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Trail Riding Safety -
Coming Back In Your Saddle
And Not Draped Over It

I have been contacted by The Fox Television Network about possibly doing a "Trailriding Survival" segment for one of their programs. I put out the word that "I'm looking for safety dos & don'ts, ideas, examples and stories of things that have gone bad on *your* trail (any ride outside of an enclosed area) rides and the rides of those you are personally aware of who have had bad experiences trail riding."

This page is not intended to make anyone stop riding. It is for increasing your awareness of some of the things that *can* happen while enjoying your horses. Hopefully, as our awareness increases (mine sure has) we can ride safer.

Quite often, just being aware of the possibilities is enough.

Here's what came back..

Bob Morris writes...

You cannot stress enough the importance of wearing a helmet designed for equestrian activities. All of us, especially my wife and I, have had accidents out on the trail where a helmet has saved our lives. If nothing more than this one safety item is stressed it will be of great benefit to all riders.

Jane and her horse, Rusty writes...

The worse fall was when we came upon a small log. We had already successfully jumped two logs. My friend and her horse cleared it with no problem. When it was too late to turn back, I realized something was not right with my horse. Rusty popped the log and off I went. On the way down he kicked a hole in my helmet (yes, I had an approved safety helmet on) and did a number on my ear and the side of my face. I was picking helmet our of my ear as late as Christmas (this happened in October). It was about a month until I could open my mouth completely and the ear has never been right. It could have been a lot worse as I just missed the sharp points of an uprooted tree log.

I am very safety minded when I ride. I never go without my helmet, my tack is new and in good working order, when my tack wears out I get new tack and although I do ride a lot by myself, I carry a knife and whistle and a cell phone or two way radio when appropriate. I do not ride in inclement weather and if the wind chill factor is dangerous, I do not go out by myself. I also believe you should never ride a horse for the first time out on the trail. It is dangerous to do this with a horse you do not know.

Cindi Atwell writes...

Knock on wood I've never had an incident and almost always ride by myself. First of I think all people who ride on a trail need to be sure that they are not the only ones prepared for safety. The horse has to be trained properly and ready for the trails and the "boggie men" they may see. I see to many people riding horses that are not even close to being ready for the trail. There's a lot of extensive work that goes into preparing a horse for any kind of rides outside of the arena. I rarely have anyone around to go with me so I wear my helmet, take my cell phone and wear boots, not sneakers. I also tell those at home approx. how long I'll be gone and if I'm not back come looking. They know the trails and where to look. You can't be to careful no matter how good of a horse you have but you also want it to be fun.

Sheila Thomas writes...

Marv, this sounds like a great opportunity! I wonder if you happened to see the _Trailblazer_ magazine (last Fall) article on predators (two-legged variety) that might be encountered on the trail? It was excellent, and it would be great if you could put in a few words along that line.

Karen McGavin writes...

I'm not much of a trail rider, though it looks like I'm headed in that direction. Would it be too elementary to suggest that the "always WALK home" is important. My daughter just took a bad spill from one of the Thoroughbreds because she was in a hurry. Turns out he was too! The other thing that seems to help is a clear understanding of the one rein stop and how to implement it, and of course, the emergency dismount. Of course it didn't help Laura - panic over sense was the order of the day. The helmet helped - always wear one. Avoid trees with low branches. I know you'll get lots of feedback on this one! I hope all goes through - I'd love to see you on the tube!

Vickie Wheeler tells us why safety is so important - it lessens the chances of the following...

Although it didn't happen on the trail (it was in the lot behind my folks house), it is something that could happen anywhere.

My horse reared ... I could tell he was losing his balance, so I threw myself off. This pulled him over on me. I ended up with a compound fracture of my right ankle (that is the nice way to say it -- the foot was severed from the leg with about 3-4 inches of skin holding it on). The ER crew could not believe I didn't have any additional injuries & told me parents that the doctor would have to amputate (I was 14). Every bone in the foot was broken & many (most?) blood vessels & nerves severed. When the horse had gotten up, he stepped on my foot -- grinding dirt, rocks, manure, etc into the open wound. The orthopaedic surgeon on call that night reattached blood vessels & nerves & treated the rest of the mess as a war wound, leaving it open to drain (the only good thing from Vietnam, he claimed). Five days later, they did surgery to put a screw in the ankle to reattach the foot to the leg. I was not able to put weight on the foot for months.

Twelve months later, I had intense pain. X-rays showed that the bone around the screw had died. This time the doctors fused the ankle -- I looked like Frankenstein with 4 metal bars through my leg/foot & tension attaching them. This surgery took away most of the range of motion in my right ankle -- no high heels (for a 15 year old girl, this was bad), no running, no jumping, nothing that required flexing including that little bouncing you do to mount.

I was on-&-off crutches for 18 months. 23 years later I had to have surgery again because the cartilage between the fused portion of the ankle & the heel bone (which was not fused) was completely gone. It is possible (maybe even probable) that I will have to have additional surgeries as more cartilage deteriorates.

At 39, I have arthritis in my right ankle, cannot trot my horse out at vet checks, cannot mount without assistance (& I have a 4 yo that is 15.3 & growing :-( bad move on my part), have problems finding shoes that are comfortable & accommodate this huge mass of bone. I am THANKFUL that I have a foot &, although considered a handicap by many, I feel blessed. I can still ride & look forward to competing my 4 yo next year. For vet checks, I either have to have a crew, ride with someone who will trot my horse for me, or alert the ride manager to ask if they will accommodate me (have a volunteer do the trot out).

