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Trail Riding Etiquette

74908 Views 237 Replies 96 Participants Last post by  walkinthewalk
I was reading another post and thought maybe some folks don't know there is a trail riding etiquette.
Here is a list I found on Outfitters Supply, horse and mule trail riding and pack gear
I'm highlighting a few really important ones in my book anyway.
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Trail Riding Etiquette

I don’t need to tell you that there are no “official” rules for trail riding, like there are for, say, driving. But there are some commonly accepted practices that I think are good to remind ourselves of every once in a while. And while the word “etiquette” implies good manners, trail etiquette is as much about safety as it is about courtesy. Horses are herd animals and prey animals and this is the driving force behind how they think. Most horses do not like to be “abandoned” and can get upset if they feel this is occurring. When they encounter something which they perceive as frightening, their natural prey animal reaction is to jump (and run). Much of what is listed below comes from an understanding of these facts.

When encountering hikers and bikers
Ideally hikers and bikers will yield to a rider.
When encountering hikers or bikers, talk to them and get them to talk to you. Hikers with backpacks and bikers with helmets do not look human. Explain this to them and ask them to speak so that your horse will understand that this “thing” is actually just a person.
Ask them to stand off on the downhill side of the trail. Once again, horses are prey animals and often attacked from above, so keep the scary looking thing down low. It can also be easier to control a horse going uphill if he spooks.
Stay relaxed yourself and keep talking to the hiker and your horse if he is nervous.
Find out if there are more in their party and tell them how many in your party.
Thank them for their cooperation and be kind and courteous. We are all out there to enjoy ourselves.
Dogs
I think we all understand the problems that loose dogs can cause, so I will suffice it to say: if you can’t control your dog (with your voice from horseback) or he is ill-mannered with other people or animals, leave him at home.
Other horses
In theory, single riders will yield to pack strings. Be prepared for this not to be the case (see item “3d").
In theory, downhill riders will yield to uphill riders. Be prepared for this not to be the case (see item “3d").
Do not try to squeeze by other horses, you are asking for all kinds of trouble. Instead, give yourself plenty of room to go around.
I generally yield to anyone coming up or down the trail if I can because I know my animals and my riding ability. I don’t know their animals or their riding ability. So I take the safer route and yield myself.
If it is a narrow trail with no way to move off to let another pass, decide who should turn around.
Always turn your horse to the down hill side. He can see his front feet and won’t step off the trail. He cannot see his back feet or where he is putting them as well, so you want to keep those on the trail.
Unless you know the oncoming horse and rider and their abilities, it is safest to assume that the horse and rider are both inexperienced and be prepared that anything could happen as you or they go by.
You want to maintain a distance of about one horse length between horses while going down the trail. This leaves you time and space to react safely in the event of an accident in front of you.
When you encounter a short bridge on the trail, walk the horses across one at a time. Allow more than the usual single horse length between each horse over longer bridges.
For your safety and the safety of others around you, pay attention to your horse and keep him under control. Keep a peripheral eye on the rest of the horses and the environment around you. Being prepared for anything to happen can often prevent a bad wreck.
Think like a horse, especially if you are the leader of the group. If you look at objects on the trail like a prey animal (is it unfamiliar or potentially dangerous), you can help prepare yourself for anything. Once again preparation and awareness can be the difference between a controlled flight and a bad wreck.
Nasty horses in the back. If your horse is unruly, he should bring up the rear where his poor behavior will not be witnessed by the other horses and cause them to get upset as well. And, if you are lucky, he may learn a thing or two from watching calmer horses in front of him all day.
Tie a red ribbon in the tail of a horse that kicks. If you are following a horse with a red ribbon, obviously it would be safer to maintain a little more distance between you, but also you might be extra watchful for signs of forewarning: pinned ears, swishing tail, hind leg at the ready, etc. Remember that your horse could move to avoid the kick and put you in its path instead. A broken leg or knee from a kick 10 steep miles from the trailer is no fun.

