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Be A Positive Experience

By Lora Goerlich 

Trail time in natural areas can do amazing things for the mind, body, and soul. The common thread connecting all trail users is the desire to explore nature and have fun. As trail users, we have a responsibility to mitigate the effects our presence has on trails, other trail users, and nature. This might include volunteering, contributing monetary donations for trail projects, or even joining a state or local special interest group. But there are other powerful ways all equestrian trail riders can advocate without additional cost, next to zero physical labor, and minimal time commitment. 

Horses on a meadow


Attitude – The affordability of mountain bikes and off-road vehicles in the 1970’s created an insatiable demand for more trails among these two user groups which negatively affected equestrian trails. To this day, equestrians are still being subjected to trail loss, exclusion in new opportunities and blending horse trails with incompatible users. It is understandable why bitter attitudes and cynicism exist within the equestrian trail riding community. Despite all of this, recreational equestrian trail riders must foster meaningful interactions while using public trail systems:

  • Be kind to park staff - unless they are longtime equestrian trail riders, most current staff members are not aware of the issues equestrians have faced over the past fifty+ years.

  • Courtesy - even toward those travelling in different modes. Many non-equestrians do not understand the nuances of our humble and sometimes unpredictable trail partner. When crossing paths with uninformed non-equestrians take a moment to engage in polite conversation if there is an opportunity.

  • Patience - not all park maintenance can happen as quickly as we expect. Budgetary processes, park safety priorities, staffing levels and equipment availability dictate the order of projects from start to finish.

Gratitude – Riders with local access to trails and travelling trail riders… put pen to paper:

  • Highlight positive experiences you've had in parks while riding or enjoying other activities: Remember to include park supervisors, administrators, and the folks who are on the trail doing the hard labor. Emails can get lost in cyberspace so make the initial contact the old-fashioned way.

  • Share positive experiences on social media then tag the park/trail you are supporting.

  • No gifts - agencies funded by taxpayers have restrictions regarding accepting gifts.


Prepare – Whatever the mode, your presence on trails should not negatively impact other park visitors, park personnel, flora/fauna, support facilities, fellow riders, or your mount:

  • Research the wildlife you might encounter when riding in unfamiliar areas, then learn proper ways respond to such encounters.

  • Treat your horse/mule well – investigate trail topography and tread beforehand. Is your horse in proper physical condition to tackle technical terrain with steep elevation changes, rocky tread, or deep sand?

  • Group riding - ride to the ability of the least experienced rider and horse.

  • Map out routes prior to riding in unfamiliar areas. Take a paper map and use a GPS (or GPS application) while riding. Most maps are available online through the agency’s website.

  • Cell service – is there cell service, how is the reception with your current carrier?

  • Hay restrictions - does hay need to be certified weed free? (More common in western states and back country areas)

  • Hunting – is hunting/trapping permitted where you’ll be riding?  If so, what methods are permissible to hunt/trap? Be aware that leg hold traps are still legal in many states with sometimes little oversight as to their placement.

  • Permits - are day/overnight permits, stickers or bridle tags required to ride? Are you required to fill out an itinerary in more remote areas?

  • Be visible - blaze orange and Hi-Vis yellow are great colors to incorporate into riding attire during hunting season or when road riding. Remember to outfit your horse too.

Regulate – Know before you go. Be sure all actions fall strictly in line with established park rules and regulations (which can be found on most agency websites):

  • Operating hours - when does the park open and close? There are no blanket standard opening and closing times between different park agencies.

  • Ride only on designated trails

  • Dogs – are they permitted where you are riding? What are the leash requirements?

  • No alcohol or intoxicants while on the trail. Save it for after you return home or back at camp (if permitted). 

  • Manure removal – what are the requirements at campsites and on paved/shared trails?

  • Trailer manure – take it home, do not clean horse trailers out at staging areas, do not pile around trees and do not scatter it in nearby fields or wooded areas…take it home unless there is a designated manure bunker.

  • Organized group rides – fill out necessary permits for events that take place on park trails and facilities even if parking is off site.

  • Keep it clean- staging areas, trails, restrooms, rest stops, campsites

  • Chain of command – report safety concerns and collaborative, practical ideas to the park liaison; they are your first line of communication. If there is no liaison, communications should begin with the supervisor/manager of that park. Going straight to the top creates dis-trust and shows lack of respect. 

  • Ride only when conditions are optimal. Steer clear of riding during seasonally muddy times to prevent imposed, recurrent, blanket trail closures. 

  • Use only approved structures to tie horses; tying horses to trees, fence rails or other unapproved objects can cause irreversible damage, and deadly scenarios for horses.

There are endless ways to “Be a positive experience”.

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