From the Rider’s Mouth – Preparation and Etiquette for the Trail Rider

Our SLO County world is bursting forth with color and so inviting for numerous riding adventures.

Riding the SLO County trails is a favorite activity of many riders. However we may need to be reminded how to prepare for a trail ride and how to enjoy riding with others.  Here are a few things to keep in mind so you will fully enjoy your time out with others and your horse.

Be Prepared

It’s easy to look out the window in the morning, see a cloudless sky, feel a beautiful breeze and just want to run right out and throw your horse into the trailer to head out on an adventure…but you don’t want to forget the essentials in your eagerness to get out there.  While there are many trail options that are “close to civilization” (and aid if needed), there are those cases where you’ll find yourself enjoying a ride off the beaten track. 

Remember that anything can happen while you’re out there, so you’ll want to stay prepared.  These three simple items that fit nicely in a small saddle bag or waist pouch could really come in handy.  What are they, you ask?


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Items You Should Carry

cell phone carrier

First, make sure to carry a cell phone with you at all times.  You want to keep this on your person, not in a saddle bag, just in case something happens and you find yourself on the ground with a horse that has decided to blaze its own trail without you.  Seconds count in this situation, so having a way to phone for help is essential.

Second, you need identification…on your person and on your horse.  Imagine the worst happens and you find yourself out on the trail with your horse running in the opposite direction, or (and we hope this never happens) you are injured out on the trail.  You and your horse have been separated and someone comes upon you or your horse to render aid…they will need a way to identify you.  So, carry two cards with your name, address, phone number and an emergency contact – keep one on your person and one attached to your horse.  This could save both of your lives.

Water for you is essential. You’ll especially be thankful if you encounter a problem and are out on the the trail longer than anticipated. Water bottles can be stored in a saddle bag or in a special water bottle carrier.  A snack or two is good to have along as well.

There are numerous styles and sizes of saddle bags to fit your needs and your particular saddle. You will be glad you can have items along with you, that are stored securely on your saddle.

A pocketknife can come in handy as a tool for hoof or equipment issues. This horseman’s 5-in-1 pocket knife is designed specifically for the equestrian.

There is a chance that an injury to your horse could occur while out on the trail.  You’re a mile from your horse trailer and you need to be able to patch things up as best you can to get to safety.  Place a roll of vet wrap, in your saddle bag to patch things up as you head home.

Also it’s good to consider carrying with you an extra layer of clothing. Especially if you are in an area that cools quickly or if you are out for most of the day.

Trail Etiquette

There is nothing worse than getting ready for a great ride, meeting up with friends for the first time this season, and then having something happen that makes it so that your “friends” no longer want to ride with you.  It’s tough to hear, but you have a responsibility to your riding buddies to make sure that you or your horse doesn’t create a situation that could pose a problem.  In talking with a few local riders, there were two things that came up in each conversation.

The first trail etiquette must…a horse that is in good enough shape to go the distance.  One rider explained,

“I cleared my calendar to go riding with a friend a couple weeks ago.  We planned for a four-mile loop, and I have been riding throughout the winter and knew my horse was in good enough shape to handle it.  My riding buddy assured me that she and her horse could handle it as well, so we set off from the trail head near Montana de Oro. 

It became apparent about a half mile in that her horse was having trouble; he was sweating excessively, lagging behind and just looked uncomfortable.  I asked what the problem was, and she admitted that she hadn’t ridden him out for the last three months, and in fact hadn’t ridden him at all more than a handful of times during the winter.  It wasn’t 30 minutes before we were heading back to the trailer to go home, and my day was basically ruined.”

This is a common problem; riders don’t realize that a horse who has spent tine loafing in a stall or in pasture just might not be “legged up” enough to go the distance.  So, before you make plans for a big ride, start riding at least a few times a week and work things up slowly.

The second trail etiquette must…a horse that is controllable and non-disruptive.  One rider explained,

“I met a new friend over the winter during the rainy season.  She had just gotten a new horse who she swore was a ‘bomb proof’ trail mount, and she herself said that she was an experienced rider.  When the time came, we set a date for a ride, met up at a local trail head, and as soon as she backed the gelding out of the trailer I knew we were going to have trouble. 

He danced around while being saddled, she couldn’t mount from the ground, so we had to find a tree stump for her to get on, and no more than 10 minutes into the ride, her gelding was so far up my mare’s behind that my mare gave him a swift kick – which is very out of character, but she was tired of being bumped, pushed and generally having her space invaded. 

My ‘friend’ had a look of terror on her face the entire time with a death grip on the saddle horn and reins that were far too long, and I suggested we go back to the trailer after about 20 minutes of riding.  The thing is that her gelding is really quite nice, and he would be a great trail horse with some miles and a rider who could control him…but the two just weren’t a match.  I won’t be riding with her again until she gets things sorted out.”


As horsemen (and women) we want to make friends, and there is nothing worse than making new friends and then being black listed from a riding group because we can’t control our horses in a given situation.  Be sure that before you embark upon a trail ride, that you have a good sense of your horse, their condition, attitude and can control any bad behaviors that may crop up. 

All horses have bad days, and if yours is having one, you have to be able to stay back from the group and deal with the situation without disrupting the rest of the riders around you.  Remember, trainers and lessons aren’t just for those people competing in the show ring; trail riders need help too.  Be sure that if you have any issues with your horse that you get the proper help before heading out on the trail.

Spacing Etiquette

No one enjoys having the rider behind them race up and crash into their horse’s back side. This action could also result in a swift quick kick out, creating a dangerous situation for you and the offending horse and rider. So be sure you leave at least a horse’s body length between you and the horse in front of you.

Be aware of how your action impacts the horses behind you. This is especially important when riding downhill. Be courteous and wait for the horses behind you when going from downhill to uphill so you don’t cause the horses behind to panic on being left and consequently race down the hill to catch up.

The same goes for riding in a more open area like the beach. If you are galloping past, splashing in the water, your action could be causing another horse to become tense, flighty and want to buck. Please be considerate.


So, remember the above tips, be safe out on the trail, and get ready for incredible trail riding adventures with your horse and your friends!

Photo credit (except product photos): Sharon Jantzen


Get Going! Explore the wonder and beauty of the SLO County trails from the best place on earth, the back of a horse. To keep this info at your fingertips we have developed a FREE Hot Sheet that will direct you to these these stories. We’ll continue to add trail ride stories to our website. You can stay up-to-date by becoming a SLO Horse News herd member. Get your Riding the SLO County Trails Hot Sheet here >.


Just so you know, clicking the above picture and product links takes you to the product on the Riding Warehouse website. This makes shopping easy and convenient for you. We do get a little kick-back from items purchased, giving us resources to bring you more stories, but your price stays the same. It’s a win-win! Also for local riders you can skip the delivery charge by ordering items online and request pick-up – during checkout – at the Riding Warehouse store in San Luis Obispo. Happy Trails!

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