Tips for Trail Riding

 

 

Trail riding certainly is a special time spent with friends both equine and human. It can be great fun. It can be memorable. There are certain steps we can take to make sure all the memories are good ones.

Be In Shape

Match the difficulty of the trail ride to the conditioning of both you and your mule. Donít take the first Spring trail ride and make it six hours long when neither you nor your mule has been doing much during the winter months. Get ready for the longer rides by gradually conditioning your animal with small rides working up to a higher level of fitness. Trotting is the best conditioning for both muscle fitness and wind. Climbing hills will strengthen the back and hindquarters. Remember that athletes warm up before exertion and both you and your mule will benefit from this, too.


Get Noticed
When trail riding you finally have found somewhere you can really express yourself in color of clothing. In fact, sometimes, the louder the better. Bright clothing will insure you will be noticed by drivers and hunters. That bright yellow, burnt orange, neon green are perfect on the trail. Very few turkeys, deer or bear wear these colors when out and about so you wonít be confused with them. Bright helmets and helmet covers are a good choice, too.
You might consider a few bells on your tack. Their sound will serve as warning on those switchbacks when you are coming around blind corner.
      When riding at night, consider the iridescent vests and leg wraps for your mule. These show up well in the headlights of those cars and trucks that whiz by you. Without the attention-getting color, you might not be seen on the shoulder of a busy road. Reflective clothing or wraps can be kept in saddle bags along with a tiny bicycle flasher light just in case you get caught out after dark.

Bring ID
Just in case of an accident or an unfortunate incident where you and your mule might be separated, be sure and keep identification on both of you. There are numerous saddle IDs that can be attached with your name and number so should you become separated, someone will know who to call when your mule is munching their front lawn with no rider in sight. In addition, bring your driver licence, write your name in your helmet or attach a tag with pertinent information on the zipper of your jacket.
If you have allergies or medical problems, wear medic alert tags. If you should take a nasty fall or be unconscious, your mule canít speak for you. Be sure your identification is available so that friends or family can be contacted should you be hurt and not able to speak or make decisions for yourself.
You might even consider carrying your cellular phone on the ride. If you are riding close enough to a tower, youíll have communication should you need it. Cellular phones are good in all kinds of emergencies whether in the truck or on the trail.

Taking Stuff
You always need to take a number of items for your trail ride. Some you need to keep on your person should you become separated from your mule and some you can keep in saddle bags. There are fanny packs, fisherman vests and special riding vests made for you to where and horn bags, saddle bags and cantle bags for your tack.
Both you and your mule might light to have a snack on the trail. Keep your muleís snack on you just in case you might need it to convince a loose mule to come back to you. Mule treats like carrots, apples, etc. might just be needed to entice Molly to come back instead of embarking on an excursion that could break tack and leave you afoot for the next two hours.
       Pack a small first aid kit. You can include Vet-Rap, adhesive tape, cotton, gauze, Band-Aid, antiseptic spray or cream and Sting Eaze. You might want to consider a snake bit kit in some areas.
       On long rides you might want to bring an extra lead rope or an extra set of reins. Let your mule carry his halter and lead rope by putting it over his bridle and tying the lead rope around his neck. Or you can purchase a halter/bridle combination.
       Saddle bags which are insulated can provide a cool drink on hot days when you need to re-hydrate yourself. Golfers have some great insulated bags you can also use. Some them even carry a six pack of cans in a long tube like insulated carrier.
       Include fly spray or wipes, rain gear in threatening weather, a hoof boot, and anything else you have found that you will need. You can also include a compass or even a G.P.S. to keep you on the right trail. Weather might dictate lip balm, sunglasses, gloves or sun screen. You and your mule both might like to have one of those neck coolers that you soak in water to cool you down. Take a sponge to wet your mule down in hot weather. Or, your mule might appreciate a quarter sheet under the saddle on cold days if heís body clipped for shows.
       Carrying a firearm is completely up to you. You should, however, know the laws concerning carrying concealed weapons in the area you ride. In addition, be thoroughly educated in the use of the gun and familiar with its use. That means be trained to use it and knowledgeable in handling it. Remember, a bullet CANNOT BE TAKEN BACK and should be used only in an emergency. While most people wonít care if you are doing your part to make rattlesnakes an endangered species, the law will be less forgiving you endanger the life of a hiker.

Riding Alone
Itís always best to ride with a friend. However, if you do ride alone sometimes, it is important to let someone know where and when you intend to ride and when you can be expected home. Include the route you intend to take, your cellular phone number, truck licence plate number. Stick to your planned trip route. No one helps you if they donít know where they can find you. Leave the approximate time you plan to return so someone will know to search for you if youíre late. Be sure and let your contact person know when you arrive home safe and sound.

Riding in Company
Familarize yourself with guidelines for multi-use non-motorized trails and pathsKnow trail etiquette and use it. Ride/Skate/Walk as far to the right as practical, except when passing another user going your direction (pass on the left). Control your speed, slow down and use caution when approaching or overtaking other trails or pathways users.  Travel in a consistent and predictable manner. Always look behind before changing positions on the trail or path. Ride/Skate/Walk single file when other users are present. Use no more than half the trail or path so as not to block the flow of other users. When stopping, move off the trail or path. Use extra caution where trail or path crosses streets, driveways, or other trails and paths. Use extra caution where trail or path crosses streets, driveways, or other trails and paths. Keep a muleís length between you and the mule in front of you. Trails and paths are open to the public, but often the adjacent land is private property. Please respect all property rights.

