What to do if You Get Lost on a Trail Ride

If You Get Lost, Stay Calm and Stay Put

Getting lost on a ride is easy to do.  A bit of fog, a path you thought was another trail, an engaging conversation – all can lead you astray.  When (Yes, it happens to everyone) you become lost don’t panic. Instead remember the acronym STOP (Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan.) These four simple steps will help you stay on track and return to camp in time for dinner.

stopStop – If you feel that you’ve gone off course, just stop. It’s very tempting to “keep going just a little bit further”. Don’t fall victim to the temptation. If you do, you stand a good chance of becoming even more disoriented.


thinkThink – Put the panic aside. Stay calm and approach the situation in a rational manner. Think about what made you realize that you were lost – a trail that vanished, a landmark that wasn’t were it should be. Stay put while you consider the situation – moving will make things worse.

– Open your eyes and analyze your surroundings. Think about what landmarks might help you orient yourself. Compare those observations to your map to further help pinpoint your location. Think about the weather, what time it is, and what supplies you have on hand. Use all of these factors to develop an action plan.

You do know how to use a map don’t you? Here’s a quick primer to help!


planPlan – Think through potential next steps and then decide on a plan. If you feel confident that you can get back on your trail, do so. If you do not feel that you can safely make it back, then staying put and waiting for help is a very good option. If help is on the way continued movement will only make things worse.


wrongwayYes, giving your horse “his head” may get you back to the trailer. We’ve all done it. Unfortunately, it may also get you even more lost than you were before or he may choose a route that is far too difficult for you to stay mounted. Consider those thoughts before you trust your horse to get you back to the trailer safely.


Rely on a GPS to find your way home? Have you read the manual? Before trusting your life to plastic and silicone read this and make sure you know what your GPS unit does and does not!

GPS – What you need to know


  • stephanie

    I found my horse always knows the way back to the trailer. I just have to trust her.most horses will back track on the same route they went on.

  • Terri

    I agree, Stephanie. On the couple of times I have not quite known where I was for sure, my horse took my directly to the trailer trail. Two different horses, so it has to be innate in them.

  • nancy schaufele

    Trusting your horse does not always work. After an 8 hour unexpected “detour” deep in the woods I now always carry a small GPS (as do most of my trail friends). If worse comes to worse and you have to stay put, Colorado (and some other states) offer a search and rescue card, It costs very little and will pay for, what could be a costly rescue (yes, most states charge you). Anyone with young children should teach them the plan method you have here. Tom Brown Jr. has a great book on wilderness survival.

  • Hugh

    If your horse can’t get you back get a new horse !

  • Gail van Velzer

    How can I print this?
    Gail van Velzer

  • Martha Nicholas

    More very useful information. Keep bring it on.

  • Robin

    My husband bought me a SPOT GPS search and rescue unit. I used it last week, not because I was lost, though I wasn’t sure where I was at first, but because I was injured. I made my way back finally to a place I knew people were, but I was glad when I saw search and rescue because I wasn’t getting off the mountain any way but in a vehicle.