Laurie Hausmann writes...

OK, how about the time we were on a trail ride and the ground gave way beneath us, dropping Skeeter and me into a 4' deep hole. With tree roots in it, BTW. I thought we were dead meat. She lunged up a out of it, fell to her knees, got up, fell, got up, fell --- as we were then going downhill. I was riding English, and ended up hanging on to her neck, upside down. She finally got her balance and stopped, I unwrapped my legs from her neck --- both of us were fine and continued the ride with no more excitement. Thank heavens I had a calm, intelligent horse --- an idiot would have killed us both.

Lucy Chaplin Trumbull writes...

My quickie list for avoiding incidents on the trail:

Jeanne White writes...

1. Safety check your equipment before you go out. You may want to add breastcollar, breeching, crupper, etc to increase saddle stability on some types of horses (I never go out for a trail ride longer than around my hayfield with out a breastcollar due to a 'saddle sliding way back going up a hill' incident years ago.

2. Don't tie a led horse to your horse, saddle, or yourself - something could happen where you need to let them loose and you can't (learned this the hard way - the 2 horses took off with me - fell between them - very lucky as no significant damage to any one of us).

3. Be honest about your riding competency - don't go out on a sensitive pea-greenie if trotting around a pen is still a challenge.

4. As with swimming, the buddy system is a good thing. Even experienced horses can have awkward moments and its nice to have someone along to call 911 or the equivalent. (Cell phones are a wonderful invention as long as you have one that works in the area where you're riding - keep it on your person - does no good tied to your saddle if your horse is on its way home without you).

Deb writes...

How about NOT attaching your cell phone to the horse but to yourself. Once that horse gets away from you after dumping you with a broken leg, trust me, he can't push the little buttons on that thing. Deb

Dale Rose writes...

Risky behavior I've seen includes leading a horse across an obstacle on foot (far safer to be on, well behind or well to one side than in front), drinking alcohol on trail, and going out with unsound or unsafe horses and/or riders who are not possessed of the necessary skills.

But by far the riskiest is to have a trail ride without a consensus of what constitutes safe behavior. It is amazing how many people get bored going at walk and just take off at a gallop without so much as a by-your-leave. I think that every ride should have a responsible and strong rider at the front and at the back; that they should agree on safe behaviors (which side of the road to go to when a car approaches, how to respond if a dog attacks, if a horse misbehaves, etc.), and agree that each person is responsible for each other person on the trail. This is how mountain climbers do it.

A ride should have an acknowledged leader who makes the difficult decisions. And this should not be the bossiest, noisiest person but the one who is most experienced on the terrain chosen for the ride.

Nobody should feel ashamed or embarrassed if, partway into the ride, they find that they are fearful or uncomfortable with the situation. Someone from the party should be designated to ride home with them.

Cellphones, water, a first-aid kit should be required for any ride more than a block away from home.

Laura Hayes writes...

Marv, I had an incident a few days ago where I was riding through a field with golden rod about five feet tall. All of a sudden my horse stopped and shook a hind leg. It was caught in a rusty woven wire fence. When he shook his leg the fence made the golden rod shake for ten feet in either direction - and this horse has been known to come unglued from a rabbit bolting away from him through the weeds.

My heart stopped for a second and I got him to stop stock still while I dismounted. I knew that if he were to try and move, he would get scared, and possibly spin around and really get caught. I worked the wire off the leg he was still holding up in the air, and then went around the front, to keep him from moving forward, creeped to the back, and removed the wire around his other hind leg.

I walked him away from there just sick to my stomach. I can only imagine the damage that could have been caused. A year ago, he probably would not have trusted me enough to stand with his hind leg up, the wire shaking the weeds, and then letting me unwind both hind feet.

I am sticking to the well worn paths from now on!

Jean writes...

The best safety tip I've heard is to carry your cell phone, first aid kit, etc. in a fanny pack strapped around your waist--that way you will have them in the event that your horse dumps you and takes off with your saddle bags and other belongings!

Glenda Frank writes...

Thought I'd pass this story on to you and maybe you'll use it. A dear friend of mine lost her husband a few years ago due to an accident out on the trail. He was actually helping a group trim and clear the trails to prepare for the season. While chopping off tree limbs, one fairly large tree limb fell on him hitting him in the chest. He bruised very badly from it but saw no reason to seek medical attention. It was just a bruise. One week later he had a massive stroke at the age of 46 and only survived for about a week. It was due to a blood clot in the brain, possibly resulting from that bruise. A precautionary visit to the doctor may have prevented his death.

Diana writes...

Willis Lamm has a whole bunch of trail safety stuff up at

Jeri writes...

Today I was riding my mare out in the stubble fields. Decided to go across a gravel road then on across the fields. I got down on the road, which is in a canyon at that point. A car went by, and I crowded the side as much as I could. My mare is not spooky of machinery or cars or motorcycles, so I didn't think too much of it when I heard a motorcycle (I thought) come up behind us. I figured it would slow down, because most of the cyclists (bike and motor) in our area are very considerate. Most will automatically stop and pull off the trail, even if you tell them it's okay if they just take it easy and talk.

