Summer is the ideal season for enjoying trails and giving your horse both exercise and the stimulation of new surroundings. But how do you choose the very best, most enjoyable ride for both you and your horse?
Choosing the Trail
Not all trails are suitable for summer rides. In order to choose a safe and fun trail, consider…
- Fitness and Experience
The trail should be suitable both for you and your horse in terms of fitness level and riding experience. Trails can be a very different experience than riding in an arena or corral, and if you don’t have much trail experience, choose a shorter, easier trail to try at first so both you and your horse can learn how best to ride on trails. Also note any obstacles the trail may have, such as a river or roads to be crossed or steep hills to climb.
- Trail Condition
In early summer, mountain trails may still be muddy and slippery, or could be blocked by rockslides or mud debris from the winter. Open desert trails, however, will be too hot and uncomfortable in mid-summer. Consult with ranger stations or other authorities for updated trail reports to choose a good, firm trail to ride.
- Trail Width
A horse needs a broader trail to feel comfortable than a hiker or biker would. This is especially important later in the season, when narrow trails may be nearly overgrown with summer foliage. A wider trail is also easier to share with other trail-goers, including hikers, dog-walkers, joggers or other riders.
- Trail Popularity
A very popular trail may be busy and crowded, which could make a nervous or inexperienced horse very uncomfortable and skittish. If your horse is not used to others, consider more isolated trails that are far away from popular campgrounds or trailheads. Even a mellow horse could feel overcrowded and irritable in unfamiliar conditions, so choose the trail well for the horse’s personality.
Where a trail goes can be a very important consideration. Do you want a loop ride, or do you want to go to a nice picnic area or pasture to take a break midway through the ride? Learn where different trails go and choose the best option to turn the ride into a full fun experience.
Outfitting Your Horse (And Yourself!)
You’re not ready for a trail ride until you’ve checked your equipment and made sure it is safe and comfortable for you and your horse. Opt for lightweight tack and as little gear as possible on summer trail rides, to keep your horse from sweating excessively. Take along a rag or brush to remove sweat if needed, and a long halter rope can be useful if you’re able to take a longer break at a pasture during the ride. Double-check that all gear is safe and in good repair – you don’t want a broken strap or loose tack during a trail ride. Check your horse’s shoes to be sure they are fitting well and not clogged with debris, and if you will be riding in the evening, add some reflective tape to the tack to stay safe.
Your personal gear also needs to be in good condition before a trail ride. Take along sufficient water and snacks to keep up your energy and alertness, and wear lightweight fabrics that are loose and comfortable. A broad-brimmed hat is essential, as well as any necessary sunscreen or insect repellent so you are comfortable on a longer ride. If you are carrying a cell phone, make sure it is in your pocket or otherwise on your person, not in saddlebags, in case you and your horse are inadvertently separated and you need to call for help.
Enjoying the Trail
When you’re ready to hit the trail, make sure you make the most of every mile!
- Set a comfortable pace for both you and your horse. Stay in control of the animal at all times, not allowing them to charge up hills or balk at easy obstacles.
- Take frequent breaks to rest muscles that aren’t used to trail riding. Use that opportunity to check your gear and make sure nothing has loosened.
- Trust your horse’s instinct for danger. Your horse will feel a change in the trail’s surface or sense a predator before you can, and that instinct can be life-saving.
- Practice good trail etiquette, whether you are riding in a group or by yourself. That includes always respecting others along the trail.
Summer trail rides can be amazing, if you’re properly prepared and ready for the challenge. Time to saddle up!