Selecting a Trail Riding Destination
Trail riding offers both pleasure and competitive fun for horse and rider.
From scenic tours to competitive races, trail riding is an activity that offers something for everyone. Whether you are riding with your own trail horse or riding a rented hrose on vacation, it is important to consider a number of factors when selecting a destination. Preparing before you hit the trail will ensure that you and your trail horse have a safe and enjoyable experience.
Some trail riding locations offer a variety of trails that include different levels of difficulty and distances. In addition, some trails are well-marked, and others are not. When riding in a new area, its a good idea to go with someone who is familiar with the trails. Also, make sure that you and your horse are up for the trail ride. If you ride your horse only on weekends, you don't want to start out on a 20-mile trail ride. In addition, if you are riding in a rocky, mountainous, or muddy location, you may want to consider shoes for your horse. For information on state parks that offer equestrian trails, search for "horse trails" along with the location you are interested in.
When selecting a destination for trail riding, consider the following:
Are you and your horse in shape for the type of trails offered?
Do you and your horse have enough experience to ride the trails?
Will your horse need shoes?
How long will you ride?
How far do you want to travel to ride?
Does the location offer stabling or camping sites?
Will you need reservations to trail ride?
Are there restrictions on feed or hay?
Organized rides are a wonderful way for trail riders to meet other people with a shared passion for nature and horses. They are also a good option for less-experienced trail riders to learn more about trail riding and often offer the added safety of riding with a guide.
Breed, Discipline and Youth Associations
Organized trail rides through various equestrian associations take place throughout the year all across the United States and. The American Trail Horse Association (ATHA) can help you find a member organization in your community. By becoming a member of ATHA, you can participate in a mileage program and levels program to improve your horsemanship on the trail. In addition, ATHA is open to any equine breed and has started a great youth program, so there is something for everyone.
Other equine breed and discipline associations also offer organized trail rides and trail riding programs for their members. The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) hosts over 100 trail rides annually around the world. Trail riders who are AQHA members can also participate in the Horseback Riding Program. Riders participating in the Horseback Riding Program earn points for every hour on horseback logged in. Riders can receive a variety of awards cumulating with a silver belt buckle recognizing 5,000 hours spent in the saddle.
For younger riders, youth organizations like 4-H , Pony Club , and Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts teach trail riding skills and sponsor-organized trail rides. Trail riding is a great way to teach youth horsemanship skills as well as life skills. These youth organizations all stress safety, horsemanship skill improvement, animal welfare, environmental conservation and group cooperation.
Dude Ranches, Renting and Outfitting
For those who do not own a horse or are on a “horseless” vacation, there are a number of opportunities for trail riding. For example, dude ranches normally offer lodging, meals and different riding opportunities for their guests, such as cattle drives and trail riding through scenic areas.
Other tourist destinations often have horse rentals in the area. Riders can experience the beach or unique terrain from the vantage point of horseback. Look for rental establishments that provide helmets and a guide to ensure safety. You should never overestimate your level of riding experience to the guide. Be sure to listen to your guide and enjoy the ride at the pace the guide deems appropriate.
If you are looking for a longer equestrian adventure, “outfitters” organize pack trips, supply horses or mules for people to ride in mountainous and remote areas of the U.S. These trips often include camping and having meals on the trail. One popular destination, the Grand Canyon, is a place where you definitely want to rent an experienced animal to take care of you in the rough terrain.
If you would like to plan an equestrian adventure, visit the EquiTrekking website and plan your trip around these unique equestrian opportunities offered around the world.
Dude ranches provide an opportunity for people to ride who may not own horses but enjoy horses and riding. Dude ranches often offer their guests opportunities to take part in activities like driving or rounding up cattle. Source: Flickr_mama gretch
Competitive Trail Riding
Competitive trail riding is a sport where horse and rider travel over 20 – 100 miles of marked trails and finish within a given time frame. Throughout the ride, horses are evaluated for soundness and conditioning. The goal of the competition is to finish the ride in the given time parameters with the best-conditioned mount while demonstrating good horsemanship skills.
Competitive trail riding challenges a rider to train and condition the horse for endurance over a variety of riding conditions. In addition, the rider must be in great shape to ride for long distances in all types of climate. The definitive association for competitive trail rides is the North American Trail Riding Conference.
Considered the “marathon for horses,” endurance rides consist of a pre-marked and measured trail covering 50 miles per day over a variety of terrain. Unlike competitive trail riding, endurance riders want to finish the race first and still have their horses pass the final fitness evaluation. Like the competitive rides, there are check stops throughout the competition to ensure that the horses are sound of wind and limb to continue the race.
Both endurance and competitive trail riders must have the time commitment not only to physically condition and train their horses, but also to keep themselves fit and educated about the many aspects involved in training these elite equine athletes, including nutrition, exercise physiology, and health-care.
Rider goes over Couger Rock on the Tevis Cup Race in California. Source: Wikimedia_Indian_Joe
Another enjoyable trail riding event is orienteering. Mounted orienteering is basically a mounted treasure hunt in which whoever finds the most objects in the quickest time wins. There may be between 5 to 10 stations where plates are hidden. The terrain can cover between 8 to 24 miles, depending on the level of competition. The riders simply need to know how to read a map and compass. If riders speed through the stations too fast, they will likely miss important clues. Orienteering is a great family sport found throughout the country. For more information and to find orienteering meets near you, visit the National Association of Competitive Mounted Orienteering website.
Trail trials are another way of competing with your trail horse and showing your and your horse’s skills on the trail. Trail trials encompass a natural obstacle course over several miles of a mapped trail. A horse and rider team is judged on the ability to negotiate 10 - 12 obstacles calmly and safely over the duration of a ride. Horses are judged on their willingness and precision to negotiate obstacles commonly found on the trail. Riders are judged on their basic trail riding skills and their attention to detail, such as ensuring that the saddle cinch is secure.
The California State Horsemen’s Association sponsors trail trials, many taking place in the rugged canyons of California. Trail trials are open to any equine breed, and any riding style can be used. Trail trials are not a timed event and may take 1 – 2 hours to complete.
Fox hunting in North America involves chasing the scent of a fox or coyote through the countryside on horseback using fox hounds. A hunt ends when the fox goes to the ground or the scent is lost. Fox hunting is a great sport for accomplished equestrians who are looking for excitement at a fast pace over various obstacles routinely found on the trail or fields. For more information, visit the Master of Foxhounds Association in North America web site.
Metamora Hunt Club in Metamora, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Metamora Photo
While there are many ways to participate and compete in trail riding activities, the average trail rider just likes to hit the road with some like-minded people and ride the trail. These small groups can have many great adventures along the way. The Horse and Mule Trail Guide USA can help you locate the perfect trail ride destination for your group.