|Pleasure trail riding like all aspects of equine use has its rules and
regulations pertaining to trail use and manners. How a person rides a trail can determine
not only his own enjoyment but the safety of himself, his own horse and other trail users
With the high demand for
trails throughout the nation, there are very few trails dedicated for horse-only use. On
the average and especially in highly populated areas, most trails are
"multi-use" or "combined usage".
One of the first rules of trail etiquette is
to make sure that the trail one is riding is a horse trail! Most trail systems use
international trail symbols -- a stick-type figure on a horse. This sign designates a
trail for horsemen. If the sign has a red slash over the figure, this means the trail is
closed to horsemen. And other trail systems use a combined sign. One that shows all users
with the exempt ones having a red slash over them.
Some trail systems use not only international
symbols or combined signage but accompanying signs that could state "No horsemen
beyond this point," "Horse trail this way", etc. In some parks and trail
systems you'll not only have signs but general directional/conditional use postings
designating who can the trail, in what direction, times open and so on. I've ridden some
trail systems where speed reading was required in order to read all the trail rules. If
one rode any faster than a slow walk, you won't have time to read all those signs!
Most multi-use trails are six feet wide. Some
are 10 and even 12 feet wide because they double for fireroads and firebreaks. In other
areas, especially national forest and other federal lands, trails are only one or two feet
wide which is why a rider, like an automobile driver, should always ride on the right side
of the trail. Stay on the right side of the trail tread regardless of trail width or
direction, up or down hill. If all trail users stay to the right (including hikers and
bikers), trail accidents and head-on collisions can be avoided.
The right-of-way rule is that biker yields to
hiker. And both biker and hiker yield to horsemen. Although this is considered a trail
rule, common courtesy and common sense should prevail and apply on all trails and in all
Uphill traffic has the right-of-way --
regardless if its hiker, biker or horsemen! Downhill traffic should yield by waiting at
the top of the climb or at the first safe spot to stop. If I'm just starting down a hill
and see another trail user starting up, I'll wait at the top of the hill or if I've gone a
few feet down turn around and retrace hoofprints to the top where I'll rein Sig around and
we'll wait for the up hill user. After all, I'm going down hill and the up hill user has
his momentum going up hill. Why make him stop? This is especially true if on narrow trails
where the passing could be tight and a safety problem. Wait at the top where its safe for
both you, your horse and the other user to pass each other. And on 10 or 12 or 16 foot
wide trails, everyone can go down and up hill at the same time passing safely by staying
on the right side.
Often a rider can't see the whole down or
uphill trail so to be safe, I use a small bell on my center cinch. Nothing loud. Just a
little tinkle to catch a person's (or other animal's ear). And a bell is really GOOD sense
in bear country.
are probably the most upon-you-all-at-once of any of the trail users. Bike riders often
don't see other trail users until its to late. They're busy watching the trail directly in
front of their tire and don't look up to see what they're coming upon. Or they swoop
around a corner. So, always trail read. Look ahead. Look above. Look beside. Look behind.
Keep aware of what's on the trail and if you see a bike or hiker off in the distance,
remember they are there. By being aware of what's around you, you won't be caught off
Today more and more hikers can be found on
trails. A hiker can be anyone from a dedicated cross-country backpacker to a Sunday walker
out for a leisure stroll. Individuals, families, groups and troops can be found walking on
trails so when meeting -- be polite. SMILE. Say hello.
For some strange reason there are a lot of
equine trail riders who won't hardly speak to another horseman much less utter a word to
other trail users. Friendliness if the best avenue of acceptance on trails. The better the
trail meeting or experience between other trails users and us horsemen the better chances
for use horsemen to be accepted on present -- and future -- trails. And we need all the
chances and acceptance we can find to stay on trails!
If a hiker happens to have a backpack, a
talking backpacking hiker is going to spook a horse a lot less than a non-talking
backpacking hiker. A horse knows what a normal person looks like but a person with a
backpack can suddenly become a threatening tower of what-is-it. So start a conversation
with the backpacking hiker BEFORE reaching him and definitely when passing him. Let the
horse know that this what-is-it is actually a funny looking person with a huge hump on his
back. And if it talks, it can't be all bad.
Most other trail users are intimidated by the
size of a horse. And they just don't know what to do or where to go! So say "Hi"
and tell 'em what to do. If the hiker is on a hill trail, have him move to the downhill
side of the trail and stand there -- continue carrying on the conversation with him as you
ride by. On flat trails, have him move to the left side of the trail so you can stay on
the right side and continue carrying on a conversation.
Never, never, never have a hiker or
backpacker or biker or other horseman or anybody step behind a rock, a tree, a bush or out
of sight. If the horse has seen him, he's looking for him! And with the sudden
disappearance the horse can become more nervous and upset. To a horse, that disappearing
what-is-it could suddenly bounce out and eat 'em. Even if completely out of sight, a
snapping twig or a rustling branch as a horse goes by can spook the animal. So keep the
other trail user in open sight -- and TALK.
Have hikers or backpackers in groups, packs
or families follow the same rules as above. Or better yet, move off the trail yourself and
let them pass. Always pass in safe areas which may mean you, the horseman, may have to
back track a few feet.
If someone wants to stop and pet the horse and the
horse is agreeable, let them. It's good public relations. A lot of hikers may never have
touched a horse before. And with groups of kids, they love talking to and petting a horse
regardless of dirty and sweaty the horse is!
Where I ride in Ed Levin County Park, Santa
Clara County I often come across a pack of Boy or Girl Scouts hiking. Ranging in pack size
from half a dozen to as many as 20 kids it's often the first time many have ever seen a
real, live horse. And usually they're all over the trail like ants!
