Friday, June 2, 2017

Trail Riding Safety

There is nothing like trail riding. I used to do a lot of trail riding when I was younger. Sometimes I rode with a couple of friends, sometimes with my children, and many times alone. I know it wasn’t the wisest thing to do – that was a long time before cell phones. But, I loved it – just me and my horse and nature. My stable was just a short ride from logging roads that once I got through the woods and across a couple of big ditches I could ride for miles on those secluded roads without seeing another human being. I really felt safer on my solitary rides than on big trail rides, as you never knew what the other riders might decide to do or how other horses were going to act.

Common sense goes a long way to insuring a safe ride, but even veteran trail riders sometimes get careless or just forget some of the most basis safety rules. Safety on a trail ride applies not only to yourself but also your horse, your fellow riders and their horses. Here are ten suggestions to follow for a safer and more enjoyable ride.
1 - Leave that cowboy hat in the truck and put on an approved riding helmet before you mount up. If you don’t follow any other safety rule in horseback riding follow the “wear a helmet every ride, every time” rule. It can be a lifesaver.

2 – Avoid equipment failure. Check and replace worn parts on your saddle and bridle before a ride. Acclimate your horse to new tack and accessories before the ride.

3 – When riding single file keep a horse’s length between your horse and the horse in front of you. Your horse may never have kicked in all the time you’ve owned it, but who knows what that horse in front of you might do? A hoof planted on your kneecap can be a serious, as well as painful, injury.

4 –Watch where you’re going, keep an eye on the trail itself as well as what is up ahead or off to the sides. Warn riders behind you of hazards on the trail.

6 - Respect the property of others. Get permission before riding on their land, don’t ride in cultivated fields, close gates after the last horse has gone through, and don't litter.

7- Alcohol has no place on the trail. Smoking on the trail is also a bad idea as a spark can start a fire. In fact, you might even set your horse on fire. I was on a ride when a man was smoking a cigarette as he galloped his horse down a road, looking just like the Marlboro Man. The fire from his cigarette fell down into the gullet of his western saddle and soon smoke was curling up through the gullet. The smoker quickly dismounted and pulled off his saddle and blanket just before the fire had burned through the pad to his horse’s back.

8 – You’ve heard it a hundred times - don’t gallop your horse home. You not only are in danger of creating a runaway horse but you can also excite the other horses on the ride. Walking the last mile not only allows your horse time to cool down, but also trains it to be patient.

9 – Cool your horse down after the ride. The rule of thumb is to walk the last mile home. You may need to hose your horse off in warm weather to remove sweat and cool him. In winter, brush him down and put a cooler or sheet on him and hand walk until he dries to avoid a chill. Never let your horse eat until he is cooled down. You may allow your horse to drink up to ten swallows of water, and then after he has cooled down he can drink his fill.

10 – Carry along a basic emergency kit that will fit into your saddlebags. Following are suggestions of items to include in your emergency kit:

·         Hay string or leather shoes laces for emergency repairs.

·         Masking tape or non-adhesive vet wrap (to hold on a bandage)

·         A couple of disposable baby diapers for leg bandages

·         Tweezers to remove splinters, thorns, or bee stingers.

·         Antibacterial ointment

·         Eyewash

·         Pain reliever (for you and your horse)

·         Band-Aids (for you)

·         Cell phone

·         Hoof pick

·         Swiss Army style Knife

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Falling Off

The first time I fell off my horse I remember having a feeling of accomplishment. That was because an older gentleman in our saddle club had made the remark at one of our gatherings that you were not a “real rider” until you’d fallen off your horse. Now, I told myself, I had finally achieved real rider status. 

