Trail-Riding Safety Tips

Follow these trail-riding safety tips, whether you ride your horse during the day or decide to go night riding.

Trail riding can be one of the most fun activities to do with your horse, but it is important to practice trail riding safety. These trail riding safety tips will help keep you and your horse safe and comfortable when you hit the trails. Whether you ride your horse during the day or decide to try some night trail riding, keep these trail riding safety tips in mind.

Use the light of the full moon to guide you during night trail riding. | File Photo. Safe Night Trail Riding
If summer heat and humidity limits your riding time, consider planning a moonlit ride with your trail buddies. Slap on the bug repellent, and head out for some night trail riding.

First, make a safety plan. Plan your ride close to the summer’s full moons. Travel a familiar trail, and plan your route ahead of time. Know what local critters you might run into, and plan accordingly.

Tell someone where your riding group is headed and when to expect you back, or make a friend’s house the halfway point on your ride. Wear reflective riding gear (especially if you must cross roads), and take a flashlight

???? Amy Matthews, Montgomery, Alabama

Switch Positions
When you ride with a group, change your order in the lineup ? allowing another horse-and-rider pair to take the lead. You’ll teach the lead horse to slow down and follow; you’ll also help horses that usually follow that they need to listen to their riders’ directional cues.

“Simply switching positions will make sure that you’re setting the pace and direction for your horse, not the other way around,” says trainer Morgan Dillard Harris of Carolina Horsemanship ( “When the same horse is always in the lead, he may become ?charge-y’ and difficult to hold back. Horses that usually follow can tune out their riders’ cues and simply follow the horse in front.”

Consider changing leaders every 15 or 30 minutes (depending on ride length). Or, have your group make up a game. Switch every time you hear a certain kind of bird, have to cross a log, etc. To change positions, look for an open space where you’ll have plenty of room to step out of the lead and allow others to pass.

If you’re in the lead, step to the side of the trail and ask your horse to bend his head toward your boot. Keep him moving forward in a small circle. Keep circling (moving in both directions) until all the other riders pass you, then take your spot as the “caboose.” When it’s time to switch leaders again, you’ll move up one more spot until it’s your turn to lead again.

Take turns leading and following when you ride with a group. | Photo by Heidi NylandGet a Trail Map
A new map of the world ? the World Base Map by DeLorme ? includes topographic details that can help you judge trail terrain and know what lies ahead. In addition to the standard roads and railroads, the new map includes data that can help guide your way when you’re off of the beaten path.

You’ll find details on the map including agreed and disputed country boundaries, shorelines, wet lands, dry salt flats, perennial snowfields, forests, spot and gridded elevation. The mapping program uses the NASA-created “Shuttle Radar Terrain Model” to create 3-D models of your trail.

Want to check a trail’s terrain before you venture on a new course? See all that’s along your trail route if you have a Delorme GPS (known as the Earthmate PN-Series) or through the company’s XMap online software. The map can be downloaded for one penny per 100 square kilometers (with a $10 minimum per map created) and can be downloaded for DeLorme GPS units or to view on your PC.

Already have a Delorme GPS? Visit to create your online map account. When you see the map of the United States, draw a box around your trail area, and wait for the map to zoom. Find your trail area, and choose “World Base Map” from the list of map options in the dropdown menu at the bottom of the page. Then give your favorite trail area a nickname and store the map so it can be prepared then download to your DeLorme GPS when your map is complete.

Earthmate GPS models range from $200 to $600. The model shown sells for about $550 at

Sunglasses will protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays, enhance your vision, and keep you from squinting on the trail. Make sure the pair you choose has a slim profile, such as this model from Revo’s Cut Bank ( | Photo by Heidi NylandBuy Helmet-Friendly Sunglasses
I’ve been on a quest to find the best sunglasses to wear while riding ? and while wearing my helmet. Fashion-forward designs with big, round lenses and decorative frames don’t fit at all once you don your helmet. You feel the glasses push down onto your nose.

On a recent trail ride, my helmet tapped a tree branch, and although the pressure wasn’t intense, I felt a slam against the bridge of my nose. I can only imagine what could’ve happened if I’d hit my head harder or, worse, suffered a fall.

The solution? Make sure your glasses will fit well under your helmet with room to spare. When shopping for glasses, take your helmet with you. Look for sunglasses that fit a rider’s criteria:

  • Designed with a slim, sporty look. I’ve found that designs without a frame at the top work best.
  • Lenses made from a polycarbonate material and designed not to shatter.
  • Padding over nose is soft, cushioned, and well-attached.
    MyUVAlert reminds you when it’s time to reapply suncreen. | Photo by Heidi Nyland

Be Sunscreen Smart
Coppertone’s MyUVAlert app for Apple products reminds you when it’s time to reapply sunscreen and delivers the latest ultraviolet index for your location. The free app also charts your local weather and provides links to a radar map.

Keep in mind that UV rays can be strong enough to burn even if it’s cloudy or when you’re in a dense forest. Look for a nongreasy sunscreen designed for sports, and buy a new bottle each year ? expired lotions won’t defend you as well against the elements.

Keep Your Helmet Cool
After you ride, do you keep your helmet in your car’s trunk or in your trailer’s tackroom? It’s great to keep your helmet handy, but note that helmets aren’t made to be stored in the heat.

You can wear your helmet in the sun, but store it away from hot places, such as your car trunk. | Photo by Heidi Nyland Don’t ever throw your helmet in a car trunk, where temps can reach more than 160 degrees Fahrenheit — too intense for helmet materials. That heat can cause the helmet’s structures to break down, compromising its protection capabilities in the event of a fall.

To preserve your helmet’s integrity, keep it out of the sun when it’s not in use, and store it in a tote or carrying bag where the fabric can wick moisture from the helmet and keep it dry.

For more tips on how to care for your helmet, check out Troxel’s new safety site:

Keep Track
When you ride close to water or anywhere the ground is soft, check for tracks. It’s good to know if you’re sharing your path with a bear so that you can be prepared and take measures to avoid conflict.

If you know you’re in bear country, check for tracks at water crossings or on soft ground where you can see if a bear is near your trail. | Photo courtesy National Park Service Bear tracks can be difficult to see, because bears walk in flat-footed fashion. Heel-to-toe motion makes a deep impact, but flat-footed walkers make shallow impressions. Because the tracks are shallow, you’ll have better luck seeing them near water or through muddy areas.

You know a bear has walked that way if you see a large pad mark with five small pad marks directly in front. To determine whether the track is from a black or grizzly bear, look at the claws and the space between the toes. Black bears’ claws are shorter than grizzly claws (which can measure up to four inches). If the toes are spaced far apart, chances are, the print is from a black bear. If the toes are nearly touching, you may be looking at a grizzly track.

Most bears would rather stay away from you and are more dangerous if surprised or threatened. If you’re riding in bear habitat, be loud. Outfit your tack with a bear bell, and keep up a constant conversation with your riding buddies. You may also consider packing bear spray.

Bears will often walk the same path over and over ? even teaching their offspring to use the same route. If you see tracks, consider finding a different route through the area.

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