Some customers ask why they have to ride in a straight line. Its a four part answer. We are encumbered by many insurance requirements but most of all we have to make our own rules to reduce our liability and keep our customers and horses safe. Riding in a straight line is not an insurance requirement but it does help the guide do their job. It also conditions the horses to respond in the safest way possible when an emergency occurs.
A straight line is sometimes necessary just because of the terrain. When you ride out west in wide open fields and the sands of the desert there is a lot of room for horses to roam side by side and therefore a line might not be quite as prevalent. But they will still ride in a group with a leader and sometimes a follower and if the group is large there will be side riders that can also help if there is trouble. Here in Maine, we have lots of woods. Many trails do not allow room for two horses to travel side-by-side. If they do, there is the danger of a rider’s leg getting caught between the horse and a tree. Not to mention the branches that reach out at the sides of the trails that can get you in the face. So it is imperative from this standpoint to condition the horses to ride “nose to tail” just so they won’t inadvertently try to pass each other with a beginner rider that may not realize the danger to themselves.
A straight line also assists in a situation where horses may spook. For instance, if a dog jumps out of the trees next a horse in the line, that horse and maybe the horse behind it will immediately react. The horses in front are least likely to react and the horses further behind will have a lesser reaction. If the horses are bunched together or side by side more horses will react more immediately. They may possibly bump into each other causing an issue that is much harder for an inexperienced rider to correct. It also puts that inexperienced rider in a position to see horses and riders in mayhem and they may not react due to stimulation overload.
Horses personalities are another reason riding in a straight line is much safer. The guide knows them best. No matter what your experience level, the guide knows just how each horse gets along and what they will put up with from the rider and the surrounding stimuli. The guide will position the horses in a line so that each rider will have the least difficulty directing and controlling their horse. Some horses are “babysitters” and will put up with a complete loss of control by the rider and hold another horse at bay without feeling threatened and retaliating. Some horses will not tolerate another horse behind them or beside them especially if they are “in their space”.
And last but not least, riding in a straight line helps the guide determine which riders need more help. Some riders need to correct the horse more to stay in line and some don’t. Some riders handle the reins and seem to be following directions but react incorrectly when they need to turn or stop the horse. Occasionally there is just a bad horse and rider personality match. Obviously we only have a few minutes to assess your ability to understand and follow directions, your confidence level and your experience. We can’t get the match right each time but we tend to get it right most of the time. If we see a rider out of line more than once, we know to look for issues. Is the rider trying to do something else with their hands? Such as taking pictures, swiping flies in their face or rearranging their sun glasses. Is the rider not able to pull the correct rein when needed to correct the horses direction? Is the rider over correcting? Are they just not willing to follow directions?
Generally, we can move that person to another position in line if needed. Sometimes we have to tether their horse and lead them through the remainder of the trail. In extreme cases we can come out and remove the rider from the ride. The guide’s job is difficult and its important that each rider is able to follow directions and does their best to do so. Riding a horse is not a spectator sport. They do not “just follow each other”. They have to be ridden by the person on their back, they have to be corrected when temptation strikes such as a muddy area to avoid or some good looking grass to eat. And even when the line is stopped and the guide is assisting someone, the rider still has to maintain control. At no time is it safe to put the reins down and do something else.
We hope that everyone that rides with us has a great time. This often depends on the cooperation of all riders that participate. We put safety first and satisfaction second but this is a necessity of the business. We try to balance the two whenever possible and so far have succeeded with a review rating of 90% and over for 5 years on several different review sites. We appreciate all customers who arrive ready to ride and with a positive attitude for all of our safety measures. We strive to make every ride as much fun as it can possibly be for you and your family and friends.