Mike Shaw
Mike Shaw

One of the most frequent questions asked at various events and trade shows concerns tips on trail riding for the ride itself.  In upcoming articles, we will offer suggestions on picking the right location or ride to participate in, but this article will note some common practices we follow.  Some of the tips may sound unusual but if you think about it, these tips might help you to better enjoy your riding experience.
After many thousands of miles ridden, I have learned (often by trial and error) some routines that involve saddling up. This is what I call my ‘saddle pad secret’.  First, have you ever had a small grain of sand in your shoe?  Even if it is hard to find and see, it drives you crazy.  We wonder how such a small bit of nothing can make it uncomfortable to walk.  This tip involves that concept and your saddle pad. Just before I saddle up and after I brush my horse down, I turn over my saddle pad so the bottom side that is usually against the horse is facing up.  I truly close my eyes and run my hand over the saddle pad.  Almost every time, you will find a small bit of sediment, a small ball of cloth material, or a piece of hay.  You do not notice it by simply looking, but with your eyes closed your fingers will feel it and you can remove it.  Imagine the aggravation of that bit of sand in your shoe and realize your horse is feeling the same thing under that saddle pad.  It can turn a perfect day into one with an uncomfortable horse.  Give it a try and you will certainly improve your next ride and the comfort of your horse.
We may not think about it but a longer than normal lead line can make such a difference in your next trail ride.  Your lead line is not just for you and your horse.  It needs to be longer so that when you find yourself in a situation of having to lead another horse with or without a rider, you have the space to keep that horse from being pulled up on the rear of your horse and causing problems.   I have had to use a longer lead rope as spare reins and a short one just does not work.  When you stop for a lunch break, trying to tie a short lead line around a large tree can leave your horse in a very uncomfortable position and unable to move.  Finally, that extra long lead line allows you to let your horse graze during a break.  Again, a short rope just does not work for this, so have a rope made or buy a longer rope to make your next ride safer and comfortable.
On any given day for a trail ride or even just riding around the farm, I take a few moments to set out the water bucket and my hay bag or grain tray full and ready for my horse to drink and eat on the return of the ride.  It only takes a few moments but two things happen:  First, you may be tired or need a break on the return and your horse is already taken care of.  Second, the horse sees and knows this and looks forward to the return of the ride.  I do not advertise the fact that I also put grain on my trailer stall with the trailer door open during a ride and at night.  If the horse gets loose, the first place he goes is on the trailer!  We spend a great deal of time getting ready for a ride, but we all could improve being prepared for events and chores after the ride.
One more secret:  Despite having ridden with thousands of people over the years and hundreds of events, I still saddle up for a ride earlier to avoid being rushed and then look for Mr. and Mrs. Perfect.  They are the couple of riders that are saddled early, often dressed similar and sitting on their dead-broke horses under a shade tree waiting for the ride.  These are the folks we want to ride near as close as possible on the trail ride.  Forget the guy (and usually it is a guy) that has that new 2 year old stallion he wants to “try out” on the trail.  Forget riding near someone or a group drinking.  Ride next to Mr. and Mrs. Perfect.  Their horses are calm and lessens the chance of being startled or spooked.  Chances are they have ridden the trail before and know interesting information about the trail or the area you are riding.  For sure, they are always great people to become friends with, not just for this ride, but maybe for a lifetime.  
This last suggestion for this article is a bit misleading, but carry some red tape in your horn bag or saddle bag.  Your horse may be a lot like mine and never kicks but to keep some idiot from riding up on you or trying to pass in a narrow or awkward place, put that red ribbon on your horses tail.  Even though you and I know your horse will probably not kick, the rider with zero trail etiquette does not know this and will ride far away from your horse.  It is a great extra safety measure that may make your ride a lot safer and comfortable.
If I can answer any of your questions or you have a thought to share, you can always write me at my personal email address:   tseay10@aol.com
Tom Seay
Executive Producer & Host
Best of America by Horseback Television Show
“LIKE” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bestofamericabyhorseback