Is it trail riding season yet? Just kidding, when is it not a good time to go trail riding on a horse? The beautiful thing about any climate or geographic region is that each one has a unique terrain and breathtaking views to offer. You don’t have to be a regular horseback rider to agree that every landscape is much more incredible when you experience it with a trusty four-hooved steed with a soft muzzle.
Unlike arena horse riding where conveniences are close, trail riding requires some preparation. This is even truer if you’re traveling to a different region to do so. Whether you’re an experienced rider or exclusively a tourist equestrian, everyone can have a great time blazing new trails with these Ten Trail Riding Tips on Horseback.
1.Understand Basic Horseback Riding Principles
If you are brand new to horseback riding, going with an experienced guide is a must. But the guide can’t ride for you, so it helps to understand the basics of horseback riding before you head out so you can guide your horse on the trail. Check out this excellent tutorial for the basics of horse riding. Simply put, horses respond to pressure and release. Pressure at a horse’s side from your legs will encourage the horse forward or to change direction. Pressure on the bit by pulling back on the reins will encourage your horse to slow down, and also aid you in turning direction. Likewise, the release of this pressure from your legs and hands will assure your horse that he did the right thing.
2.Prepare for the Territory & Season
Most trail riding is associated with the summer months, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Many regions worldwide can accommodate year-round trail rides as long as you or your guide know the region well enough to navigate any safety concerns.
Regardless of the region, you will always want to check the weather before you head out so that you can prepare your gear and attire accordingly. If you think it’s going to rain, you might want to bring a rain jacket or poncho along with you. If you plan on crossing rivers or entering any body of water, be sure to pack an extra set of clothes. Also, be ready to remove your horse’s tack that day.
3.Wear the Right Clothes
Though it might be warm outside, it’s best to always wear proper riding pants. We recommend wearing either jeans or standard horse riding breeches (these ones are designed to keep you cool). Wearing non-riding leggings or pants could cause you to unnecessarily slip around the saddle, and shorts or capri pants can cause some crazy chafing (ouch!). Trust us on this one.
In addition to proper pants, you may want to dress in layers. Have a heavy enough top layer to keep you warm in the coldest possible temperature, but wear lighter layers underneath, because riding at anything faster than a walk will cause you to heat up! And even if it’s going to be sunny outside, you may consider bringing a lightweight outer layer, like a thin plaid shirt or a sun shirt designed for horse riding. When wearing a simple tank top under the hot sun, you subject yourself to unnecessary dehydration and nasty sunburns.
We’d be remiss not to mention what to wear on your head and toes, as this is the most important part! You will definitely need sturdy boots with an actual riding heel (like these or these) and an ASTM/SEI certified helmet. While it’s not always a popular horse riding practice–especially trail riding–a helmet could save your life. No matter how bomb-proof a horse is, trails have so many opportunities for spooking that you cannot predict. Don’t leave your safety up to chance.
Boots with proper heels will ensure that your foot doesn’t get caught in the stirrup in the case of a runaway horse or the need to immediately dismount. Don’t forget good socks underneath your boots, either! Supportive, breathable socks will keep your foot in place and prevent blisters after a long day on the trail.
4.Protect You & Your Horse from the Sun and Bugs
One of the joys (not) of being out in the elements is the insect life that hangs out there, too. Find out before your trail ride whether mosquitoes, gnats, and other insects might be an issue. Likewise, being in the great outdoors lends itself to excessive sun exposure.
If either the sun or bugs are a concern, armor up with sunblock and bug spray. And don’t forget that your horse will be out in the same elements as you! Here is our favorite fly spray to protect your horse from being bothered by unnecessary insects. Check out this equine sunblock, too, if you’ll be out in the extreme sun.
Check out our full roundup of Best Fly Sprays for Horses!
5.Pack for Proper Fueling & Hydration
We should all take a tip from soccer moms here, because packing snacks and water are vital for long trail rides. Non-perishable snacks—like granola bars, nuts, and beef jerky—are fantastic, balanced snacks that can keep you full and fueled during a long ride.
We recommend saddling up with one of these handy saddlebags so that you can keep your water and snacks close during the whole ride. You can even fit snacks for your horse, too, if you won’t be encountering any patches of grass along the way! If you’re venturing out in an extra-hot climate, Camelbak hydration pouches are a handy accessory to have with you to avoid extreme dehydration.
6.Prepare for Emergencies
Because you’ll be away from conveniences and emergency services, you’ll want to bring some basics to make sure you can stay safe and get help if needed. Basic emergency necessities include a GPS or compass in the case of lost phone reception, as well as a simple first aid kit and a whistle in case you separate from your group.
A durable phone case and way to secure your phone is always a must on trail rides so that you can call for help as soon as you’re in service range. Not to mention, trail rides are an unfortunately easy way to lose your phone—period! We recommend an armband strap, saddlebag, or in a (closeable) front shirt/jacket pocket of your shirt.
7.Prep Your Trailer
If you’re trailering out to your trail location, here are a few considerations to keep your horse safe and happy round-trip. Because you’ll be pulling the horses in a moving vehicle, it’s always best to travel with shipping boots. Whether a horse is spooky, gets feisty with his traveling buddy, or just simply endures sudden movements from the trailer, a horse’s legs are always vulnerable during travel.
For longer trips, you might also consider a hay bag full of hay, water buckets, and an equine first aid kit. For your own sake, you may also want to bring along a muck bucket and shovel to keep the trailer clean.
8.Check Your Tack Before Hitting the Trail
Between tacking up and hitting the trail, many horses will “let go of some air” in their girth. Usually this bloating will subside only a few minutes after tack-up time, so don’t forget to check for a loose girth before heading out! Also check that your saddle pad or blanket doesn’t have an irritating edge sitting underneath the pommel or the skirt/panel the saddle, as this could cause unnecessary discomfort throughout the ride.
9.Remember Your Horse
Whether you’re riding your own horse or are riding a career trail horse, remember that for that ride, he is your partner. Partners look out for each other. The main way to look out for your horse is to pay attention. Whenever you’re riding, there are three realities: what’s actually happening, how you perceive it, and how your horse perceives it.
So keep an eye on your surroundings for safety risks (like holes in the path, uneven ground, steep drop-offs, narrow passages, and low-hanging tree branches), but also pay attention to how your horse is feeling about them. You may know very well that a mailbox isn’t a predatory mountain lion, but that might be what your horse believes. So in order to avoid unnecessary spooks, pay attention to your horse’s reality by noticing how relaxed or tense he is. If he’s tense, side-stepping, or jumpy, he may have a nearby trigger. If so, try to figure out what’s causing him fear and walk him through it by giving him a moment to look at the scary thing before passing by it.
10.Relax and have fun!
Even though trail riding involves some preparation, all of it serves the purpose of enjoying a carefree ride. The more you relax during the ride, the more your horse will enjoy it, and you as well.
And PS: Don’t forget to take pictures! Happy Trails.