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Endurance Etiquette on the Trail

From Wikipedia:  Etiquette is a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group.

Trail etiquette during an endurance ride can be extremely important.  It’s a lot like common sense.  There’s also a lot to be said for being polite and courteous to your fellow rider.  I think it’s important to have some patience and some willingness to tolerate other riders that may be clueless on the trail.  I’ve seen many heated exchanges over the years with riders yelling at one another over some sort of etiquette infraction.  That seldom does any good and often results in hard feelings.

Here is an article on the topic that Jackie Bumgardner wrote for Endurance News a while back.  It covers a wide range of etiquette – everything from camping to riding and vet checks.

I think that a lot of times, riders don’t even realize that they are doing something on the trail that is annoying to those around them.  This is why I try to ride my own ride while trying to have as little impact on anybody else.

If you ride a horse that kicks, put a red ribbon in the tail.  Yellow for stallions, and green for a green or new horse.   Kicking and unpredictable horses should be kept away from groups of horses.

I’ve seen lots of wrecks and mishaps occur on the trail due to riders not being more considerate or aware that they are creating dangerous situations.

One should take care never to crowd into groups of horses and should try to move away if they find themselves getting scrunched up into a group.  There are times when this is unavoidable but the majority of the time it’s just plain safer not to crowd horses together.

Water stops.  Again, don’t crowd.  Hang back fifteen or twenty feet and wait for a clear opening before allowing your horse to go in and drink.  If you see a horse with a ribbon on it’s tail, stay back until they are done drinking and have moved a safe distance away.  Once your horse is done drinking, move away from the water so that others can get in.  Pay attention to how your horse is standing next to any type of water – move your horse over to one side so that others can get in if necessary.  Be aware of the situation and pay attention.

It is considered polite to ask other riders whose horses are drinking if it’s okay to go on when your horse has finished drinking.  Usually if there are more than two horses drinking it’s safe to go and most riders will say to go on.  It never hurts to ask.  Personally, I want my horse to know how to drink and take care of himself even if other horses are moving off and leaving him alone at the water.  We can’t all stand around waiting for every horse on the ride to finish drinking – so again, this is another grey area where it’s best to use common sense.

Don’t sponge out of water troughs especially when other horses are drinking!  It may be okay in other regions, but where I mainly ride it doesn’t go over well.  Water on a lot of the rides has to be hauled out and it doesn’t need to be polluted by sponges.  Keep in mind that if you use a scoop that you should only do so when it is okay with ride management – most of the time that water is needed for the horses to drink.  It’s considered rude to use the water on your horse if there are 30 horses behind you that may not have enough to drink.

When your horse is done drinking make sure he isn’t allowed to rub on the trough, or on other horses or riders.  It’s not fun to have another horse slam their head with a bit onto your knee while their rider is oblivious and standing on the other side of their horse talking to somebody else.

Over the years I’ve seen situations where riders misinterpret something another rider did.  For example at Bryce one year a rider on a stallion was drinking from a creek that had a narrow opening to get into it.  Two other riders came up and crowded in, one horse on each side of the stallion that was already in the water drinking.  The rider on the stallion pulled him back and rode off while the other two riders commented about how rude he was to leave while their horses were still drinking.  It never occurred to them that the other rider thought they were as rude as they thought he was.

If you want to pass another rider on the trail then do so – and keep going.  Make a point to be aware enough that if you pass other riders that you aren’t then slowing down to a walk or stopping alltogether.  If you know you may have to make a tack adjustment or some other stop in the next few minutes then try not to play tag with other horses.  On the other hand, if another rider passes you, realize that they are likely riding faster than you and don’t immediately draft off of them or try to keep up.  Let them go, give them a minute or two to get ahead.

When passing, let the riders ahead know “passing on your left”, etc.  If you hear horses approaching from behind and are in a group, then move over so that they can get around.  If the trail is narrow, you may need to move off of the trail to let them go by.  It’s always funny when I ride up on two horses and they both change lanes to let me go by!

When riding with others always have a healthy respect for the other horse’s “space”.  Don’t ride too close behind and if in a group try to keep from getting bunched up.  I saw may kicks this summer on the XP when riders tried to ride more than two abreast on a wide road.  Many horses don’t like being crowded like that.  Usually what happens is one of the horses is attached to his buddy and becomes overly protective of having another horse in their “space”.  Always watch for warning signs from your own horse as well as the other horses around you.  Most horses will offer up a warning of some sort (though some don’t!) — such as laid back ears, a gnarled up facial expression.

It is never okay to use another horse as brakes to slow or rate your own horse!  This shows a total lack of respect and concern for the other rider and their horse.  Plus it can be dangerous for everyone.  If you have to, pull off the trail and dismount.  Give your horse a few minutes to settle down – lead on foot if you have to. But please, don’t keep running up the back of other horses or crowding them if you don’t have control of your horse.

When riding with others, warn them of any dangerous sections of the trail such as holes, or tree branches sticking out.  When slowing down, I like to put my hand up as a signal — of course, that only works if the person behind you is aware that is how you signal that you are going to slow down or stop.  If that person doesn’t know that, then say “slowing down”, or “I’m going to stop”.  I’ve found that when you ride with somebody that puts their hand up to signal a change that their horse quickly learns and they will slow down automatically.  I think my own horses also know the hand signals.  They are creatures of habit and if you do something like that often enough it’s amazing at what they pick up on.

Try and always keep a horse length distance away from horses ahead of you.  More if you don’t know the horse(s) ahead.  When leading a group and going through dips in the trail or technical sections that require walking – keep walking until the last horse in your group has made it through the obstacle.  Then it’s okay to pick up the speed.   Obviously some of these things may not be practical if there are 20 horses behind you on a singletrack trail.  In those cases, just use common sense and do unto others as you’d like done to you.

If I’m riding with somebody else I always like to ask if it’s okay if we canter.  My horses are competitive enough that I need to know that if I am cantering with somebody they won’t accelerate much faster than I am going and take off.  That’s one reason why I often ride alone – I need to rate my horse and find it to be too exhausting to ride with others that allow their horses to go faster than I want to go.  That always results in me having to pull on my horse’s to keep them slowed down while their brain cells are imploding because they want to keep up with the other horse or horses.  I try to avoid that kind of situation as much as possible.  One thing that I really appreciate when riding with a friend is when we both agree that if we need to, we can separate and it won’t hurt the other person’s feelings.

I have written about gate etiquette before.  When opening and closing gates on a ride – try to take turns.  Unless there is somebody in the group that wants to get all of the gates.  Get through the open gate quickly so the other person doesn’t have to stand there waiting for you.  Then, move off to a safe spot and wait for the gate person to close the gate and mount back up.  Allow that person to reposition themselves in the group in the same order that they arrived at the gate.  Some riders like myself will often hold a gate for several riders and tell them all to “go on ahead”.  That’s because I (we) want to get a bit more spread out – so go on ahead.  Always be sure to thank the gate person.  When I say get through the gate quickly I mean at a walk – don’t blast through; be considerate.

On an endurance ride I always try to give other trail users the right of way.  Most often, bike riders will slow down or stop and move off of the trail.  If they aren’t doing that, then I will always move out of their way while saying something friendly.  I try to tell other trail users that by talking to us it makes them seem a lot less scary to the horses.  I also usually try to tell them how many horses may be behind me.  Always move your horse away on the uphill side.

When passing horses on a two way trail, stay to the right.  Horses going uphill should have the right of way over horses going downhill.  When going up steep stuff, allow for some extra space between the horse in front of you so that if need be, your horse can get a little momentum going without worrying about running into the horse in front.

If you need to dismount for some reason, try to do it where there is some grass for your horse to graze on.  That way the horse has something to do while you fix or adjust or do whatever you need to do.  Always move off trail so that you aren’t blocking it for other riders.  If you can’t get off of the trail for some reason and find that you are starting to cause a backup — jog on foot and lead your horse to somewhere that you can get out of the way and let the others go by.  Most riders will be less likely to get irritated if you tell them you are having a problem.

Many times, each situation calls for a different way to handle it.  If riders are dismounted off to the side of the trail to do something obvious like use the restroom, then ride on by.  If it looks like they are having a problem ask if they need anything and/or if they’d like you to wait while they mount back up.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics: Don’t cut switchbacks — stay on the marked trail. Be aware of any damage to soft ground that your horse may be doing. Be careful not to drop any trash on the trail. Pick up other people’s trash.

Here is a summary of some of the things that riders do that are the most annoying:  Riders getting in front and slowing down or stopping.  If you pass – then keep going.  Don’t let your horse decide he wants to eat grass and turn sideways blocking the trail ten feet ahead of riders you just went by.  If you are having a lameness issue with your horse it never looks good to pass other riders.  Don’t tailgate other horses especially if they have just passed you and are obviously going faster than you are. Most likely, if they caught up to you and you’ve been trotting along for awhile they are going faster than you.  Be considerate – give those other riders a minute or two to spread out from your horse.  That helps keeps the riders and the horses happy.  If you want to ride in a group or ride with another rider it’s polite to ask them if it’s okay.  They may or may not want the company.

I’ve certainly committed more than one of those violations over the years, knowingly or not.  I’ve tried to learn to be more considerate and aware of what is going on, not just so I can make the ride more fun and safe for myself but for others.  It’s not easy having to deal with horses that get more competitive as they get fitter on rides with riders who are unknowingly driving your horse crazy.  I hope this helps both new and experienced riders.  Happy, safe trails!  Karen

7 comments to Endurance Etiquette on the Trail

  • Julie

    If I could add just one more thing to an excellent article: If you allow your horse to grab at food on the trail, please do NOT let them stop mid-trail to do it. In our group that we ride with, some let their horses grab at leaves and such as long as they don’t break stride or stop. That’s fine. Personally, I never let my horse eat unless we’ve stopped for a break (I am not an endurance rider, so I’m talking about short breaks on a 1-2 hour trail ride). I just like my horse to keep his mind on business and not continually pause to grab at food. Last summer we had two women join us who usually don’t ride with our group. They both drove me nuts allowing their horses to stop and grab at food literally every few minutes. They repeatedly stopped SIDEWAYS, totally blocking the trail, and seemed oblivious to the pile up they created behind them. I was learning on a new horse who tends to be a space invader; I was teaching him not to crowd so we were practicing respectful spacing by staying at the back of the line. I finally said something but they still seemed oblivious so I tried staying waaay back so as not to keep piling up on them (and I mean, these were sudden stops they were making). They did this for the entire ride. I just could not believe the rudeness – made for a stressful, awful ride.

  • Jonni

    Those who NEED to read this, unfortunately, wont

  • Lorraine

    Hey this was great reading, and full of common sense. Thank you so much.

  • Valerie

    Great read! Thanks Karen!

  • […] From Wikipedia: Etiquette is a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a.  […]

  • […] From Wikipedia: Etiquette is a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group. Trail etique…  […]

  • Karen Lynd

    This is an excellent article. I don’t compete anymore, but I still enjoy volunteering at rides and keeping up with the sport. I had an experience at an LD I rode once with two friends that still troubles me. We were riding mid-pack when a woman riding a kicker passed me. She then slowed down and did not pass my two friends. After she had planted her horse in front of mine, she warned me to stay back, as her horse kicked. She refused to pass my two friends and she would not let me pass, and so she stayed with our group. Horses continued to back up behind us as we got close to the end of the ride. Finally, her horse kicked out HARD and HIGH, with his foot reaching my face level. Fortunately, I had stayed back and the kick did not connect with me or my horse. The woman turned around angrily, as if I was the cause of the situation. I am a more outspoken person now, and I would say something to her now, as she endangered everyone around her, and she completely ruined my ride. I think your article should be required reading before every ride!

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