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I have a safety question about trail rides. I work at a summer camp that offers trail rides. There is some disagreement over the best way to conduct a trail ride. The two questions that come up the most are: 1. What is a reasonable ratio of campers (riders) per staff member? 2. If you have to staff members working a trail ride is it safer to have them riding horses or walking on their own two feet? If you could answer these questions it would be a great help. Thanks.


Very good questions, Kory. I am impressed that your staff is concerned enough with safety to be debating these issues. But you don’t have to go through these things alone! It is one of the main purposes of CHA, to provide standard information on safety issues such as these, to programs such as yours

First of all, the question about the ratio of staff to riders is an important one and is addressed in Standards for Group Riding Programs, published by CHA. This booklet of safety standards is an important document and one that is frequently used by both sides in cases of litigation. It would probably be a good idea for your program to invest five bucks and order this book from CHA (call 800-399-0138). It not only addresses this issue, but about 50 others.

According to CHA recommendations, trail rides should have a minimum staff to client ratio of 1:6 (the ratio is different for arena riding). However, strictly speaking, there should always be a minimum of 2 guides, even if there are fewer than 6 clients. The reason is that if a problem occurs, there needs to be someone to help with the injured party, runaway horse, go for help, etc., while one guide stays with the rest of the group to keep them in control and prevent further incidents. Incidentally, the lead rider should never leave the position of the head of the ride. It is his/her duty to keep control of the group and leaving the head of the ride open is a recipe for disaster. Also, the guide with the most fist-aid training and experience should ride at the rear of the line. This way, he/she is not only able to better watch what is happening, but is able to access the injured rider easier.

As for your second question, about whether or not staff should ride or walk, definitely they should ride. Although you might be able to keep control of one horse from the ground, it would be difficult to see, keep up with and otherwise control the rest of the group. It could also be hazardous for the guide. Because horses tend to be “monkey see, monkey do” animals, it is important for the leaders of the ride to be demonstrating the right thing. For this reason and others, the guides should ride very reliable mounts. It is a common practice at many trails operations for the guides to ride horses that are not suitable for clients, but there are some real dangers with this practice. If there is a problem with a client horse, the guide may need to switch horses with the client. If horses begin to get fractious, it is imperative that the guide keeps his horse under control, not only so that he can be more effective, but also because horses tend to act like the horse in front of them. Also, when a guide needs to deal with an emergency situation, the last thing she needs to think about is keeping control of her horse.

I hope this information is helpful to you and please let us know what other questions arise. If your program is not a member of CHA already, you may want to look into it and possibly host a trail guide certification clinic for your staff. Obviously they are dedicated and conscientious people and would appreciate and benefit from furthering their education and credentials. Keep up the good work!