Clothing
Choose clothing based on comfort, climate, weather and length of ride. There are many tennis shoes made for riding now. Keep in mind that tennis shoes and paddock boots which lace up do not slip off a foot hung up in a stirrup or brush as easily as a slip on boot. Helmets are a good precaution. Safety riding helmets are made and certified to protect from head trauma. You might end up with a headache after a tumble, but thatís better than a hospitalization. For the fashion conscious, they come in great colors, shapes and there are even helmet covers.

Rules of the Trail
Always know the rules that apply to the land on which you are riding. Many parks have permit fees that need to be paid and most have rules concerning trail use. Familiarize yourself with the customs, rules and regulations at the park office.
      Do your part to take care of the trails so that they will be there for future rides. Carry out your trash, close gates, donít smoke on the trail, practice courtesy when meeting other trail users, stay on the trail and report any problems you encounter to park officials. Get a map of the trails in the park and ride only on designated trails. If a trail is closed to equestrians, stay off it. Most trails make use of the international trail signs. Obey them so everyone can enjoy the great outdoors.
      In addition, to use restriction signs, you might also encounter directional and conditional use signs. These are put there for a reason. Obey them. Trail condition signs might serve as warnings for dangerous conditions which could be encountered on the trial as well. Pay attention to dry conditions, wet conditions and predator warnings.
      When opening gates, usually whoever opens the gate waits for all the riders to pass through and closes the gate. Riders passing through the gate do so and then stop their mule and wait for the gate opener to close the gate, remount if necessary and settle their mule to continue the ride. It is rude to ride through the gate and not stop. The person working the gate may have problems with their animal if the others run off and leave them.
      Ride single file. This causes less trail wear. If your mule is a kicker, tie a red ribbon on his tail to warn others to stay two mule lengths behind and be careful when passing.
      If you need to pass someone or a group, let the other rider know you are approaching by talking to them. Always pass on the left at the same speed that the person you are passing is traveling. Donít kick your mule into a faster gait that will upset anotherís animal and put them in danger.
     Since any trails are multi use and will include hikers and possibly motorized vehicles. Be sure and ask about what kind of use is allowed. If you do not want to ride on multi use trails, find somewhere else to ride. If you encounter motorized vehicles, stop your mule and face the vehicle. Wave your hands to catch the driverís attention and ask them to slow down as they pass you. Most multi users are courteous and many drivers will even stop and turn their vehicle off to calm a mule. But you canít depend on everyone being that friendly. Get off the trail completely if you anticipate a wreck on your part.
      If you are riding on private property, make sure you have permission to do so. All the above rules apply. Close gates, donít smoke, donít chase other livestock and take care of the property as if it were your own. Just as a nice gesture, send a Thank You Note occasionally to let the property owner know you appreciate their generosity.
Take a break once in a while on a long ride. Dismount and both you and your mule take a stretch. Vary riding between open sunny fields and shady forest paths. Enjoy each otherís company and make the ride comfortable for both of you.
      Remember, a courteous rider is generally a joy to ride with and usually invited on all the trail rides. Rude and thoughtless riders are generally left off the invitation list the second time.

Right of Way
Stay to the right when riding regardless of the trail conditions. The right of way rules are that bikers give way to hikers and both bikers and hikers give way to equestrians. This is considered correct. However, always let common sense and common courtesy prevail. Down hill traffic yields to uphill.



Common Sense
We all have had problems with our mules buddying up with another animal. When they are separated, they can be a real pain. If this is the case, keep buddies together on the trail ride. Their separation antics are not only irritating to their owners, but can be dangerous to other riders. If you are using this trail ride as a separation lesson, let other riders know this is what youíd like to do so they can anticipate problems.
     Crossing roads becomes necessary on some trail rides. Cars are supposed to stop for equestrians, but thatís not always the case. Stop your mule perpendicular to the road about 15 feet from the pavement before crossing. If you must ride along the road for a distance, ride on the left side facing the oncoming traffic so your mule can see the cars. Large groups should try to line up next to each other and cross the road at the same time after looking both ways to make sure there is no traffic either way. Once on the other side, assume the single file again.
      Cantering and loping along can be fun, but can also be dangerous on terrain you are not familiar with. Uneven surfaces, wet lands and holes can create wrecks which you couldnít avoid when going full throttle. Deer and other creatures, including a boy scout troop with backpacks, can spook your mule as you round a corner. At a full gallop, you could go flying off instead of forward.
     Everyone has their favorite dog companion. If you intend to bring your dog on a ride, be sure it is well behaved and trained to accompany your mule and others on the trail without causing problems. A pupís over exuberance can cause a bad accident or get the dog kicked and hurt. Unless, it is acceptable to all trail riders, itís best to leave Rover either at home or back in the camp.

Have Fun
Trail riding should be an enjoyable time for you, your mules and your companions. These rides will create memories for years to come and stories to be told around campfires on future rides. It gives show mules a break from the monotony of the arena and riders in high stress jobs quiet times away from the office.

 

Most of all it gives everyone time to experience all the blessings mother nature has provided for us if we take the time to enjoy and take care of them.