December 18, 2017

Tips for Safer Trail Riding

trail riding            Trail Ride! Many riders begin riding just for this activity. Trail riding provides a relaxing break from the day to day grind. It gets you out in nature, connects you with your horse and gives you time to spend with friends. However; problems can and do arise. Can you diminish the likelihood of issues and handle those that occur? With proper planning you can! Here are some simple steps you should take before, during and after every ride.

            Before you go– Dress the part- You’re not going to the beach, right? Long pants, sleeved shirt, riding boots and outerwear appropriate for the weather are a must. Everyone should also wear an ASTM/SEI approved equestrian helmet. Be sure to check the manufacture date on your helmets. All helmets should be replaced after 5 years of use. All helmets have the manufacture date printed on a tag inside the helmet lining. You may be surprised at just how old that helmet really is.

 Groom your horse- Groom your horse completely taking special care to check legs and hooves. Fly spray is also good idea.  If you are concerned about bugs, use an ear net or some gnat repellant in your horses ears. Horses can become downright dangerous when they are bugged by bugs.

 Check your tack- We use the same tack every day, but do you really take a good look at it?  Before you tack up, check the stitching and wear points- buckles, billets, latigo, girths/cinches – everywhere metal meets leather. Make sure the leather is not cracked or worn. These weaknesses could break if stressed. If you use Chicago screws, make sure they are tight. Check the pad for cleanliness. Built up dirt or hair can cause sores. Be sure the bit is clean, fits correctly and is properly placed in the horse’s mouth. If you are using leg or hoof boots, make sure they are clean, fit properly and are in good repair.  After you cinch up, run your hand under the girth to smooth the skin.

 What to bring- Most saddles are designed to hang things on. Saddle strings and dee rings just beg to be used. Therefore; every rider should carry with them a halter, lead rope, identification, emergency contact numbers  and a hoof pick. The designated lead rider should also carry a cell phone or walkie-talkie (carried on themselves not the saddle), first aid kits for both humans and horses and items for simple tack repair (baling twine, leather laces and a sharp knife) are always a good idea.  If you are going out for a long ride, perhaps a bottle of water and maybe a lunch or light snack. Don’t forget a collapsible bucket and a treat for your horse!

Leave a ride plan- This can be as simple as a note scrawled on the barn marker board or a detailed list with maps. Regardless of which method you use, always include some basic information such as- where you are going, how long you intend to be gone, who is going, what horses they are riding and a contact number.

            Mount up- Start in the arena- Before you put your foot in the stirrup, take your horse to an arena. Re-check your tack, tighten the girth and mount up. Complete your usual riding warm-up before you head out the gate. A little time spent in the arena will give you some insight into your horse’s mood that day. An arena warm-up will also prepare both horse and rider for the task ahead. If an issue does comes up, you will be much better equipped to deal with it here than on the side of the mountain or along a city street.

            During the ride- Plan your ride and ride your plan- Keep to your intended route. Be aware of any issues that may be present on the trail, such as mud or downed trees. Make sure all the horses and riders know how to handle them. As you ride along make sure to alert the riders behind you to hazards such as low tree limbs.  Proper spacing will keep anyone from being kicked, but make sure no one gets left too far behind. Many horses don’t like to be away from the herd and will cause problems for their riders if this situation occurs.

Watch out for the group- If any segment of the ride will be faster than walk, ensure that all riders can handle and are prepared for the changes.  The rider leader should announce how fast the change will be and for how long. It could go something like this- “Hey Riders! It’s almost time to canter! We are going to start cantering at that first tree up ahead and bring it back to walk at the top of the hill. Everyone ready? (wait for conformation) Ok, let’s canter!” The lead rider should do just that, lead, along with setting a nice controlled pace. No one should pass the leader. The drag rider should make sure all the riders are handling the change well and that no riders got left behind, either mounted or in the dirt!

Heading home- Always ride the final leg back to the barn at a walk. Horses are usually glad to return to the barn after a long ride. If you return at a fast gait, the horses may get overly excited and try to run off, causing a very dangerous situation for everyone. It can also teach your horse some bad habits and cause them to become barn sour.  Riding the last leg at a walk will allow your horse to cool down so he’ll be ready to un-tack when you arrive back at the barn.

            After the ride- You’re not quite finished yet. Dismount, loosen the girth/cinch and cool your horse out if he is still hot. Once your horse is cool, tie, un-tack and groom your horse. Make sure to check hooves for rocks or debris. If it’s a warm day, perhaps a bath is in order. Properly store your tack and put your horse back into his stall or pasture making sure he has plenty of fresh, clean water. Grab cool drinks for yourself and all your riding buddies, find a comfortable chair in the shade and reminisce about your great day!

Cheryl Rohnke Kronsberg is a Certified Horsemanship Association Master Instructor and Clinic Instructor. Cheryl graduated from Rawhide Vocational College and Fullerton College. She is also an AQHA Professional Horsewoman. Cheryl has been teaching riding and horsemanship for over 30 years, training students from beginner up to world level competition. Currently she and her husband own and operate CRK Training Stable in Yorba Linda, CA. We welcome your comments and questions. Please feel free to share this article with your friends, but rights to publish this article are restricted. For more interesting articles from Cheryl go to


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