Anyway, my horse bolted, and ran about 100 yards or better at top speed down a freshly graveled road! I was really surprised, because she has NEVER had that reaction in a spook. I finally got her slowed down, and she started bucking a little (more just hopping up and down) I was already pretty much unseated, and just about went off, but was able to get my balance back and get her stopped.

About that time a kid in a little go-cart went whizzing by as fast as the cart could go! I was so mad, first I told him to stop right now, which of course he couldn't even hear. Then I realized he just went down the road about a couple hundred yards, where some cars were parked. So I rode on down there--steam blowing out of both ears! I got there and told the young men that were standing around that their friend had almost got me killed. A couple of them laughed, so I took out a pen and started writing down license plate numbers. I told them for starters, they were not allowed to drive that go-cart on a county road, and then read them the riot act about such foolish behavior around a horse. They were pretty contrite after they realized that I was serious. About 6 boys, from about 6 to 16 yrs old. Their buddy on the cart (11 yrs old!) was up a hill, and probably afraid to come down.

Then I started to calm down a little. The youngest boy had been in the car, and got out when he saw the horse, so I got down and asked if he wanted to pet her, which he did, real shy. So then I told the boys that the horse was afraid, because they are used to being chased and eaten, and my horse thought something was chasing her to hurt her. By the time I left, I think the boys were a bit more educated about horses.

So what was my stupidity in all the above? I should have turned my horse around to look at what was coming, or at least turned around myself to see what it was. I could have prevented the bolt if I had realized the kid was not slowing down, and if my mare could have seen what was back there.

Carla Lawson writes...

Ride with your split reins taped!

This one cost me and the insurance company ten thousand dollars I had my ear sewn back my forehead sewn up and my knee sewn up. Not to mention collapsed left lung. and several months to get back to some kind of norm. I still see my chiropractor regularly to help my neck. Apparently I fell on my left part of my face. Although I didn't have a concussion, (no helmet)I still have some problems completing sentences in mid sentence. This happened 100 yards from my house.

(Carla also sent her thoughts about going on group trail rides where inexperience, lack of common courtesy and good sense mixed with alcohol are the main order of the day. I didn't include the actual email because the details may identify the ride and the "beneficiaries" of the charity ride don't need any further grief.)

Gretchen Patterson writes...

Always carry a stout, sharp knife, a halter and lead rope. Riders should have some sort of ID on their person and if possible, an ID tag on the horse's bridle.

Gene Recor writes...

Wearing a helmet is a must!!! Some people don't like the "look" of one but I've seen to many accidents with my kids and was glad they had a helmet on. One incident was with my young daughter and a dirt biker. We were down in a ravine type area with a water crossing and the biker came towards us flew across the water and didn't realize we were there until till late. My daughters pony turned and ran up the hill frightened to death and my mare was freaking out mostly because she was left alone with this scary creature ( helmet, riding gear and noisy bike), I kept her at a walk but my daughter couldn't do that, she nearly got knocked off by a low branch. The biker turned his bike off and waited for us to leave , nice of him.Some things are hard to train for like that situation- the surprise- but not my son rides his mini bike fast past the pony and skids up to him, it doesn't bother him any more.

Alot of people think that any horse should go on the trail easily, they don't understand that rocks, rabbits,birds,bushes, cars, different color dirt (dry/wet), could potentially be a problem for your horse. Just because you hire trainers to teach your horse great stuff in the arena, doesn't mean they have what it takes to go out on the trail right away. If you have a young horse and have the opportunity to pony them on the trail with a good safe horse do it, if not, don't push your horse to far to fast.

Be calm yourself or the horse senses it and reacts off your tenseness. Ride only with people who understand each others needs on the trail. Don't leave anyone behind if their horse is not fast enough for you. Take it easy and slow on water crossings if the others horses are not willing to cross. Be aware that not all car drivers are polite or even have a clue to the safety needs of a horse crossing the street or walking along the side of the road. Be aware of your tack, martingale in the way going up a hill, leathers worn, weak buckles, splint boots can get sticks stuck in them and hurt your horse, loose shoes. There is so much to being safe on the trail that it is hard to pin point just what to say.

Sandra Su writes...

1. Only go as fast as the most inexperienced rider in the group can handle.
2. Riders should wear shoes with low heels, long pants, and an ASTM/SEI-approved helmet.
3. Riders should go single file, and not let their horses pass the horse ahead.
4. Keep about a horse's length of distance between horses -- no tailgating.
5. Put the 2 most experienced riders at the head and tail of the group.
6. When the rider ahead sees a hole in the ground or some other thing on the trail that riders following should be aware of, he/she should call it out to the rider behind, who should pass it back to the next rider, till the info reaches the rider who's last.
7. Before changing gaits (from walk to trot, for instance) the rider ahead should call out his intentions, which should be passed back so riders can be ready.

Tami Shepard writes...

Of course, the basic safety that SHOULD be taught in lessons apply.

Other things......

When someone dismounts to open or close a gate, everyone go through the gate, move to a safe distance and WAIT for the gate person to mount.

