For many equestrians, trail riding is an activity filled with fond memories of bonding with your barn friends and enjoying nature. But, if you’ve never been on a trail ride before, leaving the safety of the arena can be a struggle. That’s why we created this horseback trail riding blog. In it, we’ll cover everything you need to know to be prepared when you hit the trail.
From what to do in an emergency to the supplies you and your trail horse will need, keep reading to learn everything you need to know to hit the trails.
If you ever get bored of going around in circles within the confines of your arena, you may want to try going for a trail ride. While some equestrians may not feel confident without the safety net of arena walls or fencing, it can become a hugely beneficial part of your riding routine.
There’s no better way to see the countryside or explore state parks than on the back of your horse. You’ll get the same feeling of wind in your hair and the sun on your back as you would on a bicycle. But because you’re sharing it with your four-legged best friend, you’ll be truly immersed in the natural world. When you go on a trail ride, you’re traveling through the landscape the same way your ancestors did hundreds of years ago.
If you’re not feeling confident or it’s your first trail ride, ride an experienced trail horse if at all possible. A great trail horse is truly some of the most bombproof horses out there. They’re used to exploring new environments and conquering obstacles like water crossings, rocks, and more.
As you go horseback riding on your trail rides, you may notice that you have to move differently than you would riding patterns or showjumping in the arena. Trail riding teaches you to be more aware of how your body and position impacts your horse’s ability to balance. You’ll quickly learn that you have to lean back going downhill and lean forward going uphill. It doesn’t have to be a severe change, but should mirror the slope of the terrain. Using your body in new and different ways can help you develop your feel, balance, and strength in the saddle.
Last but not least, trail riding puts the fun back in horseback riding. Bring some good barn friends to spend some bonding time together in a competition-free environment… unless you feel like having a race. Either way, you’ll soon be reminded of happy memories of trail riding with friends when you were young.
If you’re still not convinced that horseback trail riding is for you, there are also many health and fitness benefits for both horse and rider. If your horse is lacking topline or other muscular development, the strain of marching up and down hills can help them to build muscle strength. While you can absolutely build up their muscles in a ring or arena setting, hacking over hills builds strength in a low-stress, low-risk way.
Tight turns or circles in the deep sand of riding arenas stresses tendons and ligaments and could create injuries. Horseback trail riding over hills and varied terrain builds fitness without the stress.
The varying terrain that a trail horse must be equipped to handle can make a lazy or prone-to-tripping horse learn where their feet are and be more aware of where they’re walking. Going around and over rocks, logs, and underbrush is even better than going over evenly-placed poles in an arena in terms of proprioception!
The trail riding environment is good for your horse’s brain, too! Experienced trail horses are some of the most calm, thoughtful horses you’ll ever meet. This is because they’re used to the constantly varied environment found on trails. Whether it’s cyclists, deer, or cars, trail horses are used to encountering new and strange objects on trails and doing practical tasks like water crossings.
Many horseback riding trail rides involve some sort of water crossing. Unfortunately, water can do some real damage to your leather products– including your saddle. A wet saddle is prone to mold and mildew. These damaging fungi stain the leather and cause it to lose elasticity and dry rot faster.
The solution is to choose a waterproof, durable saddle. The Mesace Water Warrior Saddle is designed specifically with the trail horse in mind. This saddle is made of 100% waterproof Equileather and rust-free hardware that is guaranteed to withstand the test of your next water crossing. Its shock-absorbing super-cushioned seat is perfect for long days in the saddle across rough terrain.
After a long morning in the saddle, nothing feels so good as finding a shady, grassy spot, pulling out your lunch, and taking a break in the shade. Doesn’t your horse deserve the same comfort?
If your horse struggles to eat with the bit in their mouth, a halter/bridle combination headstall might be the right choice for you and your trail horse.
A Halter/Bridle Combo is exactly what it sounds like. This type of headstall has an easy on/off bit attachment. Built on a halter base, the bit is attached to two cheek pieces which are easily clipped high up on the sides of the halter. The bit is buckled into the other end and can be slid into or out of the horse’s mouth without taking off the entire halter.
Thanks to these combo bridles, now when you stop for lunch your horse can eat comfortably, without the hassle of taking off a bridle and putting on a halter.
Have you ever walked barefoot on a gravel driveway? For many people, these sharp rocks hurt your feet. While many horses perform perfectly without horseshoes in an arena, many horses just aren’t able to cope with the rough terrain you may find on your next horseback riding trail ride.
