The Work on Rider Etiquette 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

It’s a brand new year! 

I start my new years in July because that’s when my life began. It’s also the middle of summer so as a teacher makes sense for me – I’m heading toward a new school term starting in August. 

I’ve spent some time in the past year revisiting The Work by Byron Katie and it’s impacted my life over the decade I’ve been aware of it, but I spent more energy revisiting the concepts this year and I love the perspective, simplicity and clarity it brings.

**disclaimer: the following are my opinions. What works for me. I’m sharing it because it may work for some others as well. Everyone  is entitled to what works for them- the question I always go back to: is it working?

This week I put the work to work on the big topic of trail etiquette. 


If you’re ever on a horse, in a group, on the trail then it’s come up for you whether you realize or not.

The dictionary tells me that:

Etiquette is the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group.

It is indeed a code. And with a few exceptions I’d say most riders have their own code. Some hold one or two generally shared basics and some have a very long list of polite behaviors that the entire world of trails riders really ought to agree to if they ruled the world. There are entire books on the matter and many many many opinions. Just throw out the subject on any Facebook horse group and you’ll hear:

  1. Everyone’s do’s and don’t’s for the trail (with the potentials safety hazards to back up why they they should be important to everyone)
  2. Examples of other riders who have broken such rules and how some was or was almost hurt due to this shameful behavior. 

It exhausts me. 

While I do wholeheartedly support the concept of polite behavior on the trail, I struggle with the control and victimization that I hear in the etiquette conversations online and around me.

What I’ve learned from The Work is there is my business, other people’s business, and God’s business. 

Whose business is it what etiquette code I live and ride by? Mine!

Whose business is it what etiquette code you live by? Yours!

Whose business is the weather that day, the trail conditions due to torrential rain or lack lack thereof, or how much water is in the creek… or lightning… or groundhog holes? God’s.

Then take into account how my horse is feeling that day… which is her business… and also mine. My business to give her what she needs to be a well balanced horse and not to put her in situations she isn’t going to succeed… and that’s a whole other blog topic!


What this means to me is that I get to decide how I will behave on the trail. I also ask my horse to stay within my behavior requirements as I’m able. That is my job. 

I can’t control your trail behavior so when I even think about what someone else SHOULD or SHOULD NOT be doing I have left my own mind. In other words. 

I am out of my mind

I have also left my horse. 

And worse: I am now a victim. At the mercy of how you ride that day. 

Whoah. I have found that to be no fun for me.

So here is my own personal approach. 

I assume first that people do not have to obey a polite customary code on the trails and may do all manner of things that will challenge me and my horse to have a strong partnership. 

Yippee! Challenge always means opportunity for growth!!

At a group event one should assume not all riders will know or agree with your particular ideas of trail etiquette. Add on top that they may be stressed, confused, overwhelmed, or in a situation they weren’t prepared for etc and may just not be able to stick to a code they would have liked to in better circumstances. 

Hopefully all riders have a minimum connection and comfort level with their horse – AND awareness to their surroundings – so they will at the minimum be safe if someone does something unexpected, out of their control- or even just plain rude. 

On your own home trail rides- you can chose to only ride with riders who fit into your comfort level. That is generally safe, and if you all agree on your basic ride manners then harmony will rein! 

Maybe. 

So how does this work in my reality? I’ll just tackle one of the 106 comments of appropriate/inappropriate trail etiquette on a recent Facebook thread. One of the most common: the water source code. 


EVERYONE knows NEVER to walk off from a water source until every horse has had ample opportunity to drink their fill. 

But yet… I sometimes ride with people who’ve kept walking at a mud puddle (or stream… but my horse will drink from a mud puddle and most people don’t recognize it as a water source which might be why they’d keep walking 😊) when my horse decided to drink. Sometimes I let them know, maybe I just stop to drink and then catch up. Maybe they notice I’m not with them and wait for me. I have a few choices, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. 


I’ve worked on staying connected to my horse and holding her back at a water hole while riders walk off. Who cares about them anyway? They aren’t in charge of my horse.

In any situation, the moment I get into the business of the other rider I have lost connection to my horse. She knows it. She will then either do whatever she wants because I’m ‘gone’ or she will go where my brain went: the other horse and rider team. 

No wonder she’d walk off from the water source. I’ve already left with them mentally first. 

And I’ve let you ruin my day or ride, or moment with my horse. I’m now a victim of your behavior and I’m frustrated that I can’t control you… that leads to more frustration because I feel like you are controlling me (and worse my horse) and now I’m out of control and annoyed. 

