Trail Etiquette: Minding Your Manners

by Mike Kinsey - from Backcountry Basics

In the past, hikers and hunters where the only other humans horseback riders encountered in the backcountry. Today, however, more people seek respite from the city, thus are pursuing various forms of outdoor recreation from dirt biking to rock climbing. Although some areas have equestrian-only trails, most areas require that hikers, bikers, horseback riders and other outdoor enthusiasts share the same paths. Unfortunately, conflict among user groups has limited access to public lands. To ensure that future horsemen have open spaces to ride, you must become a trail-riding ambassador, respecting other users, following trail rules and leaving only hoof prints.

These tips help you coexist and leave positive impressions. The most important thing is to use common sense and have fun!
At the Trail Head

Before getting in the saddle:

Arrive early. On planned rides arrive ahead of schedule. Gather and inspect your gear, work your horse a little and be ready to ride on time.

Park efficiently. Consider other riders when parking. Allow plenty of room between trailers so horses and humans are not at risk. Be sure not to block someone that can’t back out.

Clean up. Bring trash bags or dispose in provided cans. Remove manure to proper area or spread away from picnic areas so it becomes natural fertilizer.

Riding in Groups

Riding with friends and family is fun. Keep the following in mind for safety and courtesy. Before leaving on the ride discuss issues and how to avoid problems with the group.

Wait for the group. Ride off only when everyone is ready and mounted. A horse left behind might become difficult or run to catch up with the group.

Stay behind the trail boss. The lead rider is in charge of guiding the group safely along the trail. He can’t do this efficiently if other group members ride ahead.

Separate unfriendly horses. If two horses don’t get along, space them far apart. This makes the ride more enjoyable for everyone.

Announce gait changes. The leader should travel at a pace that is comfortable for the group and suited to the riders with the least experience. To prevent surprises and accidents announce gait changes well in advance. Picking up the pace unannounced might cause some horses to panic and try to catch up to the group. To slow down or stop hold up your hand.

Point out hazards. The leader should point out low branches, water crossings by using a hand signal as this is understood more clearly at a distance than a verbal announcement. Pointing toward a potential hazard with the index finger with the thumb pointed down is a good signal for danger.

Don’t drink and ride. Just as drinking alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive, it mars your control and common sense on horseback. Your horse deserves your best and drinking before or while riding exposes him to your worst.

Maintain adequate distance. Allow at least one horse length between you and the horse in front of you.

Control your horse. You’re responsible for your horse’s behavior. Rushing or lagging behind increases the risk to you and others. You must have the skills necessary to control your horse if he kicks, spooks or jigs.

Respect the Trail

Obtain permission. Before you ride on private land be sure to ask. Trespassing is not only illegal, but it also conveys a lack of respect.

Close gates. Be sure to close gates after passing through. If the land owner has livestock they don’t want them outside that area.

Follow the signs. Ride only on designated trails. Shortcuts may destroy vegetation and you could get lost off the trail.

Clean up. Use trash receptacles at the trail head and pack out all trash to leave the environment as you found it. The impression you make paves the way for other horseback riders.

Happy riding!

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