While riding in an arena can be fun and is a great way to work on your skills as a rider, sometimes you just want to get out and take a relaxing stroll (or run) along the trails. While we encourage you to embrace the change in scenery and enjoy your time riding horses through woods, waterfront, beach, or mountainside, there are important guidelines to follow to keep trail riders safe and having fun.
10 Safety Essentials for Horse Trail Rides
Never Trail Ride Alone
Your trail riding partner can be your riding instructor, your parents, a friend, anyone that can enjoy the same ride. Riding trails are a happy place, but they can also be dangerous- especially if you have to ride on a road where cars pass horses. It’s also not just dangerous for you, it can also be dangerous for your horse. If your horse trips and injures its leg, you can’t ride it home, and it may not be able to be led home. If you fall off your horse, a trail riding buddy will be there to give you first aid and care for your horse.
If you trail ride with a partner or especially if you insist on trail riding alone, be sure to tell someone else exactly where you are going and when you will be back. Having someone know where to look for you means that if an accident does happen, you will be able to receive the proper medical attention. (But this tip isn’t just about your safety. If there is an emergency at home, people need to know how to contact you.)
Always take your phone.
If you have access to a mobile phone, take it with you. This is for the same reasons listed in our first tip. Being able to maintain contact with your family is essential for your safety while trail riding. If you don’t have your own phone, you may want to consider asking your parents to borrow one of theirs for the duration of your ride.
Some riders don’t ride with their phone because they can be hard to carry- especially new larger phones. But if you ride beyond the sight of or earshot of others, always keep your phone on you. Check out our tips for carrying a cell phone while riding.
Never ride in a ‘no riding’ area.
These areas are usually clearly posted and you could find yourself in a lot of trouble if you disobey the signs. There are many reasons an area may prohibit riding ranging from danger to you and your horse or danger to the other patrons in the area.
Be careful riding during hunting season. Even in areas with “no hunting” posted, riders may be at risk. Consider a bright orange high visibility vest if you plan to trail ride in areas where sportsmen may hunt.
Know the rules of the trail you are riding on.
Each trail you ride on has its own set of rules. Sometimes rules are set by the county or state and they will apply to all trail riding. If you are riding on a private trail, there may have additional rules you need to know. Always check the rules before you leave for a trail ride. Similarly, if you are going to be riding on the roads, make sure you check if your state or county has any rules you need to follow.
If you are going on a group ride, trust your leader to set the rules. Listen to your trail ride’s guide and their assistant at the back of the group, if applicable.
Dress appropriately for the trails.
Just because trail riding is more relaxing than riding horses in an area, it does not mean you should be more relaxed with your safety gear. All of the safety gear you need in the arena, you also need on trail rides.
This includes your boots, riding gloves, and helmet. You should also dress in trail-appropriate clothes. Make sure you are wearing long pants to prevent scratches on your legs. Wear a long-sleeved shirt to prevent sunburn. If it is cold, make sure you have a warm coat, if it is very hot outside, make sure you are wearing light cotton so you don’t overheat. Learn more about what to wear for trail rides here.
Pack for the worst-case scenario.
Always take water on your trail ride. If you get stuck for some reason, you will need to stay hydrated while you wait for help or rest as you slowly make your way home.
When I go on trail rides, I always leave my horse’s halter on over the bridle and pack a lead rope just in case I need to tie up the horse or lead it from the ground. This gives me options if I need to take a break or get off my horse to tend to something I discover on the ground during my ride.
If you have pockets on your saddle blanket or use saddle bags, pack some vet wrap or a small first aid kit in case you or your horse need a bandage.
Personally, I also always bring a snack for myself and a nice carrot to share with my horse!
Make sure you are aware of your surroundings.
You may come across any number of things on a trail ride including hikers, runners, cyclists, or even other horse riders. If you are blissfully unaware of your surroundings or distracted by your phone, a collision with one of the other trail users or an unexpected spook might unseat you.
Stay on the trail!
This may seem obvious, but it is essential. If you are riding on a well-used trail, straying off the path can be incredibly dangerous. There may be animals, ditches, holes in the ground, etc. By staying on the trail, you know you are staying in a safe riding zone.
Stay within Earshot of your Riding Partner
If there is more than one of you on the ride make sure you keep communication open. That way if either of you spots danger or has a misbehaving horse, the other can prevent creating any additional danger and possibly help the other person on the ride.
Know your Limits
If the trail turns out to be more than you or your horse can handle, turn back. Everyone has a limit and everyone has bad days. This includes your horse. If you come across a piece of trail that requires more riding experience than you have, it’s best not to tackle that obstacle and turn back. If your horse is being pushed out of its comfort zone and they are anxious about something in its surroundings, don’t force them to continue. Head back to familiar ground. You can always try again another day.
Trail riding is a fun experience for all, but with this fun comes additional dangers. If you do decide to head for the trails, make sure you put the safety of you and your horse first.
For more tips on safe trail riding, see PennState’s Extension’s article.