Mind Your Trail Manners

Trail Riding
Photo: Des Blenkinsopp/CC BY SA 2.0

A trail ride with friends is one of the most relaxing activities you can do on horseback. But that is only if you and your friends observe good trail manners while you are out and about.

Following good trail manners is vital to having a safe, fun and relaxing ride. Riders who ignore or are not aware of the rules of trail etiquette not only jeopardize the safety of other riders, but also become unpopular trail partners.

Here is a list of basic trail manners and the reasons they are important:

  • Keep at least one horse’s length between and you and the horse in front of you. Many horses don’t appreciate having another horse’s nose in their rump, and some will kick in retaliation. Staying one length back keeps horses safe and happy.
  • Don’t trot or gallop past another rider. Horses have a strong herd instinct, and if you speed past the horse in front of you, odds are that horse is going to bolt and take off after you in an attempt to keep up. Slow to a walk when passing other trail users. Also, ask fellow trail riders if they want to trot or canter before doing so.
  • Don’t leave a water source until all the horses are finished drinking. The equine herd instinct dictates that when one horse leaves the drinking area, the other horses follow. In trail riding situations, it’s vital that horses drink all the water they can, especially if the weather is hot. Don’t disturb another horse’s drink by leaving the water before he’s finished.
  • Make sure you have complete control of your horse before you go out on a trail ride. If you have a nervous, hard-to-handle horse, learn how to control him before you expose him to other horses. A spooky horse often spreads his anxiety to other horses on the ride.
  • On multi-use trails livestock traditionally have the right of way, but don’t assume that this is always the case. Courtesy, common sense and good judgment are essential to safely sharing the trail. Use care approaching hikers or bikers—and remember they may not be familiar with horses. If there’s any doubt, communicate to them about the safest way to pass, and be friendly and considerate.
  • As a final note, always thank a fellow trail user who yields the right of way.

Audrey Pavia is the author of “Horses for Dummies.” She has enjoyed many trail rides.

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Audrey Pavia is a freelance writer and the author of Horses for Dummies. She lives in Norco, Calif., with her two registered Spanish Mustangs, Milagro and Rio.


  1. This article is perfect for everyone! I have ridden a lot of trail rides and have had terrible experiences because of riders who don’t know trail manners. It really takes the fun out of riding in a group. The one thing i think this article fails to mention is the speed of the trail ride: The group should only travel as fast as it’s slowest rider, that way no one gets left behind or split up. Thanks for the article!!!!

  2. This is a great article for new riders.
    Myself I encourage people to gallop past me unannounced as it gives me opportunity to train my horse for such situations as an out of control horse. I used to get angry with undisciplined riders who would race their horses with no warning.Then decided that since I cannot control the other riders and their horses It would be best to simply train mine. Now my horses know how to stay calm no matter what the others on the ride are doing.

  3. I was on a trail and the horse I was riding went on a dead run, no amount of pulling back helped, I asked him to go “easy” and then “whoa” and he was not listening. HELP! What could I have done differently? Nothing had scared him, the other horse started running and then that is when my horse started running like a banche.

  4. Marie in Ogden, I hope you see this, as it has been a while since you asked the question. Have someone show you the emergency stop and practice it before going out on the trail again. Basically, you slide one hand down the rein toward the horses head and slowly but firmly pull their head around to their side. They can’t run if their head is turned. If you jerk their head to the side, you may throw the horse off balance and both of you could end up laying on the ground. Good luck, and safe riding!
    Also should say that these are GREAT rules to ride by on the trail. The problem is that many people don’t know how to keep their horses nose out of the rear of the horse ahead of them. Pulling on the horse’s mouth isn’t the answer!


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