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Model Rules for Trail Riders

by Anna Gibson, CEO of ELCR
Denise O’Meara, Editor
February 22, 2013

Riders on the trail credit Caledonia Conservancy

Caledonia Conservancy riding club. Photo courtesy of Caledonia Conservancy.

Trail riding reconnects us with the land and with our heritage.  Riding across the countryside offers a connection to nature and wildlife that is usually beyond human reach. The further we go into back country, the more we can immerse ourselves in nature. In comparison, trails located near community greenways and parks, private woodlands and reserves, and state and national forests can all provide us with an authentic and often sublime experience.  However, it is imperative that trail riders have and obey clear rules for usage in order to ensure that trails – and access to them – will be available for future generations.

Horses, when handled responsibly, can be very compatible users of natural areas. They do not disrupt wildlife corridors and their impact can easily be managed to be complimentary to preservation of the natural area.  In sensitive natural areas, this harmony is only achieved by following rules set out by land managers.

Join The Club!

There are a lot of good reasons to join a trail club or organization. You may be interested in riding a particular trail system, but you may be new to the area, unsure of the rules, or don’t know if you’re allowed to use certain trails. Contacting or joining a local club will help out. There are some other very important things that a trail club or organization does and can do:

  • The local trail club has probably established good relationships, legal agreements and waiver procedures that allow members or only members of their club to ride certain private land trails.
  • They may have discussed and worked out arrangements for liability insurance or ensured the owner about state recreation laws that may shelter the owner from liability.
  • They will likely have established rules for trail behavior that must be followed by their members.
  • They may provide member training in trail behavior techniques such as Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly, amongst others.
  • They may have training available in trail design and trail maintenance and organize volunteer maintenance opportunities.
  • The club will likely post conditions of the trail on a regular basis throughout the year and advise members when they can and cannot use a portion or all of the trail.
  • Additionally, the club or organization may be the first line of communication and action when access to or building new trails or trail connections becomes an issue to be addressed.

Trails access and behavior rules are tailored to meet the specific conditions of a trail or system. Those conditions may include landowner and land manager expectations, the needs of other trail users, topographic conditions and maintenance requirements. The model rules for trail riders offered below outline the basic expected behavior and precautions that trail clubs and organizations should consider when setting rules for trail riders.

Rules for Trail Riders

Trail Crossing sign credit Deb Balliet

Know where to go and obey signage on the trail. Photo by Deb Balliet.

  • Check out trail conditions in advance by checking in with the property manager or the property’s website, or with your trail club or organization, to find out about trail conditions, closures and other scheduled uses that may impact your ride.
  • Make sure you have the appropriate testing and paperwork for your horse, especially when travelling from county to county and state to state.
  • Double check to ensure that you and your horse are mentally and physically prepared for the fun and challenge of the trail ride. Check that ALL others in your party are equally prepared.
  • Map your trail ride.
  • Ensure that someone knows where you are riding and when you expect to return.
  • Plan out and bring adequate equine and human feed, water, equipment and gear, emergency supplies, communication and lighting devices for all members of your party, as needed for your trail ride.
  • Plan to carry out everything that you bring in, and then some. Bring bags and containers to accomplish this.

At the Trailhead:

  • Park you trailer and unloading and saddle your horses only in signed and marked areas.
  • Secure horses at the trailhead with enough space to provide a safe passing distance for other traffic in the parking area.
  • Be sure to carry a current copy of a negative Coggins test for each horse in your party.
  • Remove manure and other waste from the parking area.  Dispose of it in designated containers or by taking back to your farm or stable.
  • Review a map of your destination to remind you of which areas are open to horses and which are not.
  • Again, be sure to carry adequate water and emergency supplies for your planned ride.
Stream Crossing credit Urban Hennery photos

Pay attention to trail conditions and respect stream crossings to prevent degradation. Photo courtesy of Urban Hennery photos.

  • Ride on designated trails and areas specifically marked for horse usage. Use a Horses Only trail when you have a choice of trails.
  • Know and obey right-of-way rules for the trail.
  • Obey all signs and respect any barriers or blockades limiting access to specific areas.
  • Be prepared to share the trail. Be considerate to others who are seeking the same relaxation and recreation as you.
  • Communicate politely with other users. Explain what needs to be done to keep everyone safe when you meet other users on the trail.  Be ready to answer their questions in a way that will make them happy to encounter horses on the trail.
  • Be aware of other trail users and always slow to a walk if you are approaching another user.
  • Avoid sensitive areas and wet or muddy trails.
  • Water horses only in areas where the stream bed and banks can withstand that activity. Do not allow horses to paw or disturb streambeds.
  • Carry all of your trash out with you.  And then some.
  • Make sure that all riders under the age of 16 are accompanied by an adult.
  • Keep an eye out for and report any trail damage or dangers.

Camping on the trail or at the trailhead or campground?

There is a whole additional set of rules for camping with your horses. These organizations and agencies offer training, searchable information, publications and other assistance to help you plan your horse camping activities in a sustainable and safe way. For additional information, refer to:

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