And my horse feels my emotional energy and is likely confused (why are you frustrated or annoyed??) which after time means she shuts me out to protect herself. 

This means I will have less connection and be less of a leader the next time it happens… the cycle continues… and then people say this kind of connection where a horse chooses to stay present with its rider instead of throwing in with the herd is impossible and unrealistic. 

The other side is the idea that I must have some special kind of horse to have that kind of connection because all arabs… or all OTTBs… or all ____________ are prone to crazy herd behavior ignoring the rider when _________ situation comes up and we all need to agree on how to ride to keep everyone else safe. 

First let me be clear: my horse is not that unique. And our relationship is still in the developing stages and she does connect to the herd at times when they have a stronger call than I do … and she does get ‘race-brained’ and she does try to kick at riders who push in on her rear end…. 

In truth- when I look at less than optimal circumstances as an opportunity instead of annoyance then my horse and I grow together. Those rude, or inconsiderate, or out-of-control people are giving me a little gift. Growth! The chance to try to be better with my horse. 

The point of this post, in case it hasn’t been clear, is about responsibility. Not the actual code of ethics or the trail riding rulebook. I think polite behavior is great! I have observed in reality we all do not agree on what is acceptable in every given moment (if we did it wouldn’t be nearly so contentious) and we all have good days and bad days- and sometimes just aren’t aware. 

It happens.

Looking at it this way also makes it easier for me to ask for help if I do really need it. 

If I assume not everyone shares my personal trail code without judgment (doesn’t make them a bad person) then I can simply ask for help if I need it on a case by case basis. 

Hi… sorry… K is drinking would you hold up a minute for us?

This is assuming I’m among friends. This does not include random strangers I met on an endurance ride. They have absolutely no obligation to me… if they do afford me some courtesy I can thank them graciously. 

So I have a happier life when I assume responsibility for myself and my horse and never become a victim of anyone else’s choices.

 It also means I can ride with just about anyone which gives me lots of opportunities to deepens the connection with my horse.  

Of course not everyone may like to ride with me. 

That’s ok. That’s their business!

One thought on “The Work on Rider Etiquette 

  1. What I also find interesting is also how different endurance etiquette seems to be from region to region. Granted, I’ve only been doing this for about 2.5 years, and I’ve only ridden here in Texas, but with the exception of a scant handful of times, I’ve noticed when it comes to our tanks and troughs, if horses are currently drinking, riders approaching stop, ask if it’s okay for them to approach and either do or don’t. Sometimes they don’t ask, they just default and wait (especially if there’s grazing to be had near the tank). It isn’t perfect, and I’m a back of the pack rider (I say I’m always riding to win turtle; if I paid for 12 hours, I’m using up as much of it as I can), so perhaps etiquette is different with the front runners, I honestly don’t know. But for the faces I see at the back…it’s a bit different at least.

    And again, handful of times where, if we’re drinking will people walk off without asking first if they can. Usually they ask if it’s okay for them to leave.

    Here in Texas, what I do not care for, are people who will heave their sponges into the tanks while my horse is drinking. Without fail, it startles them so badly that I can’t get them to settle back in for a drink, even if I wait around for them to stop dipping and throwing in and out of our water source and for them to leave. It’s why I appreciate our ride managers who leave buckets out with water for sponging.

    Also here in Texas, most of the RM’s are good about reviewing THEIR expectations of trail etiquette. And, my personal opinions are I’m playing in the “world” they created for the weekend. I should be doing my best to abide by their rules. I think it’s societal conditioning that if we’re told the rules, that others should be doing their best to abide by them. I generally try to assume the best of a person (hey, I’ve forgotten at least once or twice to call out that I was passing on the left/right…sometimes MY brain doesn’t function!) and figure that perhaps they were so involved in their own “thing” that they just temporarily forgot.

    It’s the riders who CONSTANTLY do blatantly rude and irresponsible things that I feel need to be addressed, which is what I think that thread was driving at. Screw up once or twice, okay, happens, as long as no one got hurt or injured, that’s fine. But if people are constantly coming up and saying “Hey, your riding or how you’re handling your horse is a problem and it’s impacting multiple people on trail”….I think that needs addressed. At some point THAT type of rider is going to meet up with a new/green horse or rider on trail which could lead to a disaster. And no one wants to see hurt or injured horses and riders out there.

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