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
· Pain reliever (for you and your horse)
· Band-Aids (for you)
· Cell phone
· Hoof pick
· Swiss Army style Knife