The EasyBoot Trail Horse Boot is designed to protect the soles of your horse’s feet while offering an aggressive tread for optimal traction. They’re the perfect in-between option for barefoot horses who ride well in the soft sand of an arena, but struggle on the trail.
Plus, having a spare hoof boot on hand is useful in case of an emergency. Shod trail horses can benefit from using one in case they lose a shoe. In this scenario, without a hoof boot your horse would have to walk home on uneven footing and possibly with a sore hoof. A hoof boot ensures that you can protect your horse’s feet, even on short notice.
Some sort of protective layer around the legs is crucial for trail riding. Even if you’re riding on soft, easy terrain, any horse can trip, even just over their own feet. Brushing boots, splint boots, or cross country boots offer excellent leg protection against brush and various other obstacles on the trail.
Choosing the right type of leg protection is crucial to the success of your trail ride. If you choose to ride in polo wraps, be very careful not to go through any sort of water. Polo wraps will soak up the water and loosen, possibly unraveling while still on your horse’s legs. A better choice for your next trail ride would be a boot like the Professional’s Choice Pro Mesh XC Boot.
The best way to protect your trail horse from flies is to provide a physical barrier between your horse and the bugs. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find a full-coverage fly mask that doesn’t disrupt your bridle’s fit, which can be a safety concern. Luckily, that’s where the Cashel Quiet Ride Fly Mask comes in.
This fly mask is designed to fit comfortably over top of your bridle, without affecting your horse’s vision, or your bit and rein control. It creates a protective layer from their ears to their noseband. With the same great design as our Crusader mask, this fly mask is made with lighter nylon mesh that fastens quickly and securely.
When you’re on a trail ride, you want to relax with nature. Using harsh, synthetic fly sprays that may even smell awful can really ruin the experience. The EcoVet Fly Spray is a new alternative to traditional fly repellents that actually works.
Instead of relying on toxic pyrethrins or essential oils, this spray uses a proprietary mixture of natural food-grade fatty acids and silicone oil that creates a zone of repellency around your horse. And it doesn’t just work on flies– it repels gnats, mosquitoes, ticks, lice and more.
Mesh fly boots are a great addition to your horse’s wardrobe when they’re turned out to pasture. Unfortunately, it’s not recommended to ride in these mesh boots as they can slip or come off mid-ride. Instead, use a regular pair of boots to create a barrier against flies.
Remember, if you’re going to be in or near water, use leg protection that won’t soak up any water. A set of boots like the Pro Performance Elite XC Boots are a good option. These extremely durable boots are designed so they don’t retain water, allowing them to stay on and fit well no matter the terrain. Plus, the honeycomb construction has the added benefit of increasing airflow to your horse’s legs!
Not all horses are the same. While one horse won’t mind wearing an ear bonnet and riding in a fly mask, another may hate having the extra material around their head and ears. For these horses, a fly repellent ointment may be a good option.
SWAT is a clear ointment that contains a botanically-derived pyrethrin formula, which repels house flies, stable flies, face flies and horn flies, and kills them on contact. Plus, it lasts for hours and should stay on your horse’s ears and face for the entirety of your horseback riding trail ride.
Always have your cell phone in your pocket. When you trail ride your cell phone is your only way to call for help. Without it, you could find yourself trapped in the woods or in an unfamiliar landscape with no way to tell people that you’re in trouble. It’s also not very helpful if you keep your cell phone in your saddle bags. If you fall off your horse, you’re separated from your cell phone if your horse decides to run back to the barn.
Ride with a buddy. Riding with a friend can make a big difference in an emergency situation. If you and your horse are stuck or can’t move, they can go get help. Plus, if you fall off, they’ll be there to help you catch your horse and ensure you’re okay.
Train your horse ahead of time. If your horse is still learning how to be a trail horse, there are plenty of exercise you can do at home before you hit the trail. Get your horse exposed to common obstacles on the trail, like bicycles, strollers, cars, and more. You should also teach your horse to tie safely and walk through water.
Keep an eye on the weather. A sudden storm can turn a regular old trail ride into an emergency situation. Knowing the weather forecast will allow you to either reschedule your horse trail rides or to prepare in case of bad weather.
Choose your clothing with care. Wearing the wrong riding outfit could mean the difference between developing heat stroke or hypothermia and coming home safe and sound. It’s a good idea to wear layers, so you can take off and add on clothes as needed.
