Trail riding this time of year is a treat for both you and your horse. Cooler temps and beautiful fall colors, followed by a winter wonderland. But don't take for granted that your "bombproof" horse will stay bombproof in the colder weather and the appearance of more woodland wildlife. Consider taking these steps to have a safe trail ride.
- Always wear a helmet. You might also want to consider wearing a safety vest.
- Always ride with a partner or let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.
- Carry a cell phone and/or GPS. Carry them on your person, not in a saddle bag. If you and your horse are separated, your cell phone may go galloping down the trail without you.
- Always wear proper riding apparel and foot wear. They can help prevent you from scratches from branches or a fall. Proper boots will keep your foot securely and safely in your stirrup.
- Pack a rain coat or light sweater – weather can change in an instant.
- If you will possibly be riding after dark, wear reflective clothing and take a small flash light. Reflective items for your horse are another good idea.
- If riding during hunting season, even if you are not riding in a hunting area, wear highly visible clothes (orange or fluorescent) and make enough noise to hunters are alerted to your presence and that you are not a deer!
- Have your horse wear a halter under his bridle and bring a lead rope in case you have to tie your horse on the trail.
- Bring a people first aid kit.
- Bring a horse first aid kit.
- If you ride during bug season, use a fly mask and fly spray on you horse, bug repellant for you.
- Carry a hoof boot in case your horse loses a shoe.
- Think long and hard before going on a trail ride bareback. Then think again. There are a lot of things on the trail that can cause your horse to spook and having a saddle can help you stay secure and control your horse.
- Keep at least one horse length between you and the horse in front. If your horse might be prone to kick a too close horse, make sure everyone knows it or tie a red ribbon to your horse’s tail.
- Wait until all riders are mounted and ready before you move off.
- Stay alert. While it’s natural to get lost in the fun and beauty of a trail ride, remember that you are still riding and must stay alert to potential problems. If you see a potential problem (like a hole), make sure you notify the other riders.
- Always go at the pace that’s most comfortable for the least experienced rider or greenest horse. If your group decides to move at a faster pace, especially canter, make sure everyone in the group agrees or don’t canter. Horses are herd animals and will want to stay together and a beginner trail rider may not yet be comfortable at the faster pace.
- Stay on the designated trail. Not only will this keep you from getting lost, but can also be a safer route. Off the trail there may be holes, poison ivy or tree branches that can trip your horse.
- On multi-use trails, horses have the right of way due to their size and unpredictability, but don’t assume that other trailer users will know this. Bikers should yield to hikers and horses, and hikers should yield to horses. Politely ask them to move off the trail while you pass. Thank them.
- Know what to do in case of emergencies. These include an emergency stop, how to deal with a barking dog or wild animal on the trail and knowing some basic self-defense moves to keep YOU save from attackers.
Follow these same rules next spring and summer to stay safe year-round!
Photo credits: Krakow Tours, Action Tack, Marin Independent Journal