I was also glad I was riding alone and no one saw my “fall”. My horse didn’t buck or rear. In fact, he was standing still.  I was following a path in the woods when I came to ditch that had a very rickety foot bridge across it. I was sure it would not support the weight of my horse and me. I decided to dismount and lead Pal across the ditch. That went without a problem. It was the remounting, which I did with a bit too much energy – I kept going right over his back and landed with a plop on the ground on the other side.
 I did have my share of real falls after that. Once I was bucked off in a field from what had seemed until that moment a perfectly quiet horse.  I still have no idea what provoked her to buck.
Pale as the Moon
Maybe she just felt exuberant or maybe she saw something I didn’t see. Sometimes I wonder if horses don’t seem things in some other realm kept from human-being awareness.
Another fall was from my sweet Arabian gelding, Kosack. I was riding with a friend. We entered a field from a woodsy path when my horse suddenly caught his shoe in a wire fence that had fallen over and was hidden by vines. Kosack panicked and reared; I fell off. That one hurt. I couldn’t get out of bed the next day.
This last one I’ll tell you about was all my fault. I was showing off and took off galloping ― racing. We were on a dirt road that intersected a paved one. When my mare’s hooves hit the pavement, she slipped and down we both went. I hit my head. That night I woke up with a really severe headache. I got out of bed to go get aspirin. I passed out in the bathroom and hit my head again on the toilet. I survived all my accidents.
When I began to teach riding, once in a while a student would fall off their horse. Fortunately, no serious injuries resulted. But, it always scared me whenever one of my charges hit the ground.
I’d been teaching many years when I went to a Horse Expo in Virginia. A line up of well-known trainers were doing mini clinics. One of them did a demonstration on how to fall off your horse. He then had a volunteer from the audience come down to the arena. He taught him, step by step, how to fall off a horse. I brought that knowledge home with me and taught my students how to fall off their horses. I would shout out randomly during a lesson, “Fall off your horse!” and the class would hit the ground – on their feet!
The steps are: first, lean forward and wrap your arms around your horse’s neck, while at the same time kicking both feet out of the stirrups, swing your off-side leg over the horse’s rump landing on your left foot with the knee relaxed and slightly bent, then both feet on the ground and letting go of the horse’s neck, hopefully with reins in hand. It gave the students confidence to know they could bail in an emergency. We practiced it over and over and yes, there were a few times when a student saved themselves from hitting the ground with a thud with the technique.

I found a video that shows how it is done. 

The characters in both Pale as the Moon and An Independent Spirit fall off at least once. I think it is true - you do have to fall off before you can join the real rider club!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Fearless Little Girls and Fearless Little Ponies

Someone posted a video this morning on Facebook of three little girls riding three little ponies, jumping them over a pole they'd put between a fence rail and a tricycle! God bless ponies! My daughters had ponies who taught them to ride and to take chances. I am sure there were many of those chances taken while I wasn’t looking. The amazing thing was that they survived, both the ponies and the little fearless girls.

Ponies, and horses, are the great equalizers for little girls. They give them speed, strength and stamina. On pony-back little girls can out run, out jump and out maneuver the little boys in the neighborhood. Perhaps the lessons taught by their ponies is why my little girls grew up believing they could be equals in a man’s world.

Good, long-suffering, dependable ponies are worth their weight in gold. My little girls’ ponies were named Mary and JB. I had an old gelding, Pal, and the four of us (two kids on one pony, one on the other) would take off on Saturday mornings to go trail riding. Now, JB wasn’t as “long-suffering” as the little Shetland pony, Mary. When he got tired he was known to lay down and take a roll, ousting his rider in the process. Quite often he’d choose to do that in a watery spot. And when the girls would take off riding while I did work around the barn once or twice JB came home by himself, his dumped rider trailing behind on foot. She’d be madder than a wet hen, but didn’t take it out on her pony. I guess she knew she deserved whatever punishment he doled out.

One day we were all riding in a field, two daughters on one pony. We were galloping in between rows in the field, me in the front on ole Pal, the ponies coming along behind. We were almost at the far end of the long stretch when I heard one of my children yell, “Wait for me!” I stopped and looked behind. There sat the little girl who had been riding behind her sister in the dirt. She’d bounced off the rump of their pony and left behind by the rest of us.

Those were some fun times, etched in our memories. As an instructor, I valued a good pony above any “show horse”. I always had one or two in my lesson barn. They were short enough for the small students to reach to groom and tack up by themselves. If they did fall off, it wasn’t that far to the ground.

Puddin' Tain and a Student
One of those precious lesson ponies was named Puddin’ Tain. I wrote a chapter book about her. Puddin’ Tain was the perfect school pony. She stood still for grooming and tacking, obediently lifting her foot to be cleaned, took the bridle without fuss and waited patiently for kids to scramble onto her back. They learned to walk, trot, canter, maneuver through trail obstacles, and jump little X’s with Puddin’ Tain. We hauled her to shows (entering Western and English classes) and took her on trail rides. She did it all.  Puddin’ Tain was a confidence builder for the children who became fearless riders because she was a fearless pony.