and lay them on the ground. Hikers should move to the side. When approaching hikers or bikers, talk to them to get them to respond to you. This will show your horse that these are humans and not horse-eating monsters. Ask the hikers/bikers to stand on the downhill side of the horses to allow their safe passage. Ask them not to reach out to touch your horse, as this may invoke a spook. Thank them for moving off the trail allowing you to pass. 4-wheeler drivers should pull off of the trail and turn their engines off.

2. Single riders, or the smaller group, should yield to the larger group of riders. Also, if an oncoming group has young children within it, regardless of the size, let their group pass first. Move safely off of the trail, turning your horse’s hind end away from the trail. Make sure there is plenty of room to pass. Don’t try to pass in a small area. You are just asking for trouble. Don’t let your horse “visit” with other horses.

3. Downhill riders should yield to uphill riders. It is difficult for a horse to resume its climb uphill once it has lost momentum. Again, move your horse off of the trail with its hindquarters pointed away from the trail.

4. Always be prepared for the unexpected when passing other horses. Stay on guard and ready to act if something occurs.

5. When riding with a group, always keep at least one or two horse lengths between you and the horse you are following. Incorporating this distance will allow you to see the trail and any hazards that may lie upon it. You will also have time and room to react if something blows up.

6. If your horse is a known kicker, tie a red ribbon in its tail to alert other riders of his propensity to kick. Horses that are kick or are otherwise unruly should be kept at the back of the group. Make sure anyone who may ride upon you from an approaching group knows that your horse is a kicker. Announce it, even though the ribbon is in place. Make sure they keep their distance.

7. If you are riding a stallion, tie a yellow ribbon in his tail and keep him away from any mare that may be in season. If you are riding a mare in season, keep her away from the stallion.

8. Always ride to the ability of the least experienced horse or rider in your group. Do not move at a faster gait than what that person or horse can handle. Do not take any trails that the least experienced horse or rider may be able to traverse safely.

9. Always be vigilant of trail hazards (holes, roots, rocks, etc.) and warn other riders who are coming along behind you.

10. When you reach a watering area, take turns watering your horses. Don’t crowd into the watering source. Also, do not leave the area until every horse has had an opportunity to drink its fill. No horse will stay behind when all of the others have left.

11. When preparing to mount and begin riding, do not walk off until every person is safely in the saddle and ready to start.

12. If someone has to dismount in route, everyone should stop until that person can remount and prepare to get on the way again.

13. If you have a dog that you like to take on the trail with you, get the general consensus of all those with whom you are riding. If one single person is not comfortable with your dog coming along, then Fido needs to stay behind in camp.

14. Remember to keep our trails clean. If you pack it in, pack it out.

15. When coming to a hill, whether going up or down, allow the rider ahead of you to clear enough distance to allow your horse to begin its climb or descent without crowding the horse in front.

16. Be prepared to encounter folks on the trail who do not know or understand trail etiquette. Weigh the measure of discussing it with them, or simply just let it go.

17. Stay safe. No ride is a good ride if every rider does not come back safely.

Happy trails!

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