One of the greatest pleasures of owning a horse is riding trails. These may be anything from the bridle path in the park to the winding trails of a mountainside. There are many dos and don’ts to trail riding. Perhaps the most important is that no person who is not a good rider should be allowed on a mountain trail. First, if the person cannot manage his horse he slows down the other riders. Second, the fun of the ride will be spoiled because the inexperienced rider will need constant help. Third, there is danger of accidents because of his inability to handle the horse properly. Trail riding is much different from ring riding, and the animals react differently.
The preparation of the trail ride should start at the stable. There is the matter of distance, time, and the correct equipment. It is presumed that a trail ride will be for one hour or longer. However, it is difficult to take a trail much under two hours at the least. First, the saddle should fit the horse and be well padded with sufficient blankets. The pressure of the saddle on the animal’s withers or back will be greater going up or down hills, and extra padding must be placed well under the fork of the saddle to lessen the friction. The girth or cinch should not be too tight. It is better to stop frequently and adjust the cinch than to have it tied too tightly. Rarely does a well-placed saddle slip if there is enough padding. Polyethylene foam-rubber pads are excellent and will almost entirely insure against slipping.
Carry a slicker tied on the back of the saddle for sudden rains. There should always be a tie rope and a lariat in case of trouble. Once on a trail ride the ground, softened by a spring, gave way under a horse’s front feet. The rider jumped clear, but the animal went crashing down the slick mountainside, through brush, and finally came to rest, on his back, wedged against a tree. The animal struggled to regain his feet but the ground was too slippery. A few riders climbed down, tied a rope to the almost-hidden pommel of the saddle, and other ropes around the horse to steady him, and pulled him to his feet. He was none the worse for wear and there was only mud on the saddle. If everyone on the ride hadn’t carried a rope it would have been extremely difficult to get the animal back on his feet.
One should never go on a trail alone. If there is an accident, as the one mentioned above, there is no help. If it is necessary to dismount, there will be someone to hold the horse. If the horse should get loose, there will be someone to catch the animal. If he should run home, at least you won’t have to walk.
The person at the head of the line is ordinarily considered the trail boss, and all others match their animals’ stride to his. He will usually set the pace to the slowest animal on the ride. The person bringing up the rear is called the drag. It is his job to call attention to stragglers. It is also the job of the trail boss and the drag to call out if a vehicle wishes to pass. Every rider in the line passes on the word. In riding along a road every rider should stay on the same side. The side will be chosen by the trail boss according to terrain.
Trail manners are important for the safety and pleasure of others. When passing another rider, don’t come up from behind in a fast trot or gallop. Ask permission to pass, and match your gait with his or wait until he pulls over and stops before you go by him. If someone wishes to pass you, pull over and face your horse toward the oncoming rider. Horses will kick in too close quarters. Don’t ride too close to the animal in front of you for the same reason. There should be a horse length between each rider. Don’t “cluck” to your horse. Your companion’s animal may think the cue is for him and react. If you are riding a kicking horse, tie a red ribbon to his tail as a warning.
If it is necessary for any member to dismount, wait until he is mounted again before proceeding. A lone animal is difficult to mount when out of sight of the others. In going through brush or under low-hanging trees don’t hold the branch back unless there is some distance between yourself and the following rider. A swinging branch in the face is painful, and if it should strike the horse’s face it could cause the animal to bolt.
In passing through a gate, all riders should wait until the entire group has come through before proceeding. Close all gates firmly behind you. Don’t trespass on other people’s property without permission. Be careful not to cross planted fields. It is usually safe to ride along the fence line or along the edge of a creek. If you find a damaged fence, report it to the owner.
Don’t gallop your horse up a hill. If the hill is steep, tack it, going up or down. Make your turns about fifty feet apart or try to follow the contour of the hill and find a natural path if possible. Don’t attempt to force your horse to go where footing is unsteady or questionable. Balance on the balls of the feet where the terrain gets rough so the weight will not be directly on the horse’s back. Keep the weight well forward so the animal’s hindquarters are free to push up or steady the body coming down.
After negotiating a hill the horses should be allowed to rest. Saddles should be checked for loose cinches and blankets should be in place. On a long ride there should be rest periods of five minutes every half-hour regardless of terrain. When stopping for lunch, the horses should be unsaddled, the tack reversed in the sun, and the blankets spread out to dry. The stop should be at least an hour. The horses should be watered after thirty minutes. If a fast canter has finished this stage of the ride, the horse should be checked and, if hot, he should be walked until cool.
Vary the gaits on the trail. Use common sense in cantering on the trail. Don’t race around blind curves. Always sit alert in the saddle and be ready if the horse shies. A rabbit dashing across the road, a deer going through the brush, or a snake on the path may frighten some horses. Try to pick a way through heavy brush so as not to scratch your boots and saddle. If the country is extremely rough, chaps should be worn.
The horse should be rope-wise. If the trail ride is to include an overnight camp it might be necessary to stake the horse. Hobbles should always be carried. A horse will not usually travel far when hobbled. Hobbles should be placed on the front legs. However, some horses can gallop quite freely with both front legs hobbled, so it may be necessary to hobble a back and a front leg. People talk of ground tying a horse. However, there is a question about the dependability of a ground-tied horse. There is no guarantee that he will not run if frightened or be swayed by an attractive tuft of grass or another horse. In the case of ground tying an animal, the rider should know his horse and use his own judgment as to whether the animal is dependable or not. It might be well to leave ground tying to the movies. However, if you want your horse to ground tie he may be taught by driving a stake into the ground and tying the horse solidly. He must be convinced that when the reins are on the ground he cannot move. The idea also is that if he moves he will step on the reins. This is fine until a smart animal discovers that by turning his head the reins will be out of his way.
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