This spring, you and your horse may be the first to trudge through neglected trails. Without lots of hooves pounding the ground ahead of you, it may be difficult to guess what your footing will be like.
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 heavy 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 your path.
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. To find trail enthusiasts in your area who can recommend safe trails, visit www.horseand-muletrails.com. Also, type your town name and "trail ride club" into any good search engine, such as Google.
Before you set out for a long trail ride, make sure your horse is strong and well-conditioned so he can easily regain his balance after minor slips. First, work with him in an enclosed arena with flat, dry 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.