It is a great time of the year on the Central Coast to get out on the trails and explore the wildflower laden and emerald green terrain. Just be ready and safe so your experience is the best. Here are a few tips to be sure you and your horse are ready to ride the trails.
Ride, Ride, Ride Your Horse
Over the years I have been in more than one trail ride group, and lots of the groups have a spring ride. The biggest mistake I have seen is that many of the horses are not fit for longer rides. This puts a horse in danger of tying up, especially if the weather is warm and the trail is mountainous. Tying up occurs when the muscles become overworked. Get your horse fit by riding as frequently as possible before going on your spring ride.
Make sure you do sufficient warm up and cool down in addition to long totting and loping. A good rule of thumb is to work your horse at least until you see some sweat on their neck. I try to ride a minimum of every other day if possible when getting ready for a trail ride. If your horse is not fit, do not opt to go on the longer more difficult ride of more than 2 or 3 hours. Stick to the 2 hour or less leisurely ride until you feel your horse can handle the more strenuous trail and/or longer length of time.
I also find that a consistent riding schedule keeps my horse more settled down and happy. Horses on group rides that have not been out for a long while can get skittish, spooky, and overly energetic. If your horse even seems that way, lunge him or her before attempting to join the group.
Take Care of Your Horse’s Feet
Make sure your farrier has trimmed and possibly shod your trail horse. If his hooves are chipped and/or cracked, it’s time to get the farrier out. If the area where you plan to ride is quite rocky, you will want to either have shoes on your horse or bring trail boots to protect the soles of his feet.
There are a variety of trail boots on the market. Make sure you have measured and properly fitted the boots to your horse’s front hooves. Ill fitting boots will rub raw the bulbs of the heels. There are inner gloves you can buy to fit inside the trail boot to help prevent rubbing. Wrapping the foot with vet wrap over the bulb helps in a pinch too. Some horses have especially sensitive and thin frogs, so they easily go lame. Your farrier can put pads on their front hooves with shoes to keep them sound.
Nothing is more exasperating than paying money and anticipating a wonderful trail ride only to have your horse go lame. So do everything you can to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Clean and Inspect Your Saddle and Bridle
On your bridle, if you have Chicago screws, tighten them. Otherwise they can become unscrewed and fall off. Replace leather pieces that look like they might break. Leather can get dry and break off, so oiling the leather on both your bridle and saddle will help prolong its usefulness.
If you have leather cinch straps, be sure to check those for tears and cracks too. Replace them if necessary. The last thing you want is for your cinch to come undone on a trail ride. Back cinches are great for going downhill so your saddle doesn’t tip up. For going uphill, breast collars help to keep your saddle from slipping back. Use a breast collar that is not too thin or tight on the horse’s chest. They can cut into the skin. Place the Y of the collar at the Y in the horse’s chest. Place 4 fingers or so underneath to check for tightness. You also don’t want it hanging too low.
Keep Your Trailer Operational
- Lights – Always check your lights (turn signals, brake lights, running lights). If your lights are not working, find someone to help you troubleshoot the electrical and replace light bulbs. The plug for the electrical system should be kept clean somehow. Spiders and dirt and compromise the flow of electricity from your truck to the trailer.
- Brakes and wheel bearings – If you haven’t had your brakes checked in a long time and had your wheel bearings re-packed, make an appointment to have this done. The general recommendation is to pack the wheel bearings every 5000 miles. That is a good time to have the brakes checked. When your trailer is hooked to your vehicle, test your brakes by pushing the lever on your brake control. If they are locking up, you will need to adjust them to a softer level. If you are locking up on one side only, you may have a short and they need to be looked at.
- Tires – Look at the tread on your tires and also look for cracks. If there are cracks or if your tires are balding, it is time to replace them. Even if they have plenty of tread on them, a general rule is if your tires are older than 10 years, replace them. Don’t forget to check the air pressure in your tires and fill to the recommended level. Sometimes your tires look like they have enough air until you put a couple of horses in the trailer.
- Floor boards – Pull up the mats on the inside of your trailer to be sure the floorboards look strong and not rotting from being wet. If they are rotting and degraded, they need to be replaced before trailering any horses.
Follow these tips to help you and your horse be ready for a fun and safe time before during and after your trail ride. See you on the trails!
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Cover Photo: Sharon Jantzen
Story Photos: Charlotte Gorton
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 >.