Basic Equestrian Trail Riding Etiquette

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Credit: Thinkstock There are many things you can do to prepare for a safe and enjoyable trail ride for yourself and others.

Credit: Thinkstock There are many things you can do to prepare for a safe and enjoyable trail ride for yourself and others.

Editor's note: The following information comes to us from the University of Minnesota, but there are some good guidelines here to share with your clients, especially the ones who don't trail ride often.

Minnesota has an active equine industry with an estimated 90,140 horses and 13,048 farms, ranking Minnesota 13th in the nation with a $1-billion impact on the state annually. In Minnesota, more than 1,000 miles of horseback riding trails are managed by the Department of Natural Resources, with more than 200 miles of additional trails on other lands. Minnesota is home to over five million people, of whom 4.5% participate in horseback riding.

In a recent survey, horseback trail riders identified seven major reasons for trail riding, including to view the scenery, be close to nature, get away from the usual demands of life, experience nature, explore and discover new things, relax physically and be physically active. Fall is a wonderful time to explore trails and enjoy fall colors, cooler temperatures and fewer bugs. However, all riders should remember basic trail riding etiquette. Trail etiquette and safety are closely related since poor trail etiquette typically leads to an unsafe riding experience. Basic trail riding etiquette includes:

  • Ensuring your horse is properly conditioned for the trail ride and hoof care is appropriate for the terrain
  • Checking tack regularly for proper fit
  • Ensuring at least one rider carries a working cell phone
  • Packing basic horse and human first aid kits and a trail map
  • Suggesting all riders, especially youth, wear helmets
  • Encouraging all rider to wear appropriate clothing and footwear (boots)
  • Riding at the level and speed of the least experienced rider
  • Maintaining at least one horse’s body length between horses
  • Announcing trail hazards including low branches, holes, dogs and other trail users and rocks
  • Keeping dogs under control, or leaving them at home
  • Checking with other riders before changing gaits
  • When passing other horseback riders or trail users, ride single file
  • Ensuring horses depart and return to the trailer at a walk
  • Allowing horses the opportunity to drink at water crossing and waiting nearby until all horses have drank 
  • Waiting for other riders in your group who have dismounted, for any reason, to remount
  • Placing a red ribbon on tails of horses known to kick
  • Avoiding drinking alcohol while riding

Many trails are open to multiple users (i.e., hikers or cyclists) and part of good trail etiquette is ensuring horseback riders are respectful of trails and other trail users. This includes:

  • Parking only in designated areas
  • Riding only on trails designated for horseback riding
  • Not littering
  • Greeting other trail users
  • Announcing your presence and passing other trail users slowly, in single file and keeping to the right side of the trail

Good trail riding etiquette includes ensuring safety of horses and riders and consideration for fellow horseback riders, other trail users and the environment. Remember to expect the unexpected and be prepared to cross paths with other trail users.