Going the Distance: Rules of the road, er, trail

Trail etiquette isn’t just about being nice. It’s also about safety. Horse Nation endurance editor Sharalyn Hay gives us a rundown of trail “dos” and “don’ts.”

From Sharalyn:

I just wrapped up another race last weekend and had a great weekend. However, an incident on the trail reminded me that not everyone knows what the unwritten “rules” are to endurance. And make no mistake, there are quite a few. I do realize that endurance is a competitive sport and that time and what you place matter… but no placing or prize is worth getting a fellow competitor hurt.

So, for anyone new to the sport or wondering how to be a more courteous trail rider here are a few things to always keep in mind.

1. The trail does not belong to you. You are a guest on the trail (even at a race), just like everyone else. Treat all those you meet as guests and remember to be a good example of the fine people who ride horses on communal trails.

2. Don’t block the trail. If you can safely move off of the trail, do so. You can actually be disqualified for blocking a trail if there is room for you to move out of the way of a faster moving or oncoming rider. Downhill riders yield to uphill riders.

3. Warn others of your approach. If you come upon a rider whose pace is slower than yours, yell out your intentions to pass (and on which side you wish to pass) several yards out. Allow the horse ahead of you to move off the trail (or over to the side) and then move past them. If a rider is having problems with their horse, slow to a walk to pass and then once you are a few yards away you can pick your pace back up again. If I am on an LD ride, I always ask if they will be OK if I trot off. It’s not worth someone getting bucked just to save a minute of time.

4. Ride within your ability. If your horse is acting up at the fast trot, slow to a jog. If he’s still having issues, slow to a walk. If you are really having problems, it is best to dismount and walk until your horse has calmed down.

5. Stay on the trail and respect private property. No one likes a cheater so make sure to follow the marked flags and stay on the trail. Also, it is not the ride manager’s job to clean up after you. Whatever you take on the trail should come back to camp to be disposed of. It is not OK to just toss an empty water bottle on the ground and keep going.

6. Be respectful at the water. If someone is already at a water trough, ask to approach before you do. If you are leaving a water trough and others are still drinking, ask if it is OK to do so. Some horses get distracted and won’t drink if riders are coming and going willy-nilly.

7. Mind the ribbons. A red ribbon in the tail of a horse means that horse is a kicker. A yellow ribbon indicates a stallion. A green ribbon marks a novice horse and/or rider. Be respectful of these ribbons. If you see a red or yellow ribbon stay at least two horse-lengths back and use extreme caution when passing. If you see a green ribbon, do your best to make sure the rider is doing well and see if there is anything you can do (without hurting your own race).

8. If you come upon a rider that has been thrown, do not pass. Make sure the horse is caught, first and foremost. If you can aid with that, do so. Also be sure to check that the rider is OK. I actually had an incident this weekend happen where I got thrown over Flash’s head and ended up with the reins tangled around my leg. The rider behind me trotted past us and kept on going. If Flash had decided to take off after that horse I would have been toast. DON’T make matters worse. DO everything you can to aid the downed rider. Again, no placing is worth someone getting seriously injured over.

9. Remove your horse from the trail if you begin experiencing severe behavior problems. Trying to discipline a badly behaving horse while there are others around you is not a smart idea because if your horse throws a fit it may endanger others. Get out of the way, get off the trail, and settle the differences between you and your horse without involving everyone else on the trail.


You will encounter them, it’s just a fact of the sport. Educate when you can but otherwise here are a few ways to deal with these less-than-desirables…

Kickers: If you see a ribbon (of any color) stay far back and wait for a wide spot in the trail. When you reach one, announce your intentions and then kick your horse to a gallop and get away from them as much as you can.

Tailgaters: Warn the rider to either move back or to ride ahead. If they continue to tailgate, continue to tell them to back off, loudly if necessary.

Stop ‘N Go-ers: If you meet a horse that tailgates to get in front, runs past, then slams on the brakes, or a horse that hurries past, then once in front throttles back to a plodding pace, there is only one thing you can do–get away as fast as possible. Take off at a fast rate and leave this troublemaker long behind.

Road Hogs: These are the riders that “drift” to the middle of the trail as you try to pass. Firmly tell the rider to move over or you might just find yourself being squeezed off the trail.

Riders Demanding Babysitters: Unless you have committed your time on the trail to your friends, your ride should always be your own ride. You aren’t obligated to babysit riders who can’t, or won’t, ride by themselves. If someone tries to hook up with you when you wish to ride alone, simply tell them so. To stop at the water while other horses are drinking, or to stop and keep someone company as they are adjusting tack is merely a courtesy, nothing more. It is not obligatory.

Remember, the best way to survive this sport is to have a well trained horse. Nothing trumps knowing the fact that if you do hit the dirt that Ol’ Bessie will wait for you to pick yourself up and get back on again.

So, go ride and remember–to finish is to win.

Sharalyn is owned by three horses–Flash (the Arab), Storm (the Mustang) and Goodwin (the NSHxTB)–and two dogs, Daisy and Noelle. They do their best to make the most out of every day. You can follow their adventures at 36andsingle.blogspot.com

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