As you pass an obstacle, warn the person behind you. As *YOU* go under the branch that is low, let the rider behind you know "low branch". Be careful that the message doesn't pass early. Also, be aware of the 4'5 person riding the 14.0 hh horse in front of the 6'5" person riding the 16.3 hh horse!! LOL

Mountain bikers and hikers also present a problem. Most of them have an attitude that they "own" the trail. Hmmmmmm...... I remember seeing something (I think put out by the state of Colorado) regarding trail manners and sharing the trails.

There are more considerations to take (such as making sure that your tack is in good condition etc.....)

Riders attire.......... don't wear shorts. Wear boots (preferably 1" or more heel for western riding, 1/2" or more for English). Wear appropriate clothing for the weather. Make sure you have a slicker. You can use any type of rain gear for bad weather. Look for clothing that is breathable and water proof. Don't wear excesively loose baggy clothing (can catch on saddle horn, trees, etc). Don't wear dangly long earings. A western hat can be very helpful keeping the sun out of your eyes, rain from running down your back, but a helmet is safer.

Horses attire............ well fitting. Good repair. Take a lead rope and a halter (I have to remember this, as I don't usually leave a halter on my horse while riding). If the horse needs shoes, make sure the horse is shod (I had a horse I could ride barefoot in the rocky mountains!).

Don't tie by bridle reins, exept in an emergency (good way to get hurt mouths and broken bridles).

If packing in, make sure that folks know how to do a double diamond hitch to keep the packs together! (We actually packed a clanking wood stove in one trip, and the deer were stopping and looking at us! There was 2 people and 3 (or 4?) horses.)

If your horse is a known kicker, tie a red ribbon in its tail.

If you can't see the back feet of the horse in front of you, you are tailgaiting, BACK OFF. Ideally, you want to keep at least 1 horse length between horses.

Get in the habit at home of doing tack checks. Make sure that all straps look good and are adequatley secured. Make sure that nothing is twisted (bridles, cinches (both front and back). Check that cinch is snug.

Many saddles tend to place breast collars to high for a horse to adequately use its head on a steep grade (I know this from experience as our pack horse kept going down on a steep hill before we figured this out). Because of this, I do not hook breast collars to the "D" rings put onto the saddle, but into the rigging rings for the latigo and off billet (thus lowering the breast collar).

If your horse has low withers and the saddle tends to slide forward, consider using a rear britching or a crupper. If the saddle should slide forward while going down hill, do a quick 180 to stop it, and then work at readjusting the saddle.

Helen S. Dickinson writes...

1) Someone needs to carry a fully charged cell phone. 2) Agree on a shout, signal of some kind that means everyone STOP NOW. 3) While foxhunting, we encourage folks to carry a copy of their health insurance card with emergency numbers/med allergies, etc such so that if something did happen, it's there. I keep this with me on the off season too; it it's not in my pocket, it's in the tack box and the people I ride with KNOW this. I also have my vet's emergency number on that card. 4)Have a plan; if you are going trekking, give someone at home or at the barn a time when you think you should be back and a time where it's way past time for you to be back. 5) A compass is a really GOOD thing to have. So are wire cutters, water, and someone who knows where in the heck you are. 6) Wear approved helmets - you can fall off at a walk. 7) If you see a hole, barbed wire, whatever, that's a hazard, let the folks behind you know. We say things like "'Ware Hole" and point to the hole and then everyone passes it back. (Never assume someone sees everything you do or that you see "all" either)

Connie Beckner writes...

I watch the weather station to see what the weather is going to be for that day. Wind and cool weather will cause a horse to spook and feel frisky. Before i saddle up I brush and go over my horse with a critical eye ,checking from the hooves up. I then check all of the tack bridle and saddle ,The cinch I check for frayed places The off strap the same. I check my saddle blanket for hidden no no's . After the saddle is on I will walk my horse around to let the saddle settle on his back. Then I will mount up and walk around again and check the cinch again. I will walk my horse around to see if he is sore or stiff. Half way through the ride I get off and check every thing again, I also make sure the saddle hasn't slipped forward or backward to cause him discomfort.

On the trail I keep a eye out for debree where my horse will trod. I will let the one behind me know if there is a low branch on the right or left of the trail. Before we start out I will say if you want to canter let every one know before you do, so that every one is perpared.

I let every one know if my horse has a problem with trotting up a hill or down a hill.

One time we all decided to canter in an open field ,I told the others please don't yell ha or my horse will start bucking ,so what did some one do but yell as they were going by us Ha Ha .Poco started jumping and then started his rodeo bucking. I pulled his head to the left and he quit bucking , When he stopped i waited for a bit and then got off , Why did I get off because My legs were shaking so bad that I knew if i stayed on I would have caused him to get up set. I walked around until the tremors stopped I was so sore.

I carry a knife that is also a pair of pliers with me at all times. I have a small first aid box i carry with me along with vet wrap . Vet wrap can also be used to fix a bridle or saddle cinch in a pinch. I carry saddle strings at all times also they can be used to make a make shift bridle if need be. I also carry a lariat in case we have to drag a log out of the way or we need to use it to make a makeshift splint or person carrier. Have had to many no n o's do to other riders not being up to date on trail horse ediquet.e

D. A. Franks writes...

I am sure most people just do not realize that they pass horses to fast and do not give them enough room.

Here is what happened to me 5 years ago.

I was just starting to venture out on my young paint gelding (he was 5) He was great in the ring and now we were starting trails (roads in my case). I would pick the quietest times so there was little traffic to start getting him use to it. We live on a dirt road that is generally quiet. In hind sight the problem with starting out on this road is there are places where there is no place to go - ditches on either side, road only a lane and a half wide and driveways not close together.

