When deciding to go for a trail ride there is one important safety practice that is often overlooked. When riding in a group you should always keep at least one horse length between horses on the trail. Here's a story to illustrate my point.
A group of us were planning a day trip to Excelsior Pass located in Glacier WA. It was a beautiful day, a little windy but we were anxious to get out and see the sights on horseback. I was on a young Quarter Horse Mare without much time on her. She was as green as it gets. There was at least 15 riders all mounted up and ready to head out.
As we started up through a grove of trees we quickly hit a bog. The horses struggled through sucking mud, splashing gooey muck on those around us. My mare followed anxiously, seeking solid footings. We were watching the horse in front of us, trying to stay a respectful distance.
As soon as we got free of the bog we started climbing. After a few minutes things got pretty exciting. Someone yelled "Bees" and the desperate attempt to get away from these stinging pest began. Galloping wildly through the trees on a narrow path was challenging at best. We were all doing our best to stay on panicked horses, some getting stung.
A ways up the trail we all stopped to catch our breath. Thankfully no mishaps but what a start to a leisurely trail ride. We started off again, enjoying the view. The trail was very narrow with steep terrain above and below us. Not really the best place to start off on a young inexperienced horse. Anyway things were going pretty well until the horse behind us kept bumping up against us. I politely asked the offending rider to please keep her horse back. I could tell my horse was getting agitated and she finally fired off kicking the horse behind us. Both me and the offending rider behind were terrified knowing that a step off this steep incline could start us tumbling down the mountainside.
Fortunately because she was so close there was no injury other than the rider angry with me for what she felt was my offense. We continued on with the rider who was behind me finally keeping a safe distance. This could have had a tragic ending. My young horse now wanted to kick anytime a horse got anywhere near us which left me with some retraining.
Thankfully it was a valuable lesson. It's always a good idea to keep at least one horse length between each horse on a ride. Unfortunately we've all seen dude strings with the horses bunched in the group. This works because these horses are familiar with each other and the head rider knows which horses he can safely put in what order in the string. When riding with unfamiliar horses this is not the case. Herd dynamics play a big part with horses able to ride up the rear of another horse.
While every horse should tolerate close quarters it's not something that should be done unless it's a training exercise. Be safe and enjoy the ride!