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Trail Riding With Your Horse

Trail riding is a fun, relaxing activity, and can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of owning a horse. Keep in mind, though, as with any other activity, your horse will need to be trained and conditioned to become a great trail horse. Here's how you can prepare and stay safe when you hit the trails.

Is Your Horse Fit For Trail Riding?
Before a season of trail riding, see your equine veterinarian for a check-up. Ask your veterinarian what vaccines your horse might need, which may be dependent on what diseases are prevalent in your region, and whether or not you will be traveling with your horse.

Depending on the length and intensity of your trail rides, you may or may not need to condition your horse. For short rides over smooth terrain that span just a few miles, a healthy horse should do just fine. However, it is just as important to have your horse mentally conditioned to the stress of unpredictable trail conditions as it is to have them physically conditioned for the journey.

Prepare For Obstacles
While you cannot prepare your horse for absolutely everything that you'll encounter on the trail, you can practice riding over and around obstacles in the arena. These exercises will teach your horse to trust you and take direction from you even when they feel unsure of their surroundings.

Ride with a loose rein when you're on the trails and when you're preparing for trail riding in the arena. Your horse should have adequate leeway to look around, watch their step, and stay steady on their feet.

When your horse hesitates to go into water or to walk around an obstacle, always give them adequate time to work up the confidence to move forward. Give your horse as much time as they need to use their eyes and nose to investigate the water or the strange object.

Group Trail Riding
If you and your horse are new to trail riding, you can both benefit from riding with a group. The group leader will know the area so you will not have to worry about getting lost, and watching other horses pass around and over obstacles can help your horse learn to navigate.

Before you head out to the trails, you can ride together in an arena to feel out which horses are more comfortable leading, and which ones are more comfortable at the back of the group. Many groups have rules and etiquette that you and your horse must follow. For example, when someone needs to stop, you and your horse should stop too, as horses tend to get anxious when they feel left behind by their group.

What To Bring On A Trail Ride
You're almost ready to hit the trails. There are a few things you will need, even if you're only planning a short journey. Always bring more water than you think you'll need, plus snacks for both you and your horse.

Check the weather before you go, and bring rain gear if it might rain. Stay home if there's a chance of thunder.

Bring your cell phone and make sure it is fully charged. Keep it in a secure pocket or belt holster, not the saddlebag, so you'll have access to it if you are separated from your horse.

Put together a first aid kit that includes supplies for both you and your horse. You can include bandages, a thermometer, Benadryl, saline, and antibiotic ointment. You may also want to bring a hoof pick, hoof boots, and an emergency blanket.

Always cut the adventure short and head home if your horse's mood seems off, if it gets too hot out, or if there's any other risk of injury or danger. Safety comes first, and the trails will always be there another day.