training is as much a part of spring in the trail riding industry as daffodils
and peach blossoms for the rest of us. Each
spring hundreds of young people make their way to dude and guest ranches all
over the United States to begin summer jobs as summer trail guides.
The success of their summer and the programs in which they are working
will depend greatly on the advance planning and the skill of the management
behind the planning. Seldom can
summer staff make up for a severe procedural deficit.
following information has been taken from several sources and compiled into
guidelines that are reliable in attaining a safe guest ride procedure.
should be appropriate, healthy, and novice level, as customers often do not know
how to rate their own skill.
guest, even children, should sign a release but parents should sign for the
child as well. An attorney well
acquainted with personal injury law should approve the release for the state in
which it is used.
helmets are preferred, if helmet waivers are used they should be a separate
document and should explain the dangers of riding without approved, protective
headgear. The waiver needs to say
that a properly fitted, currently dated, and approved helmet was offered.
This statement needs to be true which means that the organization must
have the right number of helmets available for the waiver to be valid.
minor should be permitted to ride without a helmet.
Since the minor lacks the capacity to sign a contract he cannot sign a
waiver. The parents cannot sign for
him. It is not like co-signing for
a car. If the child does not make
the payment the parent can pay. If
the child is seriously injured or killed the parent cannot step in and take his
enough, there is considerable evidence that even with western programs that if
the wranglers wear helmets and helmets are available on stands, nothing need be
said. The guests will simply pick
up a helmet and wear it. It is all
in the orientation. This has been
tried at Lone Mountain Ranch in Montana in the program run by Mary Reed and they
have nearly 100% helmet use by guests and helmet use is not required.
But the wranglers wear helmets.
ride should be geared to the skill of the least experienced rider.
At ranches where riders’ skills can be evaluated rides can be
structured to guests with various skills. In
other situations it should be assumed that all guests are novices because there
will be at lease one extremely novice rider on every ride and the ride must be
geared to his skill since he cannot adapt.
The other riders can.
a good idea to keep family members or companions together as a great part of the
joy of a scenic trail ride is to share it with your family or traveling
companion. This often means putting
an experienced rider farther forward than would otherwise happen.
That is far better than putting an inexperienced rider back in the pack.
It must be remembered that the inexperienced rider will be mechanically
performing the control skills and will have neither timing nor balance.
horse should have its own properly fitted saddle and bridle.
should be a regular procedure for inspection and repair of equipment.
should be an orientation talk explaining the horse and its nature and how he
operates. This will be the first of
several times the control skills are addressed.
should be mounted in an enclosure, away from tied horses and away from the
tacking up area.
should be matched to horses AND saddles. This
is one of the reasons it is best just to have novice level horses.
It is critical that the saddle fits the horse.
It is also critical that the saddle fits the rider.
It is also critical that the rider fits the horse.
With all that to adjust, it is simpler to have all novice horses so that
the level of the rider, which seldom can be really well ascertained, anyway,
does not have to be a factor.
cinch MUST be checked three times. Once
right before mounting, once right after, and again 10 or 15 minutes into the
should be organized so that the least experienced person is right behind the
lead guide and the most experienced person is in the back. The principal reason for this as any trainer knows is that
the vast majority of horses are quieter the farther ahead in the line they are.
This means that putting the less experienced farther forward also helps
steady their horses. It also keeps
them close to the lead guide.
lead guide needs to be on the steadiest trail horse as this horse will see
things first and all the horses behind it will be influenced by its behavior.
This is not the position for a horse in training.
rides are mounted back to front so that the more experienced riders are the ones
who spend the most time sitting and waiting for the rest of the riders to be
should be adjusted as riders are mounted. Begin
with the stirrup even with the anklebone and drop down an inch or two for the
very thin. The stirrup may be
raised an inch for the heavy. The
stirrup should NEVER hang down below the level of the natural heel, that is,
where the heel of the rider is inside the boot. This is a common fault of Western riders and it will cause
extreme lack of stability. A heavy
rider needs a shorter stirrup.
the enclosure the guest should have explained and see a demonstration of the
control skills which should include the following:
Stopping the horse
Steering the horse
Shortening the reins – this is the first of two steps of an emergency stop which is a nice skill to know as well.
Maintaining correct spacing – the rider should see the heels of the horse in front of him between the ears of his own mount. The hocks are a warning. The tail means trouble. Getting more space can be achieved by shortening the reins and putting pressure on the reins till the correct distance is reached then releasing.
rider must go through a skills test. It
need not be long but unless a rider has a chance to demonstrate whether or not
he has understood the instructions, the trail guide does not know either.
Without this one runs the danger of being on the trail with someone who
cannot begin to follow the simple instructions.
recommend one guide for every six riders for commercial guest rides.
The reason is that a guide cannot see well farther than six riders.
The lead guide needs to be looking out where he or she is going. Some head wranglers that take a lot of guests out will put an
experienced guide in front and they will ride drag so that they can see what is
the ride uses outriders (not our favorite choice) that ride up and down the
ride, they need to use caution as an outrider’s horse can cause a lagging
guest horse to speed up suddenly if the outrider’s horse passes quickly.
idea of the “wrangler horse” that is an animal that is too fractious for a
guest is a bad selection to take on any ride.
Any fractious horse can disturb other horses and cause an accident.
for ride management need to be established in advance and followed consistently
better to always take a rear guide.
open and close gates since the lead guide should not expose the front of the
ride (Remember who is behind the lead guide.).
assist in an emergency.
extra eyes on the trail
the cinches were not checked the third time in the enclosure at the barn, the
rear guide can check them on the trail. He
or she needs to tie his horse well away from the others.
rear guide is in a better position than a lead guide to see a slipping saddle or
a rider off balance.
stopping the lead guide should turn his horse
sidewise in the trail as a barrier to the other horses or turn to face
the other horses so that his horse will stand quietly.
guest should be permitted to carry anything on the trail.
Small cameras may be placed in a guide’s saddlebags but never slung
around the neck of a guest. Watch out for necklaces or anything else that could
guest who does not mind his or her spacing or a guest that hold back in order to
trot up can both cause an accident or a runaway ride.
What begins as one horse going faster translates to horses going really
fast only a few horses farther back.
“walking trail ride” must mean just that.
Not only must the lead guide walk but the guests must walk as well.
If the ride is well managed the horses will become accustomed to the
procedure and there should not be a problem.
Horses that are allowed to routinely trot to catch up will assume that it
is permitted and it can become a problem.
horses do not belong on a guest ride string because they represent too high a
that are known to blow up when cinched up are high risk, as it may be too hard
to get the cinch or girth tightened. These
horses identify themselves and if there is an appropriate procedure it may be
possible to accommodate them but with inexperienced staff there is a high risk
of a mistake.
that are round barreled and low withered are hard to fit with a saddle that will
stay in place. An unbalanced rider
will be at risk on a horse such as this. A
three-prong breast collar will allow some slippage and a rider may fall.
It is best to leave these horses to experienced riders.
that insist on a certain place in the line or next to a buddy are a bit of a
risk as well. People will make
mistakes trying to place a rider. When
a mistake is made it may not be noticed until the ride is away from the barn.
(This is when it is handy to have the guides mounted on horses that can
be used to switch with guest when needed.
or excessively old horses are not good candidates for trail rides.
Unsoundness and age are not substitutes for gentleness and training.
horses that are spooky are not good choices.
The same goes for horses that are simply nervous, inexperienced on the
trail or in general reactive.
horses should be avoided as well. Certainly
no horse under five and better horses that are at least 8 and have seasoned
trail experience in the environment in which they will be used.
horses should be accustomed to the trails that the organization uses and to all
the expected hazards. In many areas
of the country this now means mountain bikes, four-wheelers, backpackers,
fishermen and other things. As much
as possible the guides should know that each horse would tolerate the things
that can be expected on the trail. THIS
IS ESPECIALLY TRUE OF THE LEAD HORSE. As
long as the lead horse does not spook, there is a good chance that the others
will not either. However, there is
no excuse for taking a guest out on a horse that has not been exposed to the
types of hazards that can be expected on the trail and preferably to the trail
with a history should be eliminated from the string.
Once a horse has indicated a capacity for misbehavior it is a bad
candidate for a string of trail horses. Examples
of behaviors that should be cause for elimination include bucking, rearing,
running away, jigging, kicking, biting, striking, or refusing to stand still
under saddle. One indication is
enough. That is all the warning
that is needed. Can a horse be
retrained? Maybe, but how does one
know if the retraining was successful? If
the behavior never shows up again, it was successful. If it does, then it wasn’t successful. Most organizations probably do not want to be the text case
for that scenario.
least one guide should carry a means of summoning help, either a radio, cell
phone, or satellite phone. Guides
should also know where the dead spots are for service.
ride should be equipped with emergency gear that is appropriate for the area and
should have appropriate emergency first aide and CPR training.
This will differ with the situation, terrain, type of ride, and length of
ride from the one-hour scenic ride to the several day backcountry ride.
should also be appropriate to the skills of the guests. If the guides do not know the guests and there is no way to
know the guests it must be assumed that the guests are novices.
Experienced riders can adjust, novice riders cannot.
returning with a ride all guests should be assisted in dismounting.
Step-down dismounts should be discouraged as guests can catch a foot in
the stirrup and fall. A mounting block is a good assist for mounting but it is a
bad idea for dismounting.
should dismount at a safe distance from each other, at least 12’ from the
should depart the horse area immediately.
riding is one of the most enjoyable experiences one can have on a horse.
It is certainly one of the most popular.
It is also one of the most dangerous.
The minimal instructions given to riders makes it all the more important
that the wranglers make sure the guests can follow the instructions.
think that we can give a few instructions to people who may have never been on a
horse before or at best only been on a few scenic trail rides, and then expect
these novice riders to be able to follow all the instructions is silly at best.
If this were possible all the riding instructors would be out of business
or at least they would only have to give one or two lessons.
time that wranglers spend on pre-ride demonstrations and pre-ride skills test is
well spent not only for riders’ safety but for their own protection as well.
The wrangler can then say that he or she had reason to believe that this
guest could control this specific horse on this day on this trail, which covers
the clause requiring matching rider to horse in many of the equine activity
to Top of This Page
Return to Guest Ranches, Trail Rides, Camps