We went a mile down and were heading back home when an old truck came up pretty fast. It had stuff in the bed that was rattling and no muffler. My horse was getting frightened and I was in the stretch with no place to go. I tried heading toward the truck so my horse would not bolt.

Well these were not kind people. They did not slow down, they started honking and beating on the sides of the truck with their hands and hooting and hollering. We lost it and ended up going home - fast. I figured if I just relaxed I could bring the horse back but every time he started slowing and getting over to the side of the road these people would honk and yell. They were right behind us. I tried waving them to back off but they did not. Then the worst happened. There came another car from the opposite direction. My horse seen it first and leaped sideways - I didn't go with him. I ended up sliding along the road on my back and the people that were behind us almost ran me over (they got my glasses).

By the time this happened we were very close to home. The car that was coming in the other direction was a neighbor, thank goodness he stopped. He asked if I was OK, all I wanted to know is where the horse went, he said home and then went after the truck to see if he could get a license plate number.

My horse ran through the 3 front yards of the homes between where we were and our place. I ended up with major scrapes on my back, my shirt was all tore up.

The worst thing this did for me was made me afraid to ride the paint on the road. After this incident he became very skittish of traffic - where it had never bothered him before.

He is now 10 and I am FINALLY riding him on the road again - not a lot only when I feel I am up to facing my fears and know I can relax my seat and not scare my horse.

We never found the people in the truck and because they were behind us I never got a good look at them.

As for safety tips - don't know if this would be deemed "safe" but it is what I have found works best for me and the paint gelding. I ride in the middle of the road and I DO NOT MOVE OVER when a car comes. I move over only when they start to slow down. It seams if I move to the shoulder soon as I hear or see a car they just don't bother slowing down OR moving over, but if I stay in the middle they have already gone to 1 side, then they start to slow I move to the other side.

This is becoming more and more of a problem in my area (SE Michigan) due to major sprawl and people just driving to darn fast.

Nancy Jackson writes...

Almost had a bad accident at our barn (fortunately no one was hurt) when a girl dismounted to lead a horse across a stretch of creek the mare was reluctant to cross. As she reached the far bank, the horse suddenly decided to leap the creek and landed on top of her. Fortunately, as she fell, she squished into soft mud, which gave rather than her bones, and she suffered not more than a bruised arm! Moral of the story is make sure you are leading, as always, safely at the shoulder not in front of horse, especially in that situation!

Barb Simmons writes...

"Quicksand" in Ontario Canada- a very soft area of mud that looked ok right until my friend's mare stepped into it- I wasn't too sure they were going to get out. It was even grass covered, and right on the trail. She let her horse do what she had to do, and they got out, but it was very scary. I had no phone, it was at least 20 minutes to ride to help, and I had no idea what I would do if they got into serious trouble.

In the same area, we used to ride around the outside of a former gravel pit (no water in it). Some of the trails ended in steep dropoffs. One more than one occasion, I had to back my horse down a very narrow trail with said dropoff on one side, and steep bank on the other.

On my then young horse, crossing a ditch that he had crossed before, that had less than an inch of water. He suddenly jumped left and narrowly escaped tangling himself in some rusting scrap iron that had been dumped into the ditch. It was invisible when we were crossing as it was completely covered by herbaceous growth. As he found his way out I thanked my lucky stars that he hadn't jumped a few inches more to the left or we both would have been seriously injured- as in impaled.

Then there is always how to keep warm on those freezing days, wild rides in areas of steep slopes, soft gravel, large sandy areas (risk of sandslides) and so on...

Linda McDonald writes...

I keep thinking of the *last* Marv post: "Making It Clear You're No Deer" - might be worth a mention depending upon season and location!

Betsy Keller writes...

Well, if you're looking for anecdotes... this one bears retelling. We were cross-country schooling (but substitute trail riding for that detail, because it could have happened anywhere) in a group of 6 or so, mostly experienced riders on decently experienced horses. We were riding through the woods. It had rained quite a bit the day before, and the ground was soft. The group headed down a big hill, which ended in a sort of gully, then went up the other side. The rider in the lead let her horse run up the hill... unfortunately, there were still some of us going down the soft hill, before the muddy gully, when the leaders took off. My horse, a former foxhunter, thought it was totally unacceptable to go politely down hill and through the muck when the others were running off without him. When I tried to hold him back, he reared (as in, hiho Silver) and dumped me, then galloped away. He galloped for about a mile, across a marsh and to the back of the property which thank goodness, was fenced. It took four of the six riders to herd him into a corner so he could be caught. Meanwhile, I had to walk through the marsh to get to him, remount though I really would have preferred to kill the rider who galloped up the hill, and continue schooling with every single inch of my body (even under my vest and up to my helmet) SOAKING wet.

Moral of the story:
1. don't gallop up hills until or unless everyone in the group is safely prepared
2. don't try to hold a foxhunter back from the group
3. don't leave home without a change of clothes, down to the underwear, safely stowed in the trailer

Jim Beidle writes...