Sig, my horse, is always willing to stopping
and having his head and neck petted but before allowing that, I usually have to yell at
everyone to quiet down, stay in front and move slowly. After dismounting, I allow the kids
to come up and pet Sig's head and neck, look at his "big feet" and keep telling
them to only stand in front and don't go behind Sig because he "can't see you back
there and he really likes to see each and everyone of you".
Having lost his fear of backpacks long ago,
Sig's a marvel at finding those packs with candy bars or apples. He can quickly pick out
which kids have 'em and will begin to nuzzle those backpacks. While kids giggle and share
their bounty with him (which I feed to Sig), we talk about horses, trails, safety and
wouldn't it be nice someday to own your very own horse. What is a half hour of lost riding
time on my part is possible a lifetime memory for someone who got to pet a horse who ate
an apple out of a backpack. Not to mention the pictures taken by scout leader or myself
for their scrapbooks back home. Memories which will help future adults possibly decide the
fate of continued horse use on a trail someplace, somewhere.
With any trail user, always have them
approach from the front. And if a horse is nervous have people stay back. Bud, my other
horse, isn't the type of horse that wants to spend time 'visiting'. He has a job to do and
that job is to get on down the trail. So consider your own individual horse and how he
reacts to other trail users.
Ride single file on a trail -- one behind the
other. On wide firebreak or fireroad trails, riders can ride side by side as long as they
don't interfere with other users or get off the main trail. It's nice to ride beside a
friend and point out sights along the route.
Usually a horse will let you know of a
following rider. The animal will turn his head to the side to look behind him, raise his
head, turn his ears backwards and possibly even swing sideways to get a better look at
who's following. Some trail horses will just stop for the approaching horse to catch up
and go by. And some like Sig will move to the side of the trail, stop, turn his head and
nicker for the other person or rider "to hurry up, I don't have all day to stand
If passing a horse on a trail moving in the
same direction as you, let the rider and horse know you're approaching simply by saying,
"Trail, please". The rider should then move to the right as far as is safe or
simply stop their horse for the approaching rider to pass. Like driving a car, pass on the
left of the front rider or trail user, say "thanks" and keep on going. If horses
begin to match strides, just relax. One will soon tire of the 'keep up game' and fall
back. NEVER kick a horse into a gallop to get by. A gallop, lope, trot could upset the
horse you're approaching. Just keep on walking -- and talking to your for-a-few-minutes
distance of at least one horse length (about 10 feet) should be maintained between animals
on all trails. Don't tailgate!! When going uphill, keep at least two lengths between
horses. On downhill routes, maintain at least three horse lengths between animals. You
never want the horse in front to suddenly stop and you tailgate into the rider's saddle.
Like driving a car, stay back and allow room for those sudden stops. If you can count the
horse's tailhairs, you're too close!
Horses that are buddies should be kept
together on rides. Buddies can be real problems if split up. So let buddies be together --
in the front or the back.
When it comes to gates, bridges and
crossings, the whoever-gets-there-first rule prevails. But again, common sense and
courtesy should apply. If one doesn't have to wait very long, hold the gate open for other
trail users. That way you can close the gate and know its been relatched -- properly. And
if the gate was open when you came to it, leave it open.
At bridges and crossings, go on over if you
get there first but if a hiker or biker arrives at the same time, let them go first. Wait
about 10-20 feet back from a bridge so they have room to cross and move back over to the
side of the trail. Some horses don't like bridges and it's a lot easier to work a horse
over when you're alone that when three or four other trail users are waiting to cross in
front or behind you.
At paved street crossings, stop before
crossing. Look both ways. Then cross the street. Even though auto traffic is suppose to
stop for horsemen, it doesn't -- even in crossings. And always remember, horses and riders
do not dent very well when hit by cars.
One can even 'train' a horse to stop at
crossings. With both Bud and Sig, when coming to streets they stop and wait. Sig looks
both ways. Bud just waits for a cue to cross. Some horses take quicker to the idea than
others but whenever crossing pavement or blacktop, simply stop the horse. Wait a few
minutes. Praise the animal. And then cross the street.
In some areas, trails have been placed beside
streets. This is not a particularly safe area for riding but it's often a necessity for
getting from one end of a trail to the other. On these trails, ride as far from the edge
of the pavement as possible but don't try to ride in ditches or high weeds. This can be a
safety hazard in itself. For cars coming up behind, stop the horse and allow him to look
at the vehicle. A vehicle that is moving to fast can be 'signaled' to slow down by
extending your arm on the pavement side out full length and moving it up and down. Most
vehicle drivers know this sign is to slow down. And if a horse is really spooky of traffic
(in which case he should have more barnyard work before hitting that section of trail),
one can always dismount and walk between horse and traffic with the horse's head on short
reins at your shoulder. Never be to proud to get off and walk. Walking can save you and
your horse a lot of misery.
Galloping is an enjoyable exercise for not
only the horse, but the rider. Loping along with the wind in your face across a meadow of
grasses and flowers can be fun. But it's not advisable! One never knows what will pop up
just around the next bend in the trail (like a family pushing a baby stroller) or from the
Walking is the acceptable trail gait. After
all, trail riding is a pleasure experience. One isn't out to cover a certain distance in a
specific time -- if you are, join competitive or endurance rides. With trail riding one is
out to enjoy the country. See the trees. Smell the flowers. Catch a glimpse of a doe and
fawn darting off into the tree shadows. Neither Sig nor Bud have galloped a half mile in
the 13 years I've owned them. Both them and I are content to wander along, stop in the
shade of a tree and watch a butterfly drift down the trail. Because that's what pleasure
trail riding is all about, drifting along a trail while the rest of the world races out of