Trail Riding Safety

I know a lot of excellent horse riders who do not trail ride because they saw a friend killed while riding on the trail. Usually it was along a road where a horse spooked into an oncoming car. Or a friend was found dead on the trail after the horse came home alone. So beware.

That said, trail riding is great fun. But you need a very well trained horse or you need to be an excellent horse trainer yourself. Of course there are the professional trail rides where you can rent a horse and follow along with a group. Even someone who has never been on a horse can safely ride one of those "bomb proof" horses. But they do make you sign a form that states that horse riding is dangerous and you will not hold them responsible if you get hurt.

Now let us suppose that you found the one horse in a million that you can just get on and ride off into the sunset. Here is a checklist of safety tips:

1. Groom the horse thoroughly to make sure the tack will not rub sores on the horse and make sure the horse is healthy and sound.

2. Check the tack to make sure it will not break and make sure it is clean and will not rub sores on the horse.

3. Wear a helmet.

4. Ride the horse in a safe enclosed space to make sure the horse is in a good mood and moving sound and responsive to your direction.

5. Ride a little way out on the trail and turn the horse around and come right back the first time out.

6. Next time out ride a little farther and turn the horse around and come right back. Keep going out a little farther each time you ride. But always turn the horse around before the horse decides it is time to go home.

7. When you feel ready for a longer trail ride be sure to bring a first aid kit, water, cell phone, surveyor's tape to mark the trail and anything else that might make you feel safe.

8. If you ride with a buddy make sure it is someone who isn't trying to kill you.

9. If you meet someone on the trail say hi and talk to them to reassure the horse that they are not a predator.

10. Direct the horse where to go so he knows you are in control and direct the horse where to put his feet so he doesn't step in a hole or trip over something.

11. Going down an embankment give your horse plenty of rein so he can lower his head and pick his way while you lean back.

12. Going uphill lean forward.

13. Don't ride on railroad bridges. A train came by minutes after we rode across one.

14. Crossing streams or going through narrow areas focus ahead and exude confidence that your horse will not be bothered.

15. If you get lost try giving the horse its head to take you home.

16. Walk your horse home to keep him calm and cool him off.

17. Check the horse for injury after the ride.

18. Offer him water when he is cooled off.

19. Don't ride along a road with traffic.

20. Don't gallop on pavement.

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