Carry in a fanny pack the 10+ essentials (something I do religiously on trail, mounted or dismounted). These include; Area Map, Compass, Matches, Fire Starter, Pocket Knife, Flashlight, Red Light Sticks, Water, Water Purification Tablets, Toilet Paper (Doubles a firestarter), Power Bars, Signal Mirror, Whistle, Space Blanket, 50' Parachute cord, essentials first aid kit, sunscreen. The whole bundle weighs less than 3 pounds, excluding the water. This is pretty much the same list that hikers have come up with over the years, and will keep you alive while you wait to get found; or enable you to walk out if for some odd reason you really can't wait--unlikey in connection with an endurance ride. I credit the fact that I'm prepared with never actually having to use this stuff--it always seems the ones who don't have it are the one's who get in trouble.

The other thing that I've been thinking about is adequate people water. My recent experience at Santiam tought me not to underestimate how much I need. The US Army MEDDACC, as well as other medical authorities, reccomend not less that 1 liter / hour for *conditioned acclimitized* persons engaged in strenuous activity. This should include a 0.1% saline solution--Jerry & Cynthia reccommend V-8 Juice, while the Army has field expedient recipes for making salinated water for drinking. At Santiam I discovered that I was no longer in the 'acclimitized' category, having lived in Western Washington for nearly 4 years now. On my "shoulda" list is refilling the Platypus bladder in my cantle bag at the Vet Check. Incidentally, it only took twelve miles to go from reasonably hydrated at the VC to passed out at the finish line in Central Oregon's 95+ degree heat.

Lisa Salas writes...

I once met some people to go riding and one of them, very inexperienced, rode my Dough Boy. One of the other riders was a real anal pore. He thought it was so funny that his horse kicked at every horse that came near but it was scaring the crap out of the lady on my horse. "Oh, that's just the way my mare is." he said. I finally told him that if his horse hurt my daughter, my other horse or the person riding my other horse, I was going to hang him by his own bridle. I also advised him that if he couldn't control his horse, he needed to ride alone. He stayed away. The most dangerous thing about riding horses, is riding with stupid people.

Another incident that comes to mind was an accident, but it could have been prevented. A friend was ponying her horse and had wrapped the rope around the horn of her saddle. Well the ponied horse took off as we totted ahead, pulled the saddle and rider off the mounted horse and the saddled horse took off. She ran a good 2 miles full speed. By the time I caught up to her, the saddle was under her and had caused 2nd or 3rd degree burns under her elbows and cut up her belly and back legs. She was shaking, and couldn't move. We got her home, the rider was ok and everything turned out ok. Now most cattleman and experienced horse people will tell you it is ok to wrap a rope around the horn. It is if you know what you are doing. It could have been much worse and it was just an accident. I have done some dumb things myself, not totally stupid, just dumb. But hopefully, I have learned from my experiences. Again, the ones who think they know it all and yet know nothing and never learn anything, are the ones to be terrified of.

Tanya Haptonstall writes...

1. I think it's probably a good thing to talk with the other riders about any "triggers" the horses may have before you go out (i.e. kicking, wanting to be in front, deathly afraid of water, cows, pigs, etc.), just so everyone is aware of this and can deal with it accordingly.

I've been on a couple of trail rides where one of the members has ridden away from the rest of the group. Some horses probably wouldn't be bothered, but my horse gets quite upset when this happens, and some of the others got really nervous too. Probably would have been better if I had discussed this with everyone beforehand, and either agreed to stay in a group, or to have them ride away a little ways, and then back, etc.

2. Don't try to pony another horse unless you really know what you're doing and your horses are practiced at it. Don't do this bareback. Don't ask me how I learned this tip. ;-)

3. When I first started riding, I was initially told, "If your horse acts up, never get off--it just shows them they've won, and rewards them". I've stayed on (barely)a few horses who were having a holy fit and then had a terrible, nervous trail ride afterwards that was no fun for either of us. Then I decided that it's not a win/lose thing, and it's okay to get off if I feel unsafe. Now, if it gets too hairy, I'll hop off and do some ground work, or just stand and take a little break, or lead them a ways. And each time I have done this, I have gotten back on and the horse is much more quiet and is paying attention to me again. Voila! No fights, and no broken bones (so far--frantically knocking on wood).

Elizabeth Richards writes...

1. Never move off while other riders are still mounting
2. Never assume on a long trail ride that because your mount is finished drinking, it's time to move off

The lead rider should be very aware of horses' herd behavior and be able to judge when the group is ready to move on--not just when the front riders are ready to do something. And the group should agree to abide by the leader rider's instructions.

I hate being at the end of a group where you are stopping and starting all the time as differences in speed ripple through the group. When you do finally catch up, one person has moved out and the group is already moving on and you once again are madly galloping to catch up. You can get motion sickness that way.

Marie Wischer writes...

"Surviving On The Trail" AKA "Lessons Marie Learned When She Went Camping/Trail Riding For Two Days."