Mares in season and stallions can present special problems on the trail. They require an extra level of attention on the part of the rider and the others in the group. If you are riding one, be extra vigilant of her/his behavior. If you are not, but they are part of your group, keep an extra eye out on these animals. Ideally the rider on either of these animals would be an experienced horseman, but we all know you can’t count on that. Warn oncoming riders if necessary. And then also consider that any horse you may pass on the trail could be a mare in season or a stallion and that the rider may not be experienced.
Watch the footing, especially on uphills and downhills. Gravel on rocks is like ice. Wet bridges can also be very slippery. If you encounter problems, warn any riders behind you.
When leading and/or riding with anyone behind you
Walk
Ask before trotting/loping
Warn of holes, bad footing and other dangers
Warn when you are stopping
Warn if a branch might snap back in someone’s face

Keep track of other riders behind you
Take turns leading, if possible…share the dust.
When you reach a watering area, take turns and don’t crowd. Wait for everyone to finish before moving off. And remember your Leave No Trace ethics: do not destroy additional water front so you can all water at the same time. Use only the obvious area where animals come down to drink.
Stop if there is a wreck. This should be pretty obvious. Your help may be needed. But also, once again, horses are herd animals and do not like to be left alone, especially in an unfamiliar area. If you ride off, while someone is trying to mount back up, their horse could panic and take off to catch up with the group.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics:
Don’t cut switchbacks.
Try not to walk through soft, wet ground. Horses’ hooves are sharp and destroy vegetation.
Pick up all your trash, including cigarette butts, and pack it out.
Pick up other people’s trash to keep places as pristine as possible and set a good example.

Be respectful of those who live there and those who will visit behind you.
Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
Always be prepared for the idiot or the inconsiderate. Be prepared for someone to take off at a gallop while you are mounting, bump into you from behind or stop dead in front of you.
Keep your comments to yourself (or pick your battles). Unless the situation is a health risk or puts a life in danger, refrain from passing on your horsemanship wisdom. Many people may not respond well to a “know-it-all” or will resent the implication that they are stupid. Your “helpful suggestions” may cause more harm than good.
Additional safety items
Always carry ID on your person and on your horse in case you become separated.
Tell someone where you are going in case you don’t come home, even when riding with a group.
Carry basic survival gear on your horse and at least the bare minimum on your person: cell phone, matches, food, water.
Following basic trail etiquette can help ensure the safety of you, your horse and others who ride with you or you meet on the trail. But just as importantly, it can keep the trails open to horses. Many trails are closed to horses because of riders who abused the privilege. It is a privilege as much as your right to ride these trails. Remember that you are always an ambassador of horseback riding and that we all share the outdoors. If non-riders always meet a courteous and polite horseman on the trail, their impression of all of us will hopefully remain positive.
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on RFT Goodnight did a show on trail riding etiquette and safety as well as how to keep up with gaited horses!

I missed the first 10 minutes, but will post info on the rest.

Riding with gaited horse, she had the gaited horse go ahead, then turn around and get behind, then repeat. Other option was to let faster horse get ahead, then turn a face the oncoming group, and join back in when they catch up. She does not recommend holding back the faster horse, as that will make them anxious.

She wants all the horses to ride near each other, without crowding. The group needs to stick together, no going off from the group, and do not allow slower horses to fall behind.

She also says the group riding needs to pick a leader to make decisions on when to go faster, how difficult the trail, etc. The leader needs to make sure the whole group is willing to ride at faster speeds first, and not go at faster speeds if everyone doesn't agree.

She also says to have the leader call out before going at faster speeds, ex we are going to trot now, wait until everyone says ok before doing it.

She doesn't allow the horses to socialize at all, not even touch noses.

Wants everyone to have horses that are well behaved and don't spook. Doesn't allow horses thaat the rider has difficulty controlling

For horses that are nervous and anxious and have difficulty settling down, take then out on the trail with a very experienced, very calm horse and make the nervous one follow the calm one.
 

