A day long trail ride is a much anticipated event for riders. Spending a day out in nature with your horse is heaven to most equestrians. In order to have the most positive experience, some basic safety preparations are needed before you embark on your adventure. The best trail rides are usually the result of the best preparations.
First and foremost is the health of the horse and the rider. Make sure both horse and rider are in good physical condition. Cancel the trip at any sign of illness or other adverse health issue. The old adage of “Better safe than sorry” applies here. Trail rides are meant to be memory making events, not disasters covered on the late night news.
An important necessary element is the rider’s skill at confidently controlling the horse in unfamiliar surroundings, especially when startled by encountering unexpected circumstances such as the appearance of loose dogs, hikers, bikers, wild life, brooks or streams to cross or falling rocks on the trail. Extra hours of command training will pay off with obedience to commands in an emergency situation.
Pre-plan by studying the trail map until you are familiar with the area, the terrain changes and possible hazards. Researching the trail beforehand and knowing what to expect will help you decide what gear is necessary to take along on your ride. Gather all needed maps, a compass or GPS, any required passes or permits, and money for unexpected expenses or fees.
Check the long range weather forecast. Plan the trip for a long stretch of good weather. If possible have a cell phone with internet capability for NOAA, the National Oceanographic and atmospheric Administration. NOAA is the best weather forecaster because of its series of frequent updates and online maps. Start off with a fresh battery and take a spare along. No matter how much you are looking forward to this trip and how much planning you have done, don’t risk a trail ride in unsettled weather. Exposing your horse and yourself to the possible dangers caused by bad weather is a high risk. There will always be another day.
If you are new to trail riding, start by riding with a group, or at least with one other rider and always inform someone of where you will be riding and when you expect to return. Carry current identification information in a waterproof packet with you in a pocket of the clothing you are wearing and a duplicate set in a saddlebag, in case of emergency, or if you become separated from your horse. Solo trail riding is best left to those with more experience.
Protect yourself from the elements by packing raingear, an extra jacket or sweater, gloves, sunglasses and some form of head covering. Headgear can be whatever you are most comfortable wearing, a cowboy hat with a wide brim, any other hat with a brim that provides a sunshade, a warm knit cap or a helmet for safety. Helmets are a good idea if the terrain is uneven and rocky, and in cold weather a knit cap will fit underneath.
Clothing should be comfortable but sturdy. Dress in riding pants or jeans and well broken in riding boots. This is not the time to try out new boots no matter how nice they are or how comfortable they might initially feel. Layered tops such as tank tops, t-shirts or rolled sleeved button front shirts make it easy to add or remove a shirt or jacket if weather changes occur. Always pack an extra set of clothes in case you accidentally get wet. It can be quite uncomfortable spending a whole day in wet or damp clothing. Also pack reflective gear in case the ride is longer than expected and you are still out when darkness falls. Reflective gear is necessary for the horse as well.
No matter how well you prepare, accidents occasionally happen. A good quality first aid kit is a necessity. It should contain bandages, antibiotic cream, tweezers, scissors, tape, a snake bite kit, any medications you or your horse are taking, a hoof pick, an eye pad, aspirin or Tylenol, safety pins, lip balm and a small hand towel. Sunscreen and insect repellant should also be included.
Some safety items to pack in your saddlebag include a good flashlight and extra batteries, a pocket knife with multiple blades and attachments, a whistle to signal for help if needed, waterproof matches, a watch, extra rope, a kerchief or bandanna, super glue and duct tape. Duct tape can repair anything from shoes to eyeglass frames to tack items and will hold together well for emergency repairs. It is one of the most important safety items to pack because of its multiple uses.
Adequate nutrition is the most important consideration of all. Water, water and more water, always carry more water than you think you will need. Carry it in canteens, bottles, camel packs or any other way that makes it convenient to reach often. Poor hydration takes its toll on a rider and can cause headaches and exhaustion. Saddle bags should contain food supplies of edible items that do not require refrigeration or cooking. High energy items such as granola bars, trail mix, dried fruit such as raisins or cranberries, nuts, apples or oranges or peanut butter sandwiches are good choices. Avoid anything with mayonnaise or anything containing meat or cheese which will likely spoil during the trip. Good quality nutrition bars and a supply of your favorite chocolate bars will hold you over. Besides, at the end of the day, the ride is best discussed and remembered over a hot dinner.
One more note, become familiar with the rules and regulations of the trail you will be riding on and practice proper trail etiquette when faced with others using the same trail whether they are equestrians, hikers or bikers. Follow the rules to avoid fees or fines and to ensure you are welcomed back to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the serenity of a trail ride in natural surroundings.
In summary: plan ahead, research the trail map, check the weather, pack the essentials, and then relax knowing you have prepared well and enjoy a beautiful day on horseback along with Mother Nature. Don’t forget to bring your camera and record memories that will be talked about for weeks and months to come.