Look Ahead = rider was turned around talking to folks in the back and his horse rammed the rider's knee into a tree.
Breast Collar that Fits - my horse's breast collar was too small, as was one I borrowed and I ended up with my saddle on the horse's rump after a very steep trek up a mountain.
Put a Halter under the Bridle or have horse wear a halter/bridle combo - convenient and useful when stopping for extended periods of time, and in the case mentioned above, I had an extra long lead rope attached to the halter which we ended up fashioning into a makeshift breast collar. (necessity is the mother of invention.)
Wear a Helmet and boots with a heal.
Carry a - pocket knife and hoofpick, and a cell phone or walkie talkies to talk to members back at the ranch/campsite.
Ride with Buddy - at least one. Not just for companionship. If you have an emergency, they can tend to you, chase down your horse, call for help on your cell phone if you are unconcious...
Don't Assume Anything - horses on the trail don't always act/react they way they do in the arena. Daughter got off her horse to let her "play in the creek". Horse, who NEVER moves after the daughter dismounts, RAN AWAY! A girl can't stop a running horse by hanging onto its tail and yelling "whoa!" when the horse doesn't want to whoa.
Stash your Trash. - leave the trail in the condition you found it in. Use Tree Savers - or put a cinch on the trees if you are picketing your horse overnight.

Stephanie writes...

Well, after my experience last Tuesday (which did not change my opinion, only reinforced it)...WEAR AN APPROVED SAFETY HELMET WHENEVER YOU ARE MOUNTED. Ahem...sorry for shouting there.

I have always been one to wear a helmet no matter what, even for a 5 minute bareback walk around the paddock to test my horse's soundness. Fortunately, I have not needed the protection offered by a helmet for at least 8 years now...until last Tuesday.

I was hacking out in a field right by the barn on a friend's horse. Helping her get her horses fit for cubbing (foxhunting). Seamus is a BIG Clyde/TBX...he looks *just* like a Clyde except he's "only" 16.3-17h (at 4; he still has a bit more growing to do), vs. 18.2 . Seamus is a doll. He's a big goofy luvable lug. Seamus does *not* like getting stung by flying insects (i.e. horseflies, bees, etc.). I don't know what stung Seamus, but something did. We went from nice quiet trot to rodeo-quality bucking; y'know, the kind where the horse leaps up in front and kicks out as his front feet hit the ground. I lasted through 8 or 9 of these before he finally got me off. He launched me approximately 2 1/2 feet in the air. I could clearly see my foot above the seat of the saddle as my horse and I became separated. I landed, from about 8' up, flat on my back *SPLAT*, to include my head slamming backward into the ground. Seamus continued to buck, skidded to a halt and shook violently, hence my stinging insect theory.

I dragged myself over to the fence and pulled myself to a standing position. Seamus just stood there. I waved to him, as I couldn't move without the earth spinning. After about 5 minutes, I made it over to him, unbuckled the reins he had stepped through and walked slowly back to the barn. My vision was blurry and tunnelled on me periodically. Put Seamus away, and hobbled out to my car and drove home (somehow). On my way home, a blurry spot appeared in the centre of my vision in both eyes. During the 25 minute trip home, the spot expanded into a slowly increasing ring complete with flashes of light. I thought my retinas were detaching (EEK).

Made it home, and dragged myself out of the car. Mom and hubby asked, "What happened, y'fall off? Ha Ha Ha." Yeah, with a little help. Then they realised that I really HAD been bucked off. At this point the tunnel vision was pretty much in place. (It went away overnight, thank God!)

Medical assessment: One mild to moderate concussion, one badly bruised pelvis, one case of road rash, one bruised elbow, one case of whiplash to the right side of my neck, one bruised knee, where my right foot came down on on my left knee...spur first. Doctor's conclusion: Damned lucky I was wearing that helmet...outcome would have been much different had I not, to include the very real possibility that I could have been killed without it. Instead, I missed 1.5 days of work, and suffered a headache for 3 days, and my back is still tender across the top of my pelvis. Today is the first day I'm going to be able (physically) to get on a horse...I will be wearing my new crash helmet.

Cris May writes...

No one has mentioned the two problems I encounter most often here: bicycles and dogs.

So far all my encounters with dogs have been incident-free. In one case the encounter showed me what my mare was made of. On a group ride we came to a picnic area where a family was eating, with their Airedale running loose. We halted and asked them to call their dog. They did, and the dog stayed with them for approximately 36 seconds before coming back over to circle behind horses. Repeated requests for the dog owners to call their dog resulted in the same scenario. Other riders began to move off, leaving me at the back with Airedale once again on her heels and me wondering if she (a selective kicker) was going to put the dog into orbit. I was lucky that she sensed the dog was not a threat, just stupid, and left him alone.

I now trail ride alone 99% of the time, excepting the bicyclists. Some of them know trail safety rules, some do not, and I think some just don't care. If I can hear or see the bike in advance I will call out "Horse" in a loud voice to alert them to my presence. This usually at least slows the biker down, excepting the idiots who intend to continue on their 30 MPH way no matter what. Being alone makes it easy for me to pull off to the side of the trail for the biker to pass; a large group might not be able to do so. The bikers I meet who do know they are supposed to pull over until the horse passes often seem surprised when I let them go on ahead, and I think they just don't realize how dangerous it is for all of us if they are following on the heels of my hot, high strung horse. I always express thanks to the bicyclists who offer a modicum of courtesy, and have been known to gently explain to them about how having the bike behind makes the horse nervous. I figure this makes for better trail sharing. I've also been known to utter gutteral screams of warning and an occasional profanity where appropriate. ;)

I don't cross roads anymore on my rides, but maybe that should be addressed too?

Sibyl Roberts writes...

