Recreational Riding: What Do I Need to Know to Get Started?

Recreational riding is one of the easiest ways to enjoy spending time with your horse, but there are a few things to consider before you get started. It is important that your horse be physically fit, responsive to your cues as a rider and have a calm disposition.

Physical Fitness

Although recreational riding is a non-competitive activity and a great way for you and your horse to stay in shape, physical fitness is necessary for a horse, especially if you plan a long or difficult ride. A horse should carry a medium amount of body fat?you should be able to feel the horse’s ribs but not see them. Excessively thin horses have limited energyand excessively fat horses have to work harder to carry their own weight, making them more susceptible to overheating.

A horse’s hooves should be trimmed and preferably shod every four to six weeks.Horseshoes protect the soles of your horse’s feet from becoming bruised or cut, and are recommended if you are riding varied terrain.


Proper conditioning helps a horse meet the physical demands of recreational riding, but training and mental readiness also play important roles in preparing a horse for the trail.

The unfamiliar and unexpected sights and sounds that may be encountered when riding in the great outdoors can frighten a horse that is not well-trained, as well as a horse that has limited experience outside of an arena. Motor vehicles, animals and trail obstacles such as creeks and logs can startle a horse and turn a leisurely ride into an uncomfortable or even dangerous experience for both horse and rider.

Even the most well-trained horse may be startled sometimes. For this reason, it is important that the horse responds to its rider?s commands and not flee?even if frightened. A well-trained horse will obey your command even though it is frightened, and not make a dangerous, runaway dash through the woods.

Whoa — ?Whoa? is possibly the most important command for your horse to understand. Horses are powerful animals, and the ability to control their movement is the first step in safe horsemanship.

One way to make your horse feel more comfortable when encountering someone such as a bicyclist or hiker is to stop and speak to the person. This allows the horse time to adjust its eyes and lose its fear of the newcomers and the ?unidentified? object they are riding or carrying.

Stand Calmly While Tied ? When pleasure riding, you may want to stop for a break or to explore the area briefly on foot. If you do, you want your horse to stand quietly, without pawing the ground, pulling back on the lead rope, or rubbing itself or your equipment on a tree.

Load and Unload Easily ? In the event you find yourself faced with unexpected weather conditions or difficult terrain, your horse should easily load into and unload from the trailer. For instance, if caught in a hailstorm or other inclement weather situation, you want a horse that calmly loads into the trailer when you ask. If your vehicle breaks down along the highway and the weather is hot, you may need to unload your horse from the trailer until help arrives.

In any situation, a horse that is a seasoned traveler will make your away-from-home recreational riding experience much more enjoyable.

Calm Disposition

Disposition and good behavior are important attributes for a recreational riding horse. Most behavioral problems can be modified with training. However, a horse that is naturally more nervous than most or one that does not get along well with others may require more effort to turn into an enjoyable pleasure-riding mount. Keep in mind that some horses may never feel comfortable on a trail, no matter how much training they receive. Not all humans like hiking and perhaps not all horses like trail riding.

For your safety and comfort, as well as that of the riders around you, a horse should travel calmly when in a group. You do not want a horse that is aggressive toward others, exhibiting the desire to kick, bite or paw.

Scenarios you may encounter on the trail

Some of the situations, sights and sounds you and your horse may encounter when recreational riding include:

– Loading, unloading and hauling

– Standing tied

– Crossing water, mud bogs, downed trees and other obstacles

– Standing tied to a picket line overnight

– Noise from maps, plastic raingear and spray bottles

– Sudden movement or sound of wildlife and dogs

– Approaching hikers or bicyclists

– Sight and sound of motorcycles and other all-terrain vehicles

– Wind, rain or other inclement weather

– Loud sounds of jet airplanes or gunfire

– Standing hobbled

– Riding in a group

From the American Paint Horse Association “Guide to Recreational Riding.”

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