July 12, 2011 at 11:41 AM

Trail Riding Tips

"Here are some trail tips from Beth Longanecker, AQHA and Paint horse professional trainer and New Mexico trail guide."

By Susie Morgan

Hoof Prints in Santa Fe

Susie Morgan is a lifetime lover of horses, the outdoors and lives for adventure. She moved to Santa Fe in 2006 and is reconnecting with horses after working on Wall Street in NYC for 30 years.


Trail Riding Tips

Here are some trail tips from Beth Longanecker, AQHA and Paint horse professional trainer and New Mexico trail guide.

  1. Wear weather-appropriate gear; ascertain the tack is in sound condition.
  2. About 10 minutes after starting out, stop to check each girth for tightness.
  3. Always leave a safe distance between you and the horse in front of you.  Your horse cannot see their footing if their nose is buried in the tail of the horse in front.  Identify horses known to kick by tying a red ribbon on the tail as a reminder. 
  4. Carry along a contingency kit:  band-aids, ace bandage, aspirin, Aleve, water, duct tape, pocket knife, Chicago screws for bridle repair.  We carryAntihistamine, Banamine for colic, Dexamethasone for snake bites, plus a piece of hose in case it is necessary to insert it into the nostril to keep the airway open, and Ace if a horse ties up. 
  5. Leave the halter and lead on your horse.
  6. Carry a cell phone.  However, a cell phone is not an alternative to a riding buddy. 
  7. Rattlesnakes prefer to avoid horses and slither away.  If startled, the snake usually strikes the second horse, not the first.  The first horse alerts the snake that danger is present.
  8. If the horses get startled, put the most trail-sound horse in the lead to set a calm example. Alternatively, put the excited horse up front to calm down.  The horse will react to let you know if being at the front was not really what it had in mind.
  9. When tying up on trail, check the ground area for snakes before bringing your horse to the tree.   Always tie a good quick-release knot using a sound halter and lead.  Tie the horse high to prevent entanglement and make sure horses are tied with enough clearance between them to avoid conflict. Verify the tree is alive, not dead.
  10. Pick an experienced rider to lead and do not select trails that are too challenging for the weakest rider.
  11. If you are the lead, check behind often to make sure the horses are not gapping out too much.  Some horses panic if they feel they are being left behind, so pause for the group to collect.
  12. Never lope or trot off without giving advance warning to other riders so they are prepared to handle their horses. 
  13. Face obstacles that are likely to scare your horse and give them a moment to process what it is. 
  14. If you tense up, the horse will sense it and automatically fear the object; stay relaxed.  Use your inside rein and outside leg to keep them moving parallel to the obstacle – not moving away.
  15. Don’t overreact to a small shy or spook.  Learning the difference comes through experience; school your horse appropriately.
  16. Close all gates as you go through them.  They are closed for a reason.
  17. Never ride away from the gate opener.   The gate openers’ horse could be fearful of being left behind putting the gate opener at risk.
  18. If you hear vehicles or hikers headed in your direction, turn 90 degrees off the trail and move a safe distance BEFORE the traffic arrives, then turn your horse to face the trail.
  19. Hiker, bicycles and other things that normally would not spook your horse are more likely to upset horses on the trail.
  20. Don’t let horses nibble as you ride.  Extended reins make you vulnerable should something spook your horse.  There is less chance of recovery if their head is on the ground.  With their heads down, the likelihood of spook is greater because the horse is focused on food.
  21. Make sure your horse is in good shape for trail by developing a good routine of walk, trot, long trot, cantering - working your way up to longer periods of time and then gradually adding hills and more difficult rides.
  22. Preparation is everything: Practice water, mud, ponying; obstacles that you are likely to encounter.  The positive schooling experience from home will reassure the horse.
  23. You are solely responsible for your own mount and your combined actions.