Make sure your horse is safely turned out in all respects. I had a friend whose horse had a beautiful long tail. Going down the trial they stepped over a small dead cedar tree. Horse's tail got tangled in the tree and the more he tried to swish his tail and get it loose the more tightly attached it became. The horse exploded with panic, took off galloping, bucking, galloping, bucking, with tree banging away at his hind legs and would NOT stop. Rider parted company with the horse, not nicely. She ended up in the hospital for a couple of days with a dislocated elbow and broken arm/wrist (which if I recall, required surgery) and various minor injuries. So keep tails trimmed or contained!

Also, I've found another danger of trial riding is that some emergency rescue people are clueless! I was on a ride where a rider just simply fell off. She couldn't get up (later found out she broke her pelvis). I rode back to the barn and called 911 and explained the situation, she was a mile or so out into the woods across the creek, etc. The rescue crew came promptly in less that 10 minutes but were totally unprepared, without a clue what to do. Before it was all over we had the original rescue squad, a rescue-equipment truck, a fire truck, and some folks in cars and pick-up trucks *bringing refreshments for the crew*(?)*. It all took two or three hours! The woman was lying in the woods with a fractured pelvis for a couple of hours! All they had to do was take a basket/stretcher out, pick her up, and carry her out! I've never understood that.

Anne Weigle writes...

For the problem of a line of horses negotiating a steep downhill and the tail end horses having to gallop away- As each rider gets to the bottom of the slope, you hesitate until the next horse catches up before you walk away. That way you don't get the last few horses in line leaping off to catch up.

Did anyone mention a first aid kit? A big cotton bandana makes a useful bandage- I have used it on both horse and human. Also out hunting a stock tie can be used for a bandage or to splint a broken leg. I carry a little tiny kit that contains all sorts of useful stuff:

Going through it I find: Sunscreen, insect repellant, some Absorbine super shield in individual packets, a litttle container with whistle on one end and compass & mirror on the other. Inside are needles & thread and various pills like aspirin, vitamin e (for a wound dressing), ibuprofen, benedryl, etc. It's supposed to contain matches, but I carry a lighter instead. Hoof pick, band aids, a space blanket, baling twine, some gauze squares, a tiny wrapped sterile roll of gauze, adhesive tape, tampax, handi-wipes, chapstick, a pen light, homeopathic apis (for bee stings), electrolytes in a little packet, eye ointment, a tiny roll of dental floss (can be used to suture a wound) and a small wad of toilet paper. All this stuff fits in a container about 4 x 6".

I have used most of these things at one time or other.

Also it is necessary to carry a water bottle, and I carry a knife on my belt.

I carry some trail mix in case dinner is late. I am diabetic so I have to eat at regular intervals.

Diana writes...

Here's a good rule I've broken to my sorrow.... never try out new tack on a trail ride. Especially not a new bit. Or big, floppy saddle bags. Or a quarter sheet in high wind. Wheeeee! Try them at home first, and give them a good trial.

Oh, yeah, don't ride in the woods with high winds... horses either know that limbs will fall, or they are spooked by the sound of the wind in the trees, and trees rubbing against one another... and they want OUTTA there! Get to the nearest clearing if possible.

If you get caught in a lightening storm, seek low ground. If your horse is wearing shoes, get off him... he'll be a danger to both of you. Horses without shoes generally survive lightening strikes, or do not attract them in the first place. If your saddle and bridle are loaded with metal, take them off the horse for his safety. Best to have a rope halter with a tie-rope lead. Easier to catch him after the storm is over should he get away from you.

Ride at the pace of the slowest horse. For those who want to go faster, arrange for an experienced rider to stay back with the slow ones and let the fast riders jog up the trail a ways before breaking into a canter. Then they can ride back to the slow group, slowing as they approach.

EVERYONE should carry a sharp knife in their pocket for emergencies. If a horse gets hung up in something and panics, you can cut whatever piece of tack is holding him. At least some of the group should carry wire cutters.

At least one person should carry a human first aide kit, and a horse first aide kit. Nice to have a polarfleece blanket in case a human is hurt and goes into shock.

On long trail rides, carry both human and horse electrolytes, especially if it is hot.

and don't forget that red ribbon for the kickers!

Irene R Murphy-Menefee writes...

1. Leave a note or message of your intended route of travel. This can be a simple written note or calling and leaving a voicemail with someone. Tell where you plan to go, when you expect to return.
2. Carry a emergency first aid kit. (items were discussed just recently)
3. Wear a belt, this can be used to repair/improvise tack or used as a neck wrap for a horse, one must be creative to use this one, though.
4. Wear chaps or some kind of leg protection - this applies heavily in the desert areas where cactus are all over the trail.
5. Carry a multi-purpose tool, with wire cutters and some kind of pliers (again for removing cactus)
6. Carry water - very important for us here in the desert.
7. Wear sunblock - you're no good to your horse and will make bad decisions if your suffering from heat exhaustion.
8. Observe the weather, plan accordingly by either dressing appropriately or seeking shelter from severe weather.
9. Watch out for others on the trail, while horses have the right-of-way many people are not familiar with horses and can inadvertently cause an accident
10. Make sure all tack and equipment is in good repair.
11. Check equipment for burs (or cactus) when stopped or if traveling through a highly vegetated area.
12. Be polite to others on the trail...we don't want to lose them. (say thank you if someone steps off the trail to allow you to pass)
13. Attