Monday, October 5, 2009

Horseback Riding Lesson Guide - the Top 7 Rules All Riders Must Follow on the Trail

As always, safety is the biggest factor to keep in mind as you enjoy this wonderful sport of horseback riding. Safe practices and good common sense that will help you enjoy your free time without the instructor after your horseback riding lesson is over!
1. Anything can happen on a trail ride. Your horse could become ill or lame. You could become ill or injured. You could get lost or get stuck. My point is this: Other people need to know where you plan to go, and when you plan to return. That way, if something unexpected happens, at least others will come looking for you! If you are an inexperienced rider, you should ride with someone else when you leave the familiar territory around the barn. If you are an experienced rider and want to go it alone, at least take a charged up cell phone with you!
2. There are two things you should always take with you on a trail ride: a hoof pick and a pocketknife. It should be clear enough, but let me elaborate. If your horse gets a stone lodged into his frog, continued walking on it will make him very sore. A hoof pick can quickly fix that potential problem. Sometimes vines or thick brush can get wrapped around a leg or hoof (especially if your horse has on shoes). Without that pocketknife to cut your way out, you could wind up in a bad situation. Now, I am assuming that the rider here is old enough and mature enough to use a pocketknife. I would not recommend that a small child carry one, but then again, a small child should not be on a trail ride without an adult anyway. So, adults should carry a pocket knife.
3. People often forget their horsemanship after their horseback riding lesson. They think a trail ride is a relaxing time for them so they allow their horse to relax as well. Do not do this! Horses are not smart enough to discern playtime from work time. When you are riding, you are ALWAYS teaching your horse something, whether good or bad. One thing many people become lax about on the trail is allowing their horse to grab bites of grass as they are walking along the trail. That is a big no-no. If you allow it on the trail, next time it will be on the way to the show ring gate. Some horses will get aggressive about it, plunging their head down at every blade of grass so hard and fast that you lose your grip on the reins and are left, momentarily, without any control. The trail is the last place you want to be without control!
4. When you are riding with others, remember that horses are always communicating with each other. For this reason, it is important that you ride a respectful distance from the other riders. If you are single file, say, on a narrow path through the woods, be sure to keep at least one horse length between you and the next rider in front of you. If you do not, and you crowd the horse in front of you, that horse may decide to teach your horse a lesson and kick at him. If you are horseback riding side by side in an open area, keep their herd instincts in mind. Although you want to keep a safe distance away, you also do not want to create unnecessary anxiety among the horses if they think the herd is getting split up! For the same reason, do not ever take off running away from the group without warning the others. If told, the riders can be prepared for their horses' natural reaction to take off as well. If not, they could take a spill as their horse bolts unexpectedly.
5. Running through an open field appears very inviting. With few exceptions, this is a bad idea. If you are galloping through a field you are not familiar with, you never know when an overgrown ditch or a covered up hole becomes the bane of your existence. Not only could your horse stumble, he could break a leg! Be careful with terrain you have never covered before, whether it is an open field or a windy dirt road.
6. Your horse will see scary stuff while on a trail ride. When this happens, do not be in a hurry. Let him look, walk slowly, let him sniff whatever it is. At the same time, however, do not go out of your way to show it to him. In other words, the bigger deal YOU make out of a foreign object, the bigger deal it is to him. If you ignore it, he will come closer to doing the same. When riders go back and forth, back and forth in front of the spooky object, "showing" it to their horse, thinking they were getting him used to it, they are usually making the situation worse. Instead, calmly encourage him forward and talk in a smooth tone of voice. In fact, talking to another rider and ignoring the object and his reaction to it often works best.
7. If you come across others on the trail, like hikers, bikers or other riders, speak to them. Your horse is listening to you and following your lead. If you casually say hello and walk along with comfort, he will likely do the same. If you, however, grab the reins, tighten your seat, close your legs and generally convey nervousness, he will sense that and react accordingly.
That covers the 7 rules that I find most important when trail riding. There are plenty of other good ideas I could share, but these are the ones that will help keep you out of trouble so that you get the most out of your horseback riding experience. Happy Trails!
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Lisa B. Blackstone has been involved in the Arabian horse business all of her life. She is a practicing attorney in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Recently, Lisa launched two websites designed to teach the novice rider about horses and horsemanship. You can visit them at and She is the host of The Horse and Rider Radio Show at Radio Sandy Springs.

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