Trail etiquette and safety are one in the same. Not only does proper etiquette allow each rider to have a comfortable ride, but other riders benefit as well from the courtesies and consideration given to those riders, volunteers or spectators involved. Without realizing it, trail etiquette stems from safety issues. Certainly maintaining a safe distance from another horse, whether in hand or ridden, is not only an act of consideration for the other horse and handler/rider, but it is also safe as the distance allowed keeps everyone involved free of possible contact.
Let's start with safety in hand. Leading horses is not a trouble free act. Shying, balking and pulling are always potential problems even with the most trained horse. The myth that mares are more likely to kick is as ridiculous as saying my horse's @%#$ doesn't stink. All horses will kick... even those who have been around the world, have ponied the devil incarnate, and for all intensive purposes have seen it all. Mares, stallions, geldings, mules and donkeys will kick, especially in the midst of chaos: pre-ride vetting, waiting for the ride to start in the dark-in a crowd, at a vet check, on single track trail, you name it. These are all places where the horse will or could be in hand, and proximity to other horses must always be attended too. Horses get caught up in the excitement, and later in the day on Saturday, get cranky and tired too-keep your distance! Always leave at least one horse length between you, your horse, your crew, friends or family members from all sides of your horse, or someone else's horse. Never make assumptions, even with your own horse. Just because he's never kicked or bitten anyone doesn't mean today won't be a first, so keeping a safe distance is not only necessary, it's courteous too. Don't be afraid to ask someone to move away from you or your horse, even if they seem offended. You have the right to ask for more space and should expect them to respect that for their own safety and yours. Lastly, be kind to your horse and your fellow competitors, they're feeling the tension too!
Safety and etiquette on the trail is a crucial area to demonstrate good judgement. In NATRC the norm is, at a minimum, one horse length between each horse, one length to the front and one to the rear. This is adequate space for trail conditions that are not single track. Single track trail, especially the Tevis trail, is technical and ofttimes precarious with tricky footing and many switchbacks. These 'interruptions' create gridlock and stop and go traffic early in the ride through to it's end. Most of us are well versed in 'gridlock' on freeways and know and understand how frustrating this is, and single track trail with drop-offs and turns can be particularly dangerous. As difficult as it may seem to maintain at least one horse length in front and behind, it is important to make every effort to keep these distances clear between horses. It is not uncommon for a horse to be 'bumped' on narrow trail, and fortunately, most of the time these collisions never manifest into full blown accidents. They can however bring on smaller injuries or blows that can cause a horse to be pulled later in the day, or at their worst, can cause a horse to be knocked off the trail completely which never ends well for horse or rider. It is also possible for one horse to step on the one in front of it, usually resulting in a lame horse... so keep your distance. Ask for 'trail-please' when you need to pass, and be patient enough to wait for the rider in front of you to know when it is safe for them to pull over. People's interpretation of what is a safe turnout varies by experience, so be courteous and considerate... the rider in front of you knows you'd like to pass, and believe me, as soon as they can they will let you by.
Finally, have a great ride! Please's and thank you's go a long way for the riders, horses, vets, volunteers, ride staff, crew and spectators. Make your ride noticed by your character and your actions, not by your rash words and improprieties.