Essential tips for a successful horseback hiking experience

Embarking on a horseback hiking adventure can be an exhilarating way to explore nature. The unique perspective from atop a horse combines the thrill of outdoor exploration with the ancient bond between human and equine. Whether you’re a seasoned rider or a newcomer to this timeless activity, the following tips can help ensure your journey is both rewarding and safe.

Choosing the right horse

Selecting an appropriate horse is paramount to a successful horseback hike. If you’re without a horse of your own, finding a reputable rental stable with a proven track record for matching horses to riders’ abilities is essential. Establish a connection with the horse to make sure you’re comfortable with its demeanor and responsiveness.

Understand your horse’s personality

Horses, much like humans, have distinct personalities. Spend some time with your horse before setting out. This interaction helps in building trust, allowing you to understand its cues and how it may react to different situations on the trail.

Assess your riding skills

Be honest about your riding capabilities. Overestimating your skills can lead to dangerous situations for both you and the horse. For beginners, an introductory riding lesson can acclimate you to the basics of horseback riding before venturing onto the trail.

Preparing for the trail

Preparing for the Trail

Proper planning ahead of your hike can mean the difference between an enjoyable excursion and a problematic situation. Map out your route carefully, taking into consideration the terrain and length of the journey to align with the endurance of both the rider and the horse.

Pack essentials

When packing, balance is everything. Overloading a horse can lead to fatigue or injury. Carry just the essentials: a basic first aid kit, sufficient water, lightweight snacks, a trail map, a compass or GPS, sunscreen, insect repellent, and a raincoat for unexpected weather changes.

Attire matters

Wearing appropriate clothing and gear is not just about comfort; it’s about safety.

Helmets are vital

A well-fitted riding helmet is non-negotiable and can prevent serious head injury in the event of a fall.

Footwear and clothing

Opt for sturdy boots with a small heel to prevent your foot from slipping through the stirrup. Long pants are necessary to protect your legs from brush and the friction of saddle leather.

Safety vests

A reflective safety vest increases visibility, an asset if you run into low-light conditions or get separated from your group.

The art of packing a saddlebag

Packing a saddlebag requires strategic thinking. It’s not only about what to take, but also how it’s packed. Weight must be balanced evenly to prevent discomfort for the horse or shifting of the load. Always carry identification and emergency contact information on your person.

Use space wisely

Distribute weight symmetrically. Heavier items should go at the bottom, close to the horse’s center of gravity, while lighter items can be placed on top or in outer pockets.


Place items you will need frequently, such as water or a camera, in easily accessible pockets. This arrangement helps you avoid having to dismount more than necessary, saving both time and energy.

Horsemanship on the trail

Effective communication with your horse is key during the hike.

Stay calm and confident

Horses are exceptionally attuned to human emotions. Projecting calmness and confidence can help keep your horse relaxed, especially in unfamiliar environments or when encountering wildlife.

Communicate clearly

Use consistent cues when directing your horse. If you’ve taken the time to understand your horse’s behavior, this will be much easier, and your horse will be more willing to follow your lead.

Take regular breaks

Allow your horse to rest, especially after strenuous segments of the trail. This is important for the horse’s well-being and can prevent overexertion, keeping both of you in high spirits.

Navigating trail challenges

Trails can present a variety of obstacles, from fallen logs to sudden changes in terrain.

Encounter with wildlife

Remain vigilant for encounters with wildlife. If you do come across animals, keep the horse calm, and give them a wide berth to avoid startling them.

Water crossings

When approaching streams or rivers, assess the safest point of crossing. Look for a shallow area with a smooth, visible bottom. Let your horse take its time to examine and navigate the water to ensure a safe crossing.

Changing weather

Weather can change rapidly, so be prepared to adjust your plans accordingly. If conditions become treacherous, prioritize safety, and seek shelter if necessary.

Post-Hike care

After the hike, tending to your horse is just as important as the preparation.

Check for injuries

Inspect your horse for any potential injuries or irritations caused by the gear. Pay special attention to the hooves to remove any lodged stones or debris that could cause discomfort.

Cool down

Provide your horse with a suitable cool-down period. Let it walk leisurely to help muscles relax and return to resting conditions.

Hydration and feed

Ensure the horse is well-hydrated and feed it appropriately to replenish lost energy. A good post-ride grooming not only cleans up your horse but also offers another opportunity to bond.

Nurture this time-honored practice of horseback hiking by embracing these tips for a compelling and secure experience. By preparing effectively, respecting your equine partner, and staying vigilant on the trail, you can enjoy the numerous rewards of exploring the great outdoors on horseback.