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So you want to go trail riding....

 

Good! I encourage you to. I happen to think it is one of the most fun things to do in the world. But, a little bit of planning and thought, will make the experience more fun and safe for you, and more importantly, your horse.

 

Before you go..

Know where you are going. That seems simple, right? Map Quest, directions off the site, or plotting on a road map will get you to the trails. But planning where to go, involves so many other facets.

  • Do you know the trails? If not, you will need a map. Often park trails connect to trails on private land. Without a map you could inadvertently trespass. Or get lost, or take a hikers only trail and get stuck on the side on a mountain with no way to turn around. The mind boggles at the number of things that could happen. It also helps if you can read a map, but that is another discussion.

  • Is this trail appropriate for you and your horse's level of condition and experience?  Are you ready for 10-15 miles of hills and rocks? Is your horse? If you have never ridden more than an hour in the ring, neither you nor your horse is ready for the outback yet. Start with one of the smaller beginner friendly parks, such as Schooley Mill, Rosaryville, Little Bennett, and Morgan Run (in MD). In these parks you are never more than 30 min. from the trailer. If you ride for an hour or so, and feel you both can go on, you can ride another loop, or take another trail.

  • Has your horse ever crossed water? Best not to find out when faced with 10 yards of belly deep water. Pick a park with small stream crossings (Schooley Mill, Little Bennett) and make sure one person in the group has a horse that has crossed water. (follow that horse!)

  • Do you have appropriate preparation? Shoes, insect repellent, etc. Walking back to the trailer because your horse is footsore from the rocks is not fun. Nor is riding a horse constantly fretting and fighting flies.

  • Have you checked the trail conditions? If it has rained recently, and you are thinking of lowland trails, you may be facing knee deep mud. If there has been a storm, there may be downed trees. If there is a river to cross, think not only of how much rain we have had, but also upstream from the park. Rivers in flood are not safe to cross, not just because of the current and water depth, but also hazards swept down stream by the water, sharp metal, tires, etc. Often you can call the park and check on conditions, but usually it is left to your own judgment. When it doubt, ride somewhere else! It's not worth risking yourself and your horse.

But wait, there's more..

Ok, so you have decided on the place, you are ready to go, but before you leave the barn pick up some essentials. First, bring water. Many horses will not drink water from streams, and you shouldn't count on there being good drinking water available. Bring water from home (rinsed out cat litter containers work great!) and a bucket! Bring extra. You never know how much they will want to drink, and you may want to rinse them off after the ride, or have an injury to clean out, etc. Bring water for yourself, even in winter you can get dehydrated. Bring fly spray. doesn't matter where you ride, you will need it. I would suggest spraying it on yourself as well, flies and ticks aren't picky. I also bring fly bonnets for the ears, and soak them with fly spray before putting them on. Nothing more miserable for your horse than flies biting their ears. Make sure you have all your tack, and it is appropriate. You may want a thicker saddle blanket, to reduce the chance of soreing. Does your saddle slip easily? think about a breast collar. No fun trotting up a hill and sliding back to your horses tail. Bring extras, just in case. Extra halter, lead line, bridle. Things can break at the worst time. Bring a first aid kit, for human and horse. Bring a muck bucket and fork. You should never clean out your trailer in a parking lot. Bring bribes. Apples, carrots, grain, whatever. You may have to catch a horse that just broke that 'unbreakable' lead line, or convince your horse to get in the trailer to go home, etc. Don't forget tail ribbons for appropriate personalities, red for horses that kick, yellow for stallions, plaid for the unbearably fashionable.

 

You're ready to ride!

Well, almost...there are still some rules of engagement to consider.

  • Trailering - be considerate of your horse and other drivers. Take corners smoothly, and don't accelerate until the trailer is straight behind you. Accelerating through a turn is like playing 'Crack the whip' with your horses. They can lose their balance and slip or fall. Give yourself extra time to stop. hitting the brakes suddenly can also throw your horse off balance. Don't follow too closely, and give other drivers plenty of notice if you change lanes. For practice, put a bucket of water in your trailer, and drive your usual route. If you don't spill any water, you are doing it right. Or attend one of the wonderful trailing clinics TROT and other horse organizations put on. It will be an eye opener!

  • Parking - Again, be considerate. Give yourself room to tie your horses, and drive away at the end of the ride. Give everyone else the same consideration. There is nothing worse than getting to a great trail location to find out someone with their big rig has parked across the parking lot blocking everyone else from  getting in (or out!).

  • Trash Patrol - Always pick up your trash, left over hay, manure, everything! Many areas are sensitive environments, and fellow park users are certainly sensitive to road apples left in parking lots.

  • Be an Ambassador - If you are in a public park, someone will come up to admire your horse. Take a moment to talk to them, let them pet your horse if it is ok. Take the opportunity to teach them a bit about horses, and make it a positive experience. Everyday we lose more places to ride. It doesn't take much for parks to decide they don't want horses there any more.

  • Never let them ride - Kids always ask, it's not a good idea. The liability issues boggle the mind. Let them know about a local barn with lessons instead.

 

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