Carey Williams, Ph.D., Extension Specialist in Equine Management & Janice Elsishans, Trails Representative, New Jersey Horse Council
When trail riding, everyone needs to be aware of not only safety concerns for the rider and the horse but also courtesy for other trail users. All safety precautions and tips on riding should be practiced. However, additional practices apply specifically to trail riding; be it individual or group, short or long distance, for fun, or for competition. These topics are covered in this fact sheet.
Out on the Trail
It is best not to ride alone. If you do, tell someone where you are going, and what time you expect to be back. Consider carrying a whistle or cell phone to use in case of an emergency. It takes less effort to blow a whistle than to yell for help.
Consider attaching an ID tag to your horse when trail riding. The tag should include the horse’s name, your name, and your cell phone number. Should you become separated from your horse and you are some distance from home, a cell phone number will aid anyone who has caught your horse in reuniting it with you.
Carry a current map of the area and have an idea where you are going. Study the area around you, noting landmarks. Occasionally look behind you to help recognize the trail for your return. Use fluorescent clothespins to clip to branches along the trail to help mark your return. Remember to remove the markers on the return trip. Some riders find a GPS (Global Positioning System) unit to be helpful in keeping track of where they have ridden.
Stay on designated/marked trails. Do not ride horses at a pace greater than a walk on muddy trails. You should cross rivers, creeks, or wetland only in designated areas to guard against adverse impact on the environment and for the safety of you and your horse. Good riding etiquette prevents land abuse and destruction. If you ride on federal or state lands, ask the park officials for their advice on the best trails to take or if there are any map changes. Ride only on lands offered for public or private use where you have permission to ride.
After a trail ride, let the agency in charge know your comments—help pinpoint a trail maintenance issue or say “thank you”. Fill out and mail a “Trail Rider’s Comment Card” postcard.
Horse and Tack Considerations
Your horse and its safety should be your number one priority.
- Make sure your horse is conditioned for the speed, distance, and terrain of the trail.
- Start your rides with clean, properly fitted tack.
- Make sure the horse’s hooves are in good condition and properly shod for the terrain.
- Clean and examine your tack for signs of wear after each ride.
- Carry duct tape or an easy boot (that fits the horse) for emergencies like a pulled shoe or sole bruise.
- Consider carrying a halter, lead rope, and hoof pick.
The toughest weather condition on a horse is hot, humid weather. Serious injury can result if the horse is exercised beyond the point of fatigue. On long, hot and humid rides carry a sponge on a length of rope. This makes it easy to drop the sponge in water to refresh or cool your horse. Walk the horse the last two miles of the trail ride and NEVER run back to the barn or trailhead!
Pay attention to several indicators of physical condition to prevent the horse from breaking down. These indicators include the general attitude and behavior of the horse, muscle and bone soreness, heart and respiration rate, condition of the feet, and body temperature.
Normal resting values:
- Temperature: 99–101°F
- Pulse: 36–42 beats per minute
- Respiration: 8–15 breaths per minute
Courtesy on the Trail
If you stop for lunch, make sure your horse is resting in a safe place both for the horse and for other trail users. Stay with your horse and be considerate of other trail users. If it is permissible to have the horses rest off the trail, do not tie your horse directly to a tree. Use two lightweight 8-foot lines with panic snaps and secure your horse between two trees. This will prevent the horse from chewing the bark and damaging the root system. Leave what you find and carry out what you packed. If you do stop for a rest on a long ride, remember to loosen the girth or cinch and tighten it before remounting.
Water should be offered to a horse at any available point on the trail if the trail permits horse access. If there is no access, do not attempt to enter the water. Entering rivers or streams in undesignated areas can cause damage to the environment, be unsafe for the horse, and possibly result in the trail being closed to horses.
At the trailhead or when using a public park, please be considerate of other users and clean up any manure. Do not toss manure from your trailer into the bushes unless you have asked the proper officials if this is acceptable.
