Trail Smarts for the Equestrian Vacationer

If your dream vacation includes riding horseback in a faraway land, here are a few tips to keep in mind when hitting the trails.


A vacation that treats you to a view of the world from the back of a horse is at its very best when fellow riders follow tried and true trail etiquette.

“From Mongolia to the United States, professional ride guides agree that nothing detracts more from an amazing adventure than a rider who is unaware of the best practices on the trail, “ says Cathy Mann, who founded High Pointe International Equestrian Tours to blend her two passions — travel and horses.

As she traveled around the globe scouting equestrian vacations for clients, Mann has collected the guides’ suggestions which are suitable for rides varying from a three-hour castle estate trek to a six-day inn-to-inn ride, from Argentina to Wales.

Defer to your guide’s judgment when horses are assigned.

“You’ll be amazed at how spot on guides can be. They know the horses and have a keen sense of your riding ability. However, if you’re uncomfortable with a horse, let your guide know immediately,” says Mann. “They will work with you to find the most suitable mount.  Just be honest about your riding ability.  I’m an experienced rider, but I always ask for the quietest horse.  I’m on vacation and I don’t want to be challenged. I make that choice clear.”

Follow your guide’s instructions closely. He or she will dictate the pace and select the best path to travel. Never pass the guide.

The more awesome the scene, the more difficult this advice is to follow. Whether you’re tracking zebra and elephant through an Africa preserve or lost in the spectacular views of the Greek Isles, this is no time to venture off on your own.

“The guide has a reason for leading you in a particular direction,” she explains.

Be aware of the horse in front of you and the one behind.

Sporadically, you will have to ride “nose to tail” along narrow trails found, for example, in Canada and Ireland.

“Of course, you want to lose yourself in the wonderment of your surroundings. However, horses are horses and you never know when one might spook or stop suddenly, causing the rider to lose control. “

Leave one horse’s length between horses if walking, two if trotting and three if cantering.

The majority of equestrian vacations will call for trotting.  Beach gallops are popular in California, Scotland, France, Ireland and Australia. The vast plains in Hungary and Romania encourage invigorating canters. Expect to know the proper distance to maintain during these paces for safety’s sake.

“These lengths will provide ample room to rein up or get out of the way. “

Pass on the left at a reduced speed.

Since horse people lead and mount on the left side, horses are accustomed to activity on that side.  Nonetheless, give a wide berth between you and the horse you are passing, just in case the other horse gets frisky.

Mann suggests, “Tempting as it may be to ride to the head of the group, wait until you are clear of your fellow rider.”

On a hill, if a rider needs to pass you, face your horse downhill.

Climbing up trails to reach breathtaking views in, for example, the mountains of Peru, Spain, and Argentina is one of the distinct pleasures of vacation riding. To ensure the safety of everyone on your ride, face your horse downhill when the person behind you wants to pass. This way your horse will know what’s coming.

“An informed horse is a calmer horse,” Mann says.

Do not ride side-by-side unless the path is wide enough to keep horses from nipping or kicking each other.

In Ecuador, Chile and Israel, wide trails can sometimes narrow quickly.

“When you are riding up to 14,500 feet above sea level to view lofty snow-capped volcanoes surrounded by crystal blue sky, massive glaciers, spouting geysers, gushing waterfalls or pre-Incan mountain crop terraces, sometimes the edge of the trails are so soft that single file is the only way to travel.”

When your ride’s horses stop for water, wait until all the horses have finished before riding away.

Whether your horse drinks from a medieval stone fountain in a French courtyard or a stream in India, the rule remains the same.

“Horses are herd animals and will react to others moving away or toward them. Wait until your group’s horses have finished before you urge yours to leave the water. If a horse takes off from the group, the other horses could be disrupted and follow. ”

Respect private property. Stay off the lawns and out of planted fields.

Your trails can take you along the gnarled Oregon vineyards, across Loire Châteaux’s grounds or the rolling Cotswold countryside. In each venue, the guides have procured special permission to travel across these private lands and that privilege must be respected.

“Be a good traveler and give pause to where you tread,” she says.

Keep your horse happy.

Your horse will be carrying you safely through diverse terrain for the duration of your ride. Ease your mount’s task whenever you can.

When your horse urinates, stand in your stirrups to relieve the pressure on his/her kidneys.

To ascend a hill in balance with the horse, raise your seat out of the saddle to help your horse power up with his hind legs.

When descending a hill, lean back, put your feet slightly in front the girth, and keep a steady, quiet hold on the reins so that you will be in balance with the horse.

When riding in tough, unstable terrain, allow your horse his head, and let him determine the best route. Be ready to allow the reins to slip through your fingers should he take a misstep. He’ll need his freedom to regain his balance.


Patti Schofler is a freelance equestrian sports writer and publicist.  She has written for many major equine magazines and is the author of the Lyons Press book, “Flight Without Wings: The Arabian Horse and the Show World.”  She is a partner in the marketing and public relations firm Dark Horse Media Biz. Patti lives in Petaluma, CA, and is a dressage rider and competitor, and a graduate of the US Dressage Federation “L” judges program.

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