The Savvy Station

The Ultimate Trail Riding Checklist

vid Parelli Natural Horsemanship Jul 19, 2023

The Ultimate Trail Riding Checklist

Make your next trail riding trip worry-free with the ultimate trail riding checklist.

By US Rider

Trail riding is your happy place, the time where you feel the most peaceful, stress-free and in touch with your horse. All you need for a safe and fun adventure is the ability to get there and the know-how to plan ahead! Use the ultimate trail riding checklist to be prepared before, during and after your ride. 

Before you leave…

1. Run down your trailer safety checklist.

Before you load up, take time to safety-check your horse trailer. Important areas to check include:

    • Floor, undercarriage
    • Braking system
    • Wheels, tires (including sun damage!)
    • Hitch mechanism
    • Interior
    • Trailer jack, wheel chocks

2. Make sure you have the appropriate paperwork.

Whether you’re crossing state lines or just heading down the road, having your paperwork organized and readily available will ensure you can get to it quickly, should you need it. You may want to consider including the following:

  • Original or photocopy of registration papers.
  • Coggins and health certificate (if needed).
  • Paper and pens/pencils.
  • Horse and personal insurance card.
  • Map/directions, current trail maps, Don’t use a map more than two years old. (Check the publishing date on the corner.) If you’re heading to public land, call the relevant agency, and ask for their latest park and trail maps. (While you’re on the phone, ask the person to recommend the best parking area/trailhead and most direct route to get there.)
  • Emergency equine roadside service phone number. Make sure your roadside assistance membership is up to date. USRider covers tow vehicles and trailers carrying horses, making it the premier equestrian roadside assistance program in the industry.  To renew your membership or to join, click here.
  • Cash, checkbook, or credit cards.

3. Pack up supplies and gear.

It can be frustrating to haul somewhere and realize you don’t have something you need! Here is a list of must-haves to pack before you hit the road:

  • Tack: This may include a saddle, bridle, breastplate, cinch or girth, saddle bags, and saddle pad.
  • Rider gear: This may include your helmet, spurs, crop, and protective legwear. Parelli highly recommends The Horse HolsterⓇ to ride connected with you cell phone and important gear in the case of an emergency. Check out our website to get yours! 
  • Water: For your horse’s comfort, bring at least five gallons of water and a watering bucket. If it’s a hot day, bring 10 gallons. You can use any extra water to rinse off your horse’s back after a ride.
  • Hay: Bring a full hay net, and hang it outside the trailer. It’ll keep your horse happy while you munch your lunch!
  • First-Aid Kits: Pack human and equine first-aid kits; small ones for the trail, larger ones in your truck. You can purchase human first-aid kits at your local drugstore. In each kit, tuck your and your horse’s medical histories (especially allergies) and contact information for your doctor and your horse’s veterinarian.
  • Sturdy riding gloves to handle underbrush and limbs.
  • Sharp knife or trail saw to help clear away small limbs or vines.
  • Halter and lead rope.
  • Hoof pick.
  • Grooming supplies, including brushes, towels and a sponge.
  • Electrolyte paste or powder if it’s hot (consult your vet).
  • Sheet or fly net/fly mask. 
  • Fly spray for horses/insect repellent for riders. 
  • Shipping boots, leg/tail wraps, if needed. 
  • Duct tape and bungee cords.
  • Tools (hammer, wrench, screw driver).
  • Extra pair of reins.
  • Extra stirrup leathers.
  • Treats.

Once you arrive…

1. Park smart.

When parking at the trailhead/staging area, turn your rig around so it’s facing out. This will allow you to exit easily when the area is full. If parking will entail a lot of maneuvering, unload your horse, and tie him to a secure hitching rail, or appoint a horse holder from your riding group. Short starts and stops are tiring for your horse, and hard on a loaded trailer.

If the area is open, with few other rigs, stay to the sides so others won’t have to drive around you. Leave at least 12 feet between rigs so horses can be tied to the side of each trailer. If your horse kicks, tie a red ribbon on his tail and the back of the trailer. It’s your responsibility to keep others safe.

Carry two collapsible orange road cones; set one in front of your rig and the other behind it so no one parks too closely. This will allow room for loading your horse and exiting the area if the lot becomes full.

Be sure to lock your truck and trailer before you start your ride to prevent theft and take your key with you! (Pro tip: If you have a Parelli Horse Holster, you’ll be able to zip it into the convenient front pocket). 

On the trails…

1. Give your horse confidence:

Your horse may feel anxious if he’s away from his buddies. We recommend riding with horses that are the same speed (i.e. do not mix and match fast horses with slow ones). Remember, preparation prevents p-poor performance. Check out Arena Preparation exercises for the trail ride inside of the Parelli Network. 

2. Ride a zigzag pattern:

As you’re walking or trotting, keep your hand and leg cues active and meaningful. Ask your horse to take a few steps to the right and left, creating a zigzag pattern across a wide trail. If you’re riding with friends, alert them so they know where you’re headed. Better yet, ride the pattern together.

After your ride…

1. Help your horse relax:

Before you load your horse, he should be relaxed and comfortable. If you rush him, he may be hesitant to load. Instead, tie him to the trailer and loosen the cinch, but don’t get in a hurry to pull the saddle off. Lift the saddle up, so that your horse’s back can cool off before untacking. 

2. Put items back in their place:

Organize your tack room so that when you take off your horse’s gear, you don’t have to struggle to put it away. Hang up your bridle, pull out grooming supplies, prepare water buckets and ensure everything is clean and ready to use.

3. Check your horse for soreness:

Unsaddle your horse, then run your hands over his body to check for sore spots, broken hair, and other injuries. 

4. Offer your horse water:

After your horse has cooled off, but before you load up, make water available. Let your horse take a drink and relax. 

With a little planning and organization, hitting the trails can be peaceful, safe and fun all season long. If you want to learn more, watch our Hit The Trail DVD series for a more in-depth look at being safe and having fun on the trails! Visit

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