This spring, you and your horse may be the first to trudge through neglected trails. Surfaces that appear hard and dry may mask gripping, sticky mud. New grass may not have deep roots to keep ground in place under the weight of your horse. His feet may sink in, causing him to slide and spook. Worse, he could lose a shoe, pull a muscle, or fall in the sucking ground.
To be safe, hike your private trails on foot to check the footing and to look for any unsafe places. With permission, clip back new branches or small limbs that have fallen across the trail. This spring, keep in mind that your horse may not be in top trail shape as soon as the weather warms. First, condition him in an arena with good, safe footing.
If you ride on public trails, check with your local park authorities or riding club to find out which trails have been cleared and groomed for the season.
Before you set out for a long trail ride, make sure your horse is strong and wellconditioned so he can easily regain his balance after minor slips. Work with him in an enclosed arena with good footing. He’ll gain muscle tone within a few riding sessions, and you’ll gain confidence knowing your horse will be better able to handle springtime footing conditions. — Bonnie Davis, of Pleasanton, California, is The Trail Rider’s consulting editor. An internationally published equine journalist, she gives presentations, lectures, and workshops on trail riding, horse camping, and gentle-use trail management.