Ride at the right time of day. You do not want to get stuck in the woods after dark. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get home or to get to shelter before the sun sets. Horseback trail riding is no fun when you and your horse can’t see the trail in front of you.
Know where you’re going. Horse trail rides are best in familiar territory so you won’t get lost. If you’re trail riding in an unfamiliar area, take a riding partner with you who knows the area well.
An equine emergency can be something as simple as a lost shoe or something as horrible as a horse stuck in the mud or collapsing underneath you. No matter what emergency has derailed your horseback riding trail ride, you must always stay calm.
First, dismount and take stock of your trail horse. Look for any bleeding, scrapes, rapid breathing, distended abdomen, or any non-weight bearing legs. Pick up all four hooves and look for nails, rocks, or other debris.
Next, use the stethoscope in your emergency supplies to check your horse’s heart rate and respiratory rate. Write down each of these so you can refer to them later as you continue to monitor your horse’s condition.
If your horse is bleeding, prioritize stopping the flow. Use your emergency antiseptic spray or iodine solution to treat any cuts or scrapes. Apply a flexible bandage to hold pressure on any major wounds or to wrap on a dressing. If your horse pulled off a shoe, replace the horseshoe with a hoof boot.
For more serious emergencies, like collapse or colic, move the horse into the shade and offer water. If your horse cannot walk or move and it’s hot outside, create shade using jackets or saddle pads. If it’s cold outside, use jackets and saddle pads to insulate the horse. Immediately call your veterinarian for further directions in the event of any healthcare emergency.
If you cannot continue your trail ride, contact your pre-determined emergency person. This person should have a trailer and be able to pick you up at the closest access point to the horseback trail riding area.
If you have no cell phone service and your horse can’t walk, you have limited options. You can choose to wait for help to come to you, or you can tie your horse to a secure post or tree and walk to get help yourself. Here’s where it’s important to ride with another person– if you have a trail riding buddy with you, they can head back to the trailer and come pick you up.
If your horse is able to stand and move, walk to the nearest road and have your emergency contact pick you up with the trailer.
It’s not just the horses we have to worry about when we’re on a trail ride– it’s important to know what to do if you or someone else in your party becomes injured or sick. Again, the most important thing you must do is to stay calm. A nervous person is more of a hindrance than a help in emergency situations.
If you are the injured rider and are safely able to do so, dismount and sit in the shade. If you can’t get off by yourself, have your riding buddy help you. On the other hand, if you have fallen or were forced to emergency dismount, do not move until your horseback trail riding partner evaluates you.
Another equestrian or passing good Samaritan should look for any obvious injuries and ask you to wiggle your fingers and toes. If there aren’t any obvious injuries, but you can’t wiggle your fingers or toes, there could be internal injuries. The injured rider should wait until emergency personnel arrive to attempt to move.
Your horseback trail riding buddy should also perform a concussion check. Concussion checks are relatively simple to do. Start by evaluating the injured rider's face. Uneven pupils, slurred speech, and an uneven smile indicate a traumatic brain injury. Ask the rider basic questions they should be able to answer. This could include:
If the injured equestrian loses consciousness or displays any signs of a concussion, call 911 immediately and wait for help to arrive.
After evaluating the situation to the best of your ability, use your first aid kit to stop any bleeding. If you administer any type of medication, whether it was prescribed or over the counter, write down what you gave and the dosage. Be sure to tell the paramedics or the injured rider’s emergency contact when they arrive.
After performing emergency first aid, call for help. If it’s safe and you’re able to do so, walk towards the nearest exit and have an emergency contact or ambulance pick you up there, while your riding buddy brings both horses back to the trailer. If at all possible, the injured rider should not be left alone.
Whether it’s your trail horse’s tack, your riding outfit, or emergency supplies, having the right equipment and gear on hand can make the difference between a relaxing and enjoyable trail ride and an uncomfortable, or even dangerous, situation. Before you hit the trail, make sure you have all of the supplies on the list below.
If you’re worried about not having enough room in your saddle bags, try and purchase the trial size or sample size of the products. Remember, most of the time you’ll just need enough of the product to get back to your trailer!
At Breeches.com, we believe every equestrian should feel confident when they hit the trails with their horse. A big confidence boost can come from having the right knowledge and the right equipment at your fingertips.
If you’re going horseback trail riding for the first time, shop for all the supplies you’ll need onbreeches.com.
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