What is your trail-riding persona? Specifically, are you a pleasure to ride with, or...(no way to put this kindly).. drag? Do you plan for the wellbeing of yourself and your horse, or are you an accident waiting to happen? Are you “good to go,” literally, or could your trail prep and etiquette use a little brush-up? If a brush-up’s in order, we can help. In the box titled “Do It Right,” we’ll give you tips for improving your trail-riding savvy. Follow them, and you’ll become the type of rider everyone wants to have along.Your friends will thank you, your horse will thank you, and you’ll save who-knows-how-much on vet bills and insurance deductibles this season. So, let’s begin. Of the four categories that follow, which trail rider are you?
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Catchphrase: “Let’s go!”
You’re super-enthusiastic about trail riding, but somewhat less so about the niggling details thereof. You haven’t been able to prepare your horse very much for this particular ride, but at least you’re pretty sure he’s been out on a trail before. (Actually, you’ve only owned him a week. Still, your faith in him is rock solid. He’s such a sweetie.) You haven’t had a chance to buy him his own bridle yet, but you do have an old one that fits him, sort of (and it’s only cracked a little). One of his shoes is a teensy bit loose, but you know someone will have one of those Easy Bootthings if it does come off. Your own boots just got chewed by the new puppy, but your old running sneakers are good to go—no problem. You arrive at the staging area totally pumped, but without a water bottle. Plus, you really thought you had more gas in your tank than that. You make a mental note to have someone follow you out on the way home, and go in search of things to borrow.
THE TIMID ‘N TERRIFIED
Catchphrase: “Can someone help me?!”
You love your horse but are intimidated by him, and it shows in your permanently ashen-faced countenance. He’s the nervous type, constantly jigging and calling, and you’re at a loss as to how to make him stop. You seem to need help with everything, be it tying safely or just leading your antsy horse to water. On the trail, you’re reluctant to take side trips or do anything out of the ordinary, preferring to stick to the main, well-traveled trail. Midway through the ride, your nerves are shot, and you start hinting to the others about turning back. Your riding partners are contemplating passing the hat to enable you to take a few lessons to improve your horsemanship and confidence. Your chronic discomfort is a drag on the whole group.
[READ: Horseman's Safety Know-How Test]
THE ‘ALL-ABOUT-ME’ PAL
Catchphrase: “I’ve got it.”
You’re a bold, confident rider, and eager to let others know it. You insist on riding in the front (“my horse prefers it”), and you’re not bashful about grabbing the best resting spot or campsite at every stop. Your horse is defensive and known to have kicked in the past, but you prefer not to so identify him. You keep telling everyone that “he’s fine. Just a little grouchy today.” You have strong opinions about everything, and aren’t afraid to express them.You hate to compromise about the day’s itinerary, and will promote your preference doggedly until everyone else caves in. You encourage others to stick it out when you want to keep going, but insist that the group stop to rest whenever you’re tired. You’re generous with advice, even when unasked. On the trail and during breaks and meals, you talk nonstop about yourself, your horse, your prior riding experiences, your job, your family....
THE BOY/GIRL SCOUT
Catchphrase: “Be prepared.”
You’re known for your scrupulous planning and gracious manners. You’ve researched the area of the ride in advance, and so know it’s something you and your horse can easily manage. Your horse is well-prepared for the ride, in good shape, and has recently tended feet.You’re wearing gear appropriate for any possible weather changes (you googled it in advance), and you’ve brought plenty of water and sunscreen. In preparing for the trip, you used your well-developed checklist to make sure nothing was forgotten or overlooked. You have a basic first-aid kit, human and equine, that you carry in your saddlebags, and a more comprehensive one in your trailer. You’re the one everyone else calls first when rounding up a trail-riding party.
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DO IT RIGHT
To become more like the scout-savvy rider (and less like all the others), follow these tips:
• Be aware of the terrain to be traversed on the ride, and prepare for it in advance if need be to boost your and your horse’s confidence. (Will there be water crossings, for example? If so, practice some in advance.)
• Establish solid whoa, go, turn, and “wait” controls on your horse before you go out on the trail. Don’t expect to school your horse in the midst of a group of horses, in a new environment.
• Condition your horse for the amount and type of riding you’ll be asking of him. If the longest you’ve ridden at one time is two hours, don’t expect him to go all day without building up to it gradually.
• Check that his feet/shoes are in good shape. Schedule an appointment with your farrier before the ride if need be.
• Safety-check your equipment, and made sure you’ll have everything you’ll need for the type of trip you’re taking. For overnight stays, especially, work from a detailed “don’t forget” checklist, crossreferencing your list with those of more experienced riding buddies if need be.
• Check the weather and the condition of the trail in question to verify, to the extent possible, that your chosen date is a good time to go.
• Plan your own apparel according to the anticipated weather and other needs of the trip, making sure it will be warm/cool enough; in layers if need be; with proper footwear and adequate sun/wind/rain protection.
• Plan ahead to provide water for yourself and your horse. (Do you need to bring water for your horse, or will there be water at the staging area and/or along the trail?)
• Check that your hauling rig is in safe, well-maintained condition, and capable of making it to and from the staging area in question. Fill up your gas tanks.
• Make sure you know the others you’ll be riding with well enough to trust their horsemanship and common sense.
• On the trail, keep your horse at least a horse’s length away from the horse in front of you, and encourage the rider in back of you to do the same.
• If your horse has any propensity to kick at other horses, signal this with a red ribbon in his tail so other riders stay reminded of this fact.
• Remember always that trail riding with others requires all the courtesies appropriate for any group endeavor. Be considerate, unselfish, and willing to be part of a democratic process in decision making.