Following basic trail etiquette can help ensure the safety of you, your horse, others who ride with
you and folks you meet on the trail. Following basic trail etiquette is important to keep trails open to
horses. Many trails are closed to horses because of riders who abused the trail riding privilege.
Remember that you are always an ambassador of horseback riding and the Nokesville Horse Society.
If non-riders meet a courteous and polite horse person on the trail, their impression of all of horse
folks will hopefully remain positive.
1. When encountering hikers and bikers:
· Ideally hikers and bikers will yield to a rider.
· When encountering hikers or bikers, talk to them and get them to talk to you. Hikers with
backpacks and bikers with helmets do not look human. Explain this to them and ask them to
speak so that your horse will understand that this “thing” is actually just a person.
· Ask them to stand off on the downhill side of the trail. Once again, horses are prey animals and
often attacked from above, so keep the scary looking thing down low. It can also be easier to
control a horse going uphill if he spooks.
· Stay relaxed yourself and keep talking to the hiker and your horse if he is nervous. Find out if
there are more in their party and tell them how many in your party.
· Thank them for their cooperation and be kind and courteous. We are all out there to enjoy
2. When encountering other horses
· In theory, single riders will yield to pack strings. But be prepared for this not to be the case. In
generally yield to anyone coming up or down the trail if you can because you know your
animals and your riding ability.
· Ideally, downhill riders will yield to uphill riders.
· Do not try to squeeze by other horses, you are asking for all kinds of trouble. Instead, give
yourself plenty of room to go around. You don’t know their animals or their riding ability. So
take the safer route and yield.
· If the trail is narrow with no way to move off to let another pass, decide who should turn
around to travel back to a safe place to pass. Always turn your horse to the down hill side. He
can see his front feet and won’t step off the trail. He cannot see his back feet or where he is
putting them as well, so you want to keep those on the trail. Unless you know the oncoming
horse and rider and their abilities, it is safest to assume that the horse and rider are both
inexperienced and be prepared that anything could happen as you or they go by.
3. You want to maintain a distance of about one horse length between horses while trail riding. This
leaves you time and space to react safely in the event of an accident in front of you.
4. When you encounter obstacles on the trail, such as bridges, water crossings, narrow passes, poor
footing areas, etc. walk the horses across one at a time. Allow more than the usual single horse
length between each horse over longer bridges.
5. Watch the footing, especially on uphill and downhill grades. Gravel on rocks is like ice. Wet
bridges and wet asphalt can also be very slippery. If you encounter problems, warn any riders
6. When leading and/or riding with anyone behind you
· Always start rides at a Walk
· Ask before changing gates, trotting, loping, canter, etc. This really should be discussed before
the trail ride begins. You may have riders in the pack string with various levels of expertise,
including beginners who are not used to changing gates.
· Warn of holes, bad footing and other dangers
· Warn when you are stopping
· Warn if a branch might snap back in someone’s face
7. For your safety and the safety of others around you, pay attention to your horse and keep your
horse under control. Keep a peripheral eye on the rest of the horses and the environment around
you. Being prepared for anything to happen can often prevent a bad wreck. Think like a horse,
especially if you are the leader of the group. If you look at objects on the trail like a prey animal (is
it unfamiliar or potentially dangerous), you can help prepare yourself for anything. Once again
preparation and awareness can be the difference between a controlled flight and a bad wreck.
8. Nasty horses in the back. If your horse is unruly, you should bring up the rear where his poor
behavior will not be witnessed by the other horses and cause them to get upset as well. And, if you
are lucky, your horse may learn a thing or two from watching calmer horses in front of him all day.
9. Tie a red ribbon in the tail of a horse that kicks. If you are following a horse with a red ribbon,
obviously it would be safer to maintain a little more distance between you, but also you might be
extra watchful for signs of forewarning: pinned ears, swishing tail, hind leg at the ready, etc.
Remember that your horse could move to avoid the kick and put you in its path instead. A broken
leg or knee from a kick 10 steep miles from the trailer is no fun.
10. Mares in season and stallions can present special problems on the trail. They require an extra
level of attention on the part of the rider and the others in the group. If you are riding one, be extra
vigilant of the horse's behavior. If you are not, but they are part of your group, keep an extra eye
out on these animals. Ideally the rider on either of these animals would be an experienced horse
person. Warn oncoming riders if necessary. And then also consider that any horse you may pass on
the trail could be a mare in season or a stallion and that the rider may not be experienced.
11. Keep track of other riders behind you Take turns leading, (share the dust).
12. When you reach a watering area, take turns and don’t crowd. Wait for everyone to finish before
moving off. And remember your Leave No Trace ethics: do not destroy the water front by trying to
water all the horses at the same time. Use only the obvious area where animals come down to drink.
13. Stop if there is a wreck. This should be obvious. Your help may be needed. But also, once again,
horses are herd animals and do not like to be left alone, especially in an unfamiliar area. If you ride
off, while someone is trying to mount back up, their horse could panic and take off to catch up with
· Don’t cut switchbacks.
· Do not to walk through soft, wet ground. Horses’ hooves are sharp and destroy vegetation.
· Pick up all your trash, including cigarette butts, and pack it out.
· Pick up other people’s trash to keep places as pristine as possible and set a good example.
· Be respectful of property owner's wishes. Stay on the marked trail.
15. Personal Safety
· Always carry ID on your person and on your horse in case you become separated.
· Tell someone where you are going in case you don’t come home, even when riding with a
group. Carry basic survival gear on your horse and at least the bare minimum on your person:
o cell phone
Other Resources for Trail Riding info: