Like arenas, trails need maintenance for to keep them useful for years. Trees, vines and bushes grow wherever they please and can quickly overtake a trail. Cutting this growth back so that it is 10 to 12 feet above the ground and well away from the sides of the trail allows the horse and rider to enjoy the path without injuries from branches or brambles.
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Simple trimming with a pair of garden pruners can be done during a routine ride on the trail. Before attempting to trim from horseback, be sure your horse stands quietly and patiently to avoid accidents. Avoid cutting large limbs or branches from horseback, and never use larger tools such as a machete or power equipment while mounted.
Removing downed trees and other substantial maintenance are best done by carrying chainsaws, axes, pole saws and weed trimmers into the trail either on foot or with a small utility vehicle if the path allows. Don’t forget a pair of gloves to protect your hands and some rope to pull logs out of the way.
Keeping trails safe and useable can be a group effort. Ask boarders to report downed trees, spots that are washing away or other hazards so they can quickly be addressed.
Involve trail users in the maintenance by organizing a spring or fall “clean-up” day. The first Saturday in June is National Trails Day, and a trail clearing and cleaning event could help celebrate the occasion.
“The local Pony Club might be willing to help with maintenance as a volunteer opportunity,” said Holley Groshek, executive director of The Equestrian Land Conservation Resource (ELCR).
In Altmar, New York, Barbara Bouck was approached by a snowmobile club several years ago who asked permission to add two miles of trails to her existing system. The group does all the maintenance in the winter, including grooming the surface with a Zamboni-like machine.
“In the summertime, it’s just left natural,” she said. “It’s not a groomed park trail, but we don’t open it up to the public, it’s just for boarder and client access and works well.”