What makes a good horse trail?

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    With so many choices of horse camps and trails, it’s important to have a starting point with which to compare.  Over the years, we’ve learned that there are some things that are almost universally desirable for a horse trip, while others are purely optional or personal.  So that you’ll understand what WE consider ideal while reading our reviews and posts about the horse trails we have ridden, it’s only fair to point out that what WE like and what YOU like may be considerably different.

    Also, just because a horse trail doesn’t have everything that we prefer doesn’t mean we didn’t have a good time there, it simply means we had to take into consideration the extra challenges.

    For example, it’s pretty universally desired to have lots of loop trails, particularly those that offer several different starting points directly out of the campground.  Linear trails are less preferred because they lack choices, and generally becomes boring by the second ride (my horse hates to take the same trail twice!)  If you have to take a linear trail to reach a loop or series of loops, that can work, too, as long as you don’t have to travel 5 miles to get to the first loop (like at the Big Creek Horse Camp in the Smoky Mountains National Park along the TN-NC border.)

    Footing preference vary as well, sometimes depending on the season.  Our horses are unshod, though we have horse boots we put on the front whenever we are faced with rocks or gravel.  We’ve been astonished on many occasions when trails with a perfectly good dirt trail have been covered over with gravel, sometimes sharp-cornered, large gravel, in a misguided effort to make it less slippery during occasional rain.  Sand is good as long as it’s not too deep for too long a stretch.  My horse is good at letting me know when he’s getting frustrated with footing, so I tend to take more notice than most 🙂

    Ideal trails should have a variety of terrain.  As wonderful as riding in central and south Florida can be for the weather, trails are usually so flat, and often straight, that it’s easy for horse and rider to get bored, though it’s great if you like to do a lot of trotting and cantering, or have a gaited horse and just like to zoom on by!  Open, rolling hills are nice, they often offer beautiful 360 degree views that seem to go on forever.  One of our favorite places with this kind of terrain was Pacheco State Park, southeast of San Francisco, CA, a former working ranch, an old Spanish land trust recently acquired by the state, with a mandate to keep the trails to livestock use only.  The views were stunning on every hilltop!

    Deep forests are some of our favorite types of trails, especially when it winds up and down some grades, even mountains.  We have been to so many places with these types of trails, and they truly are spectacular.  When you can take a trail that makes you feel like one of the original mountain men, or pioneers crossing the country, it has a very special feel to it.

    When you combine a deep forest with some stretches of open fields, with good solid dirt footing, now you’re talking!

    Our least favorite are the very stoney or rocky trails.  These don’t seem to bother some people, and we’ve done quite a few wearing horse boots, but the chances of injury to our horses go up exponentially on this kind of trail, so we do our best to avoid them.  After all, when you travel full time with your horses, you must do everything possible to keep them healthy!

    You should also consider how well-maintained the trails are.  Though most places we’ve been have been safely passable, there have been several occasions where the downed trees and lack of trail maintenance have been downright dangerous.  One of the trails near Gandy Creek in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia comes to mind, as does one of the lesser, unmarked but beautiful trails near Kelly Pines in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania, among others.  It’s unfortunate that an otherwise excellent trail has deteriorated simply due to a lack of occasional maintenance.  I always carry a camp saw with me, so that smaller obstacles can be easily removed, which I consider a small contribution to everyone else’s enjoyment of the trails!

    As we continue in our travels, we’ll do our best to keep you updated in our blog about trail conditions and footing, so that you can make the best decision for you and your animals when traveling.  If you’d like our opinion on any particular horse trails that we may have traveled, let us know!  We’ll be glad to share our experiences with you.

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