Trail Riding Safety
Helmets should always be worn:
ASTM/SEI approved helmets must be properly fitted and fastened whenever mounted. Consider updating your helmet after a fall where the helmet takes a hit, long exposure to sunlight, or every seven years.
Horses that are young or new to trails can learn from seasoned trail horses:
Surround the novice horse with two or three seasoned horses when dealing with a troubling situation.
Consider the safety of other trail users:
Horses may not understand that a hiker with a large backpack, floppy hat, or a fishing rod is still a person. Horses can also perceive bicycles and strollers as dangerous objects.
Initiate a conversation with other trail users:
A little time spent talking to other trail users can be beneficial to keeping multi-use trails open to horses.
Horse and Traffic Laws
Know the law and know your horse. Listed below are New Jersey traffic laws you should be aware of. You have rights and you have responsibilities:
39:4–25. Lamps on Animal-drawn Vehicles
Every vehicle drawn by a horse or other beast shall carry, during the period from thirty minutes after sunset and thirty minutes before sunrise, and when fog renders it impossible to see a long distance, at least one lighted lamp on the front of the vehicle. The lamp shall show a white light and shall be of such a nature and so displayed that it may be seen from a point at least five hundred feet distant in the direction toward which the vehicle is proceeding. There shall be attached to the rear of the vehicle two lighted lamps showing a red light visible for a distance of at least five hundred feet in the direction from which the vehicle is proceeding.
39:4–25.1. Rights and Duties of Persons Riding or Driving Animals
Every person riding an animal or driving any animal-drawn vehicle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by chapter four of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes and all supplements thereto, except those provisions thereof which by their very nature can have no application.
39:4–72. Operating Motor Vehicle Near Horses; Violation and Penalties
- When approaching or passing a person riding or driving a horse, a person driving a motor vehicle shall reduce the vehicle’s speed to a rate not exceeding 25 miles an hour and proceed with caution. At the request of or upon a signal by putting up the hand or otherwise, from a person riding or driving a horse in the opposite direction, the motor vehicle driver shall cause the motor vehicle to stop and remain stationary so long as may be necessary to allow the horse to pass.
- The administrator shall include in the New Jersey Driver’s Manual information explaining the requirements of subsection a. of this section and cautioning licensees on the need to exercise caution when operating a motor vehicle near horses.
- A person who violates subsection a. of this section shall be subject to a fine of $150.
NOTE: Carry a pen and paper to note the vehicle, the license number, and location of any incident involving motor vehicles. You need to act within 30 days. Take a copy of this law with you to the municipal court where the incident happened. All municipal courts are where citizen complaints begin, whether or not there is property damage or personal injury. In towns with no police department and municipal court, call the County Prosecutor’s Office to find out where citizen complaints for that town are to be filed.
After a ride, the horse’s welfare should be your main concern.
- Take good care of your horse and it will treat you to many more enjoyable rides.
- Cool down your horse before removing the saddle.
- Once untacked, groom your horse at least in the areas where sweat has left marks.
- Allow saddle pads to dry, clean the girth area, and examine legs and feet for injuries.
- In extreme weather conditions, take extra precautions to protect your horse. If it is humid or hot, you should consider a longer cool down time; if it is cold or windy, think about placing a heavy beach towel or blanket over the horse’s back.
With all of these considerations in mind, you are ready to experience the pleasure and challenge of a trail ride. When the rider knows and practices common sense, safety, and consideration for others on the trail, both the horse and rider enjoy the ride.
New Jersey Horse Trails Booklet-Phase I. Published by the New Jersey Horse Council. For more information contact the New Jersey Horse Council at 25 Beth Drive, Moorestown, NJ 08057-3021; Phone: 609-231-0771; E-mail: NJHorse@aol.com; Website: www.njhorsecouncil.com.
Zatz, Arlene. 2004. Horsing Around in New Jersey: The Horse Lover’s Guide to Everything Equine. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.
Wood, G. W. 2002. Thoughts on Horses, Horsemen, Trails, and Conservation. Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. Clemson University, Clemson, SC.