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I am surprised that nobody added to this etiquette thread for SOOO LONG! I wanna know if there's a "left shoulder to left shoulder" kind of unwritten rule on the trail. Thanks. Oh and btw:

and my personal pet peeve:
DO NOT hang back so you can gallop up on the rest of the group. It's dangerous and incredibly rude.
Usually a problem with younger riders.
I was tempted to do that in private 1-1 hacks with only the instructor ahead of me. I know it's being naughty, in the end I didn't have the guts to hang back and gallop; but I did overtake instructors especially on open ground because the horse and I both felt the need for speed lol~

:gallop:
 

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Thank you for posting this. I am new to trail riding and was not aware of some of these points of etiquette. This may be a stupid questions, but I would appreciate if you could clarify something for me. When you say "When you encounter a short bridge on the trail, walk the horses across one at a time." Do you mean ride the horse at a walk pace or do you mean, get off the horse and lead him across at a walk?
 

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I read the original post and a few of the pages in between but not all of them. Poor flatlanders! The people I ride with are experienced outdoorsmen and women. Each others safety is paramount, with the horses well being a close second. We go for days on end and never run into other people. With the exception of some outfitter babysitting some cityiots. Sometimes we stop and make coffee with them because face it, we're tired of the people we've been with for the last week and a little new conversation is welcome. I read stories about mountain bikers and motorcycles, none of them in the Frank Church. The trail users we encounter know nothing about trail etiquette. Bears, cougars, wolves, and moose. Cougars are easy, make noise and look large and they go away. Wolves won't stay in range of a pistol very long. Moose are stupid but they are HUGE and scare the hell out of horses. This is where a trail wise horse that takes direction is useful. The spooky ones tend to run off and if you happen to be the rider you have two choices. Stay on and enjoy the ride (this is the safe choice), or fall off (the choice most people make).

Bears don't know the first thing about trail etiquette. They live there and think it is their trail. So if you run into one there are three variables. The horse, that would rather be at home. The rider, that would rather be out on the boat right now. And the bear that is really confused about the two headed thing in it's trail. Once again the trail wise horse that will take direction is useful. If you stand your ground, the bear will get intimidated by the two headed thing in front of it and give way.

If you have ever rode a cutting horse, it is hard. They move really fast and they are not scared. A spooky horse looking down the trail at a bear tends to get a little nervous. They can spin really fast. Once again giving the rider the same two choices. Stay on and don't get eaten, or fall off (not recommended). I hope this is useful in your trail experience!
 

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One more thing to add......NEVER leave your horse tied up unattended on one of these big rides. Make sure you really KNOW the people you are with and trust them to take care of your horse if you have to be absent for even a few minutes. I learned this the hard way...and it almost cost me my life. Someone DRUGGED my horse while I was away from the trailer for about 20 minutes. When he "woke up" 2 hrs later on top of the mountain he became frantic. He spooked, reared, galloped down the trail and threw me about 10ft in the air hitting two trees. I broke my spine, my hip, my pelvis, and fractured my neck on that ride. They found my horse eventually. He had a couple tiny scratches.

Know who you are riding with and don't let anyone give your horse ANYTHING you haven't approved of.

I don't ride with people I don't know any longer. It just takes one idiot.......
How absolutely apalling :shock: why would anyone do that :shock: I hope the person was reprimanded, at very least everyone in group made aware :shock:
 

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since this is a trail etiquette and Chumbawamba appears to be a new trail rider, I will point out a bit of water etiquette,
When you come to a water hole if there are other horses there drinking stop and wait your turn, even if your horse doesnt need water it is rude to pass or ride off while horses are still drinking. A horse in that group may need the water but get anxious and wanna leave if they see you race off.
So stop, wait your turn, let your horse drink or not, move on a few feet out of the way till the other horses are done, then head on up the trail.
I agree. But also, when your horse has had a drink and you have splashed your head or whatever, then MOVE so someone else can get in there, don't just stop and chat to the bloke next to you. grrr, my bugbear!!!
 

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Searched this thread and didn't see anything about muddy trails.


My wife and I are avid equestrians and mountain bikers so we get to see "both sides" of some trail use issues.

