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Trail Riding - The Code Of The Trail

A group of horses and their riders on a woodland trailRiding the trails on a trusty steed is to take a trip back into Americana. Though the phrase "trail riding" may evoke past memories of galloping through the woods, jumping over logs and wading through rushing rivers, these days it's a bit more tame. Because a true horse person knows that enjoying trails on horseback means being an ambassador for the equine community. Park managers and public land officials work hard to offer land for our riding pleasure, but trails are so often misused that it's easier to restrict use to foot-traffic only. With just a little extra effort, maybe we can bring back the bridle path!

Plan ahead. Yes, some horses are just born to be trailblazers but most need some practice. Take the time at home to introduce your horse to regular trail obstacles such as bridges, backpackers, tarps, bicycles and animal-crazy children (kids who can't resist running up and patting the pony on its head). Desensitizing the horse will also work wonders to calm a rider's nerves – you'll better know what to anticipate and how to push your horse through its fear. A less anxious horse is more likely to keep on the path and not cause alarm to other folks.

Horses and riders along a trailAnother part of your homework is packing essentials in case of an emergency, for human or horse. Don't forget maps if you're not familiar with the territory. And remember to bring a cell phone and keep it handy (on you, not tucked away in your saddlebag).

Once you arrive at the trailhead, you must follow the philosophy to leave nothing behind but hoof prints. Keep in mind at all times that nature must be preserved. So, be careful to stay on the marked trails. You may need to ride single file in order to not step on plant life that borders the trail. It's easy to think, "Well, I'll only have to take this short-cut once…" but in reality if every rider has that same thought and acts on it, nature will be horribly disturbed. And of course, if you see litter, even if it's not yours, pick it up and take it back to base to discard. Hold yourself accountable to be the best naturalist possible – the entire equestrian community will thank you!

Horses and their riders obey the code of the trailWhen you're on the trail common sense is best. Think of the path like a two lane road, with one of those broken yellow lines in the middle. You stay to the right, pass to the left and think twice before hot-roddin' because it will catch up with you, possibly in the form of a runaway mount. If you are at the bottom of a hill and see riders heading down, wait until they've reached the bottom. Keep your horse at a controlled gait and if your herd has kicked it up a gear, make sure that you have a phrase or signal for downward transitions to discourage pileups.

The journey must be shared, so do so with a courteous manner. This is where you must put on your public relations helmet – for these are your opportunities to show mountain bikers, hikers, and families out for a stroll that horses love their job and can share the trails. Speak first when you encounter a pedestrian and your friendly gesture will also help alert your horse to the stranger. If someone asks to pet your horse (and if your horse and you are okay with this), offer guidance on how to rub the horse safely. You'll have a fan for life!

From one trail pal to another, let's take the opportunity during our trail rides to slow down and enjoy the peacefulness.

Code of the Trail

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