'To make the most of your trail riding adventures, be prepared and take precautions. '
There are few places in the USA that offer such inspiring and spectacular scenery than New Mexico. To make the most of your trail riding adventures, be prepared and take precautions. Most of all, be courteous and friendly to your fellow trail users. You create the image that hiker or biker will have about all horsemen in the future.
Most importantly: don’t get too hung up on protocol. Many people you meet on the trail may not know the trail convention that everyone yields to horses, or have had any prior exposure to horses. Even though hikers and bikers are supposed to yield to horse traffic, whenever you can, step your horse off the trail and stand at a right angle facing the trail. You may have the right of way, but it’s friendlier and makes the other trail users feel more comfortable if you yield when you can, plus this is the safest position for your horse to be in.
Go out of your way to talk to the people you are passing even when you are in the middle of a conversation with other riders in your group. Just commenting on the weather, wind, or whatever is an icebreaker. Also, horses are less likely to be suspect if they hear conversation taking place back and forth. Complement their animals, if they have any. If your horse is friendly and calm ask if a kid would like to pat the horse, or if they would like you to stand for a minute so their dog might be introduced to horses.
When passing people going in the same direction, never overtake them by surprise. The best approach is to call out a greeting from behind so they know you are there. If it is a wide area and you think you can safely pass, always tell the people your intentions verbally with enough time so they can react or prepare (e.g. “coming thru on your left”; “I’d like to scoot by on your right”). Never lope up on, or past a group of riders that might be green or that has green horses. Many unfinished horses will bolt.
Preparing for the Trail
Groundwork, groundwork, groundwork. Be prepared to be out there. Begin at home to introduce scary things (by driving, rather than leading) then progressing to obstacles from the saddle. Recruit a friend with a bicycle, stroller, or yappy dog. Create a mud hole as a water obstacle and use a blue tarp on the ground for de-sensitizing. Also, practicing one-rein stops, vocal commands, balanced seat, etc. will keep you safer on trail. Discuss with your friends, where your horse might have issues so they are aware. Do some "training rides" with sympathetic friends exposing your horse to some of the same obstacles practiced at home. While you should not expect your friends to help you trail-break your horse, everyone needs a sound lead horse to introduce a younger/less experienced horse or rider to trail surprises.
Choose the right trail. Green horses might need to work up to busy, multi-use trails on a weekend. On trail, look ahead and to the sides to anticipate problems. Avoid tail-gating or lagging behind if possible. If any rider spots a dog, car, bicyclist, etc., they should call to the rest of the party. Talk to the other user, be friendly, stay calm, smile. Every ride is a training session.
Lastly, don’t get out there until your horse is in condition, the is horse properly fitted with hoof gear for the terrain you will encounter, and be sure to offer your horse drinking water before, during and after a ride.
Discussing Horses with Fellow Trail Users
If you have friends that bike or hike, share with them these keys to preventing horse flare-ups:
1. If you see a horse coming, do not to hide behind trees or rocks. Horses interpret this as stalking and it will spook even the most seasoned horse.
2. Keep talking – let the horse(s) hear human voices so they know there is nothing to be afraid of.
3. Ask if you might pet a horse before you approach it.
4. Manage all dogs. Unleashed dogs that are not familiar with horses react in many ways – most of which can be scary to a horse.
Once prepared, get out there, have fun, and enjoy all the landscapes New Mexico has to offer.
Special thanks to Karen Denison, Beth Longanecker, Betsy Walker and Jarratt Applewhite for their input of valuable trail information.