Trail riding is all about having a great time with your horse and your friends. But every time you and your horse go out on the trails, you both face numerous potentially dangerous situations. You can drastically cut down on the chance that you and your horse fall victim to a disaster by following these 12 trail riding safety tips.
1) Pay Attention to Your Horse
Every trip to the trails will test your horsemanship skills. And just like we are told to keep our eyes on our own paper during tests at school, the trail riding test is no different.
Pay attention to your horse!
You don’t have control over anyone else’s horse, whereas you do have control over your own. So when your friends horse is out of control, it is more important than ever that you remain calm and in control of your own horse.
When your horse’s attention is focused on your friend and their situation it is time for you to gain your horse’s attention and refocus it on what you want.
A few cues to try
- Ask him to back three steps, halt, then back three more steps
- Walk him around a nearby bush or tree
- Cue him to sidestep away from the situation
The trick here is to have your horse focusing on you and your cues. Therefore go for the cues your horse responds to best. Do this and you will maintain control of your horse in a potentially dangerous situation.
2) Don’t be Dumb, Dismount
I have seen many horsemen and women try to ride out a bad situation. Consequently, I have seen many riders get hurt unnecessarily.
Remember these Scientifically Proven Facts About Horses
- They are big
- They are heavy
- And they can hurt you
Therefor, if a situation arises where you feel unsafe in the saddle, dismount!
There are no prizes for riding out a dangerous situation on the trail. And pride has led many horseman into injuries that could have been avoided.
Dismount and keep yourself safe. Do so and you can be proud of that.
3) Find A Different Way Across that Stream (or Bridge or Whatever)
I love crossing streams and bridges on the trail! But sometimes my horse doesn’t share my enthusiasm. And let’s be honest, I’m not crossing that bridge until my horse is good and ready.
So if you can’t ride your horse across that big, scary stream or bridge, don’t lead him across. Your frightened horse is likely to leap across that bridge and right into you.
That’s one way to wreck a great day on the trails!
If you don’t have time to work on crossing safely find a different way around that stream. One that isn’t as scary. That way, you and your horse will make it safely to the next challenge on your trail ride.
4) Friends Come Second
I cannot emphasize this enough.
Focus. On. Your. Horse.
Frequent Distractions that can ruin your day:
- Texting/Phone calls/Social media
- Conversations with friends
- Taking selfies with your horse
Your horse must always be your first priority when on the trail. The moment you start paying attention to something else, you have lost control. Whenever you lose control, you run the risk to have a blowup.
5) Take Your Time
If there is one thing the trail has plenty of, it’s learning opportunities for you and your horse.
And if you take your time both you and your horse will be all the better for taking advantage of those learning opportunities.
In other words, when your horse presents you with something to work on, work on it!
- If your horse is afraid of water, work with him at the stream
- When he refuses to walk in the back of the group he’s giving you a perfect training moment
- There is no better place to work on speed control than on the trails
Conversely, if something frightens your horse and you rush your horse past what frightened him, not only have you missed a great teaching moment, but you may create a traumatic experience that sets your training way back.
Instead of rushing, take your time and take advantage of everything the trails have to offer.
6) Trust your Senses
Trust your senses. That means, if you hear, see, or smell danger coming, PAY ATTENTION!
- Farm Equipment
- Anything that makes loud noises
When you sense one of these coming, turn your horse to face them head on. Then the likelihood of facing the danger without incident increases dramatically.
7) Don’t Run Into That Tree
Here’s an interesting fact for you.
Your horse isn’t going to feel bad if he runs your leg into a tree. (It’s happened to me more than once but it is avoidable if you focus on your horse.)
Members of the equine species are not aware of how wide they are when you’re riding them. But there is a way to show them without either of you getting hurt.
When you sense your horse taking your leg on a collision course with a tree, point him directly at the tree. While this may seem counter intuitive it will force your horse to focus on the object and adjust accordingly.
With a particularly unaware horse, you may even have to let him bump the object. This is better than allowing your horses lack of awareness to cause you an injury.
Always wear your horse riding helmet
And a great pair of riding boots!
8) Hills Take Thought
I have discovered there are two types of horsemen and women.
Those who love riding hills and those who hate it!
No matter which type of horseman you are it is incredibly important for you to assess the hill before going up.
Horses want to go uphill fast!
You shouldn’t let them!
Once a horse gets running uphill he’s not slowing down. And you may be one of those horsemen who love flying up those hills. Full Disclosure: I am a recovering uphill runner
There are a few problems with this
- There is a very good chance that the footing halfway up the hill isn’t as stable as where your horse started
- Poor footing leads to accidents
- Accidents lead to injuries
The smart way to go uphill is slow and steady. Not only is it safer for you and your horse, it’s also another one of those great chances to work on speed control (one of my favorite lessons).
9) Hills Take a lot of Thought
If you want to have a safe day on the trails, pay attention to how you tackle hills. Not only do you have to think about how to safely go up, you have to watch a couple things on your way back down.
- Get off your trail horse on the uphill side!
If you find yourself on a steep hill and need to get off your horse, don’t ever get off on the downhill side. That choice leads to one of two outcomes
- You fall backwards down the hill
- You fall backwards while pulling your horse off balance and on top of you
- Wait at the top of the hill.
When a slower rider is going downhill in front of you, wait at the top of the hill for them to go down first. Hurrying a slower horse down the hill can lead to a mess. Don’t do it.
10) Let Him Go
If you’re leading a horse down the trail and you find yourself losing control, let him go. You are not going to be able to hold a running horse and attempting to do so can lead to serious injury.
I know what you’re thinking.
And yes, finding a loose horse sucks. Not only that, there is also a chance he will get injured. In spite of this, your safety always comes first.
Bonus Tip: Keep in mind, if another horse in your party breaks free, NEVER chase after them. Not only will you not catch him, but you will likely frighten him more than he already is. A frightened horse can run into traffic, a fence, or even off a mountain.
11) Don’t Help Your Friends
I have seen this one so many times I’ve lost count.
Do not pony your friends horse.
Unless your horse is trained to do so, don’t do it.
If your friends horse spooks (which happens often in these situations) your horse is going to react too. Now you are no longer in control and disaster is the likely outcome.
12) Watch the Crash from Afar
Repeat after me.
I am not Superman.
Now say it as many times as it takes to sink in.
If a wreck is taking shape in your trail group, stay back and watch from as far away as you can.
No this does not make you a terrible person. It makes you a living person. And a wise one too!
When a wreck happens you won’t be able to stop it. And if you jump in you might make it worse and get seriously injured.
Staying safe on the trails takes thought and preparation. Know the possible dangers and you and your horse will have an amazing ride every time you hit the trails.
Do you have any trail safety tips we didn’t list? Let us know in the comments!
For more horse guides and tips read these articles:
- Top Cowboy Boots
- Electrolytes for Horses
- DMSO for Horses
- Best Stirrups
- Best Bitless Bridle
- Horse Halter
- Top Horse Bridles
- Equestrian Backpack
- Best Cooling Vest
- Best Camping Coffee Maker
- Saddle Bags
Fred is the editor of Equine Ridge. He grew up raising horses and has been riding, training, and competing for almost four decades. Fred started out performing on the AQHA and PHBA circuits. Fred trained other competitors in English and Western riding disciplines and today offers free riding lessons to youth who would otherwise not be able to afford lessons. When not working with horses he can be found backpacking or trying to brew the perfect cup of coffee. Email Fred at firstname.lastname@example.org