Riding muddy multi-use trails ruins the trail for other users, hikers and especially mountain bikers. Good trail stewards and courteous riders should try to avoid riding trails when damage will occur. Horses are very hard on soft/muddy trails and a couple of riders can damage a trail severely.

When encountering mountain bikers on trails, it is unreasonable to expect them to step far off the trail to the downside. As a cyclist I am not going to step off to the downside and place my HEAD at the perfect level for a horse to kick it. I will step off to the upside and let the horse/rider work it out.

Don't expect or ask me to take my helmet off or backpack off because it spooks your horse. If you and your horse are unable to adequately and safely cope with hikers and cyclists when encountering them then stay off public multi-use trails until your skill and/or your horses demeanor allow you to effectively manage such encounters safely.

Most of all, TALK TO ME if I am a cyclist or hiker. When we are on our horses we let mountain bikers know exactly what to do. Example..."Hi, if you pull over to riders right and stand we'll go right by you on your left, is that good for you?"
Hiya
First, sometimes a rider has a lot of things to co-ordinate to get out on a trail ride, and I'm sorry but worrying that I might cause a disturbance to someone else next week doesn't come into it. And they sure as hell wouldn't consider me.

Second, up or down on the trail, I agree safety comes first for everyone. IME down is seldom a good option.

Third, TALK. YES. If a horse hears a human voice from the weird looking shape that a helmeted person with backpack on a bike makes, they are more likely to settle.
 

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on RFT Goodnight did a show on trail riding etiquette and safety as well as how to keep up with gaited horses!

I missed the first 10 minutes, but will post info on the rest.

Riding with gaited horse, she had the gaited horse go ahead, then turn around and get behind, then repeat. Other option was to let faster horse get ahead, then turn a face the oncoming group, and join back in when they catch up. She does not recommend holding back the faster horse, as that will make them anxious.

She wants all the horses to ride near each other, without crowding. The group needs to stick together, no going off from the group, and do not allow slower horses to fall behind.

She also says the group riding needs to pick a leader to make decisions on when to go faster, how difficult the trail, etc. The leader needs to make sure the whole group is willing to ride at faster speeds first, and not go at faster speeds if everyone doesn't agree.

She also says to have the leader call out before going at faster speeds, ex we are going to trot now, wait until everyone says ok before doing it.

She doesn't allow the horses to socialize at all, not even touch noses.

Wants everyone to have horses that are well behaved and don't spook. Doesn't allow horses thaat the rider has difficulty controlling

For horses that are nervous and anxious and have difficulty settling down, take then out on the trail with a very experienced, very calm horse and make the nervous one follow the calm one.
That could make a long day pretty hard on the gaited horse. not a great technique IMO. and very unsettling for everyone else. Hard to relax and enjoy if someone is constantly rushing past both ways.
 

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Ooops, didn't realize this thread was so old. Seldom look at the dates!!!
@STT GUY I am not insensitive to caring for private property, usually if its that wet we wouldn't go out. Occasionally there is no choice so we try choose a route that causes least damage.


I wanted to say about the etiquette of going through gates, especially in large groups. Sometimes the guide will open the gate and stay till everyone is through then close it.

Good etiquette is to wait in a group then move off. But that seldom happens. At least one person should wait with the gate person till the gate is closed so their horse doesn't fret about being left.

If someone opens the gate and isn't waiting, make sure you open it fully so it doesn't slam back on the next horse (obvious? you would be surprised). The last person ALWAYS closes the gate.

If you pass through a gate that is already open, make sure the message gets passed back to the last riders that it stays open. A lot of our treks/ trails are on farmland. Closing an open gate can mean that stock can not get to water, or alternately not closing a gate can let stock through to pasture they are not yet meant to be on.
 

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I read the original post and a few of the pages in between but not all of them. Poor flatlanders! The people I ride with are experienced outdoorsmen and women. Each others safety is paramount, with the horses well being a close second. We go for days on end and never run into other people. With the exception of some outfitter babysitting some cityiots. Sometimes we stop and make coffee with them because face it, we're tired of the people we've been with for the last week and a little new conversation is welcome. I read stories about mountain bikers and motorcycles, none of them in the Frank Church. The trail users we encounter know nothing about trail etiquette. Bears, cougars, wolves, and moose. Cougars are easy, make noise and look large and they go away. Wolves won't stay in range of a pistol very long. Moose are stupid but they are HUGE and scare the hell out of horses. This is where a trail wise horse that takes direction is useful. The spooky ones tend to run off and if you happen to be the rider you have two choices. Stay on and enjoy the ride (this is the safe choice), or fall off (the choice most people make).

Bears don't know the first thing about trail etiquette. They live there and think it is their trail. So if you run into one there are three variables. The horse, that would rather be at home. The rider, that would rather be out on the boat right now. And the bear that is really confused about the two headed thing in it's trail. Once again the trail wise horse that will take direction is useful. If you stand your ground, the bear will get intimidated by the two headed thing in front of it and give way.

If you have ever rode a cutting horse, it is hard. They move really fast and they are not scared. A spooky horse looking down the trail at a bear tends to get a little nervous. They can spin really fast. Once again giving the rider the same two choices. Stay on and don't get eaten, or fall off (not recommended). I hope this is useful in your trail experience!
Great post! I am afraid that my horse has been known to confuse a squirrel or an odd shaped rock with a bear............
 

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I was reading through and noticed many times people say to keep an inexperienced horse at home....How is the horse supposed to become experienced then?

Also, groups of 300? Wow! Wish people would take pictures of that, must be quite an interesting thing to do!
With my inexperienced horse I go out with one to three dependable mature riders, with my trainer and a few of her other students (which she keeps a watchful eye on), or with a local trail riding group which emphasizes trail manners and making sure everyone is safe. The latter group is almost all walking. With the smaller group we might trot and canter. I also go out alone.

Frankly, the idea of going out with a group of more than fifteen -- of which fourteen are competent -- is not something I would ever care to do. 300 sounds like a mob scene and I wouldn't do that to my horse or myself. The charm completely escapes me.
 

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Interesting as in to see from the outside looking in. I don't like crowds either way. =)

Thanks Avna. I'm hoping my trainer will be willing to take my gelding and I on a trail on their farm later in the year.
Right now, I'm taking hikes with my gelding on our land that has some woods. Seems like he's forgotten that there is life beyond the trees.
 

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----

I was reading through and noticed many times people say to keep an inexperienced horse at home....How is the horse supposed to become experienced then? I have taken a green horse on small group rides and on big organized rides with a friend along. I always kept the green horse at the tail end of any ride. It's the best way to teach them. Very rarely will a horse refuse to go, when all of its peers have preceded it.

Also, groups of 300? Wow! Wish people would take pictures of that, must be quite an interesting thing to do!
ive been on a couple of those 300 horse rides. I tolerated them because Duke was a fast moving horse by nature. He started an all day ride in the top ten and finished in the top ten. That meant I saw no ignorance, heard no ignorance and spoke no ignorance :)s
 

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I wouldn't keep a green horse in the back. On a trail ride I try to ride some in the middle, some at the back, and lead some. I ask my horse to be the same no matter where she is in the group. How can she learn how to behave if you don't give her the opportunity? Sure, if we are in front and get stuck on an obstacle I'll ask someone to go first to 'pull' her along, so as not to slow up the group, but that's about it. Doesn't happen much any more.
 

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I wouldn't keep a green horse in the back. On a trail ride I try to ride some in the middle, some at the back, and lead some. I ask my horse to be the same no matter where she is in the group. How can she learn how to behave if you don't give her the opportunity? Sure, if we are in front and get stuck on an obstacle I'll ask someone to go first to 'pull' her along, so as not to slow up the group, but that's about it. Doesn't happen much any more.
That all comes after the horse has a few social rides under its cinch. When I say green, about all they knew was whoa and go, or they were ex sow horses that had never seen a trai and a woods full of boogeyman. They were not horses I raised or my friends raised. We didn't know if we were dealing with a kicker.

Safety of the other horses came first. There would be a lot of upcoming rides for the horse to the finer details ---- first we had to learn what kind of horse we were riding.
 
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