I have worked on dude ranches in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana since the mid 1980s. My business now is dude ranch consulting. One of the things I do is set up horseback riding programs for new ranches. I am certified by the Dude Ranchers Association as a wrangler instructor. I teach Horse Safety Certification courses. Over the years I have trained countless wranglers and taken thousands of guests on trail rides. Probably 70% of the guests I took out were beginners. My percentage of accidents with injuries is less than 1%. My number one goal has always been safety.
If you are looking at places to ride/vacation and are concerned about their safety program start by asking a few questions before making a reservation.
1. Do they allow people to ride on their own without a guide? If they do this could mean a general lack of concern for either riders or their horses.
2. Are guests allowed to run or gallop the horses? If they do offer loping/cantering how is that conducted? Does the leader of the ride just start running in big open fields when he feels like it or does he stop the ride before starting and give instructions about the rules, how far you will go, and when you will stop.
3. How many riders are allowed on each ride? What is the guest to guide ratio? It should be about 4 to 1.
4. Is any thought given to the order of the horses on the ride?
5. How often do they check cinches during the ride. Loose chinches are the number one reason people come off horses.
6. Do they allow double riding or allow a parent to have a small child ride with them? These are big no no’s and a safe operation would know better.
7. Do they have a written orientation speech or if not what does the orientation consist of?
8. What kind of experience do the wranglers/guides have? Are they nonchalant about moving around the horses and mounting people or are they all business. DO THEY HAVE FIRST AID/CPR?
9. What do the horses and equipment look like? Are the horses well cared for or are the skinny and not groomed? A horse that is not in good shape is more likely to have problems on a ride. If the tack is in poor condition it could lead to accidents.
These are just a few things to think about when looking at trail riding operations. Most dude ranch operations will have comments on trip advisor. About half of the ranches that are member of the dude ranchers association are horse safety certified. If it is not a dude ranch but just a trail riding operation I would ask if they have any kind of safety accreditation. I hope you find this helpful to this discussion. Anyone who would like to discuss this with me is welcome to contact me directly.