Spring has sprung! What awesome weather! The trails are clear and delightful, and they’re calling to you!

But that first foray into the wilds of nature can be a bit disconcerting, to say the least.

To a horse that’s just spent the long winter months in the safe confines of the barn, paddocks and arenas, there could be all manner of monsters on the trail just lying in wait to eat him.

On the High Line Canal and Chatfield State Park trails, where we at Cottonwood like to ride, you name it and it could jump out at you—dogs, bikers, hikers, cars, fishermen, deer, birds, puddles, squirrels, bunnies, even hobbyists’ pet drones flying overhead! Sometimes it doesn’t need to jump out at you: a weirdly shaped bush is all it takes if your horse is already on high alert. Yes, indeedy! The trail can be a scary place for the unaccustomed.

But trail riding in Colorado doesn’t need to be scary. Before you venture out, here’s a quick refresher on good ground rules for hitting the trails after a long winter off.

Find a Buddy. Don’t go out alone the first few times! Find a trail buddy with a reliable mount who likes to go about your pace. Horses take comfort and confidence from each other, as well as their riders. Try not to pair up with a scaredy-cat, though. Horses also take spook from each other. Once your horse is comfortable with the idea, you can take him out alone.

Avoid large groups. More than six-ish horses and you’ve just got a lot of moving parts and potentially a herd mentality that could go wrong. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, just know that a group of three or four horses is a lot easier to manage…especially if any of them are jumpy.

Build your horse’s confidence. Go slow and easy at first! Don’t overwhelm a nervous horse with a long trail ride right off the bat. Start with a few short, simple rides, then lengthen or complicate them (with water crossings, bushwhacking, etc.) when your mount seems ready.

If done right, trail riding is one of the best ways to become a great rider who’s ready for—and can deal with—anything. It’s a fabulous relationship-building activity that creates trust between you and your horse, too.

Horses that are trail ridden tend to be calmer, more confident and happier. Because let’s be honest, exploring a trail in the countryside is a lot more interesting for a horse than trotting circles in the arena.

Not to mention, trail riding in Colorado is just plain fun. It’s gorgeous out there.

Happy trails, all!

Questions or concerns about trail riding? Send us a comment—we’re happy to help!