Share the Trail: Horse Trail Etiquette

By: Alyssa Schauer

June 07, 2019

Category: Recreation

Three Rivers offers miles of trails for all to enjoy. When it comes to trails, “all” includes people of all ages and abilities, as well as dogs and horses. Following basic trail etiquette is key to ensuring that all trail users have a positive and enjoyable experience.

To promote basic trail etiquette and ensure everyone has a good experience while on the trails, Three Rivers has developed a robust trail patrol program. 

These volunteers are present throughout the trail network answering questions, providing assistance and even basic first aid when needed. You will find the trail patrol on foot, bikes, skis and even horseback throughout the year.

Two longtime trail patrol volunteers, LuAnn Brenno and Barb Cartwright, have shared some of their favorite tips for making sure everyone has a great experience when enjoying a day exploring the trails – specifically involving the largest of our trail users – horses and their riders. 

The basic concepts of sharing the trail apply just as much to the turf trails that allow horseback riding as they do to the paved trails shared by walkers and bikers.

yellow trail sign with prairie landscape in the background

1. Say Hello

“My biggest piece of advice for anyone who encounters a horse and rider on the trail would be to say something, even if it’s a simple ‘hello,’” Barb said. 

That simple greeting can help a horse gain perspective of its surroundings and ease its flight risk. Barb explained that a horse’s vision is much different from ours. Horses have the largest eyes of any land mammal, and because of this, everything they see is magnified. They also lack the ability to distinguish fine details while focusing on an object in their field of vision.

LuAnn added that the simple greeting also eases a horse’s instinct to run. “Horses are prey animals, which means the way they survive is to run or fight. So, when you really think about that, you understand why they are spooked easily and apt to run when afraid.”

2. Announce Your Presence and Pass on the Left

Horses mostly have monocular vision, which means they can’t see directly in front of their face or directly behind their tail. So, if you’re coming up behind a horse and rider, announce your presence by saying something like “on your left.” This is the same etiquette that should be used when passing a walker, runner or biker on any trail.

Barb added that it’s also helpful to slow down when passing. Quick movement, even a runner, can spook a horse (remember their fight or flight mentality!) Announcing your presence and slowing your speed will make for a more comfortable passing experience for all involved. 

3. Keep Dogs on Leashes

To ensure that both dogs and horses are safe on the trail, it’s important for dogs to be on a 6-foot, non-retractable leash at all times. This is the Park District’s policy and it’s especially important when dogs are sharing the trail with horses. 

4. Be Considerate

Being considerate and polite on trail is one of the best practices in sharing the trail with all users. This includes being mindful of yourself and your surroundings, and taking responsibility for yourself and your animals, including both dogs and horses.

Trail users should stay to the left and avoid blocking the entire trail “It’s important to always be aware of your surroundings, especially if you’re in groups,” LuAnn said. She and Barb shared experiences about encountering cheerleaders and cross-country running teams on the horse trails.

This is just as important for horseback riders to remember, too. LuAnn said horseback riders have the responsibility to have their horse in control and trained before using the trails.

Enjoying nature on horseback is a great way to spend a beautiful afternoon in the parks and meeting a horse on the trail can be an exciting sight to see. In addition to trails for riding, Three Rivers also has group camp areas that can accommodate horses and their riders.

woman riding a horse on a trail


About the Author

Alyssa wearing a hat and flannel.

Alyssa Schauer is part of the marketing team at Three Rivers. She formerly worked as a journalist at a small-town newspaper and volunteered with the Minnesota Conservation Corps to clear and maintain trails in Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters. Outside of work, she spends time in the woods looking at everything up close (especially ferns and spiders!) and enjoys canoeing with her husband, playing Nintendo and raising a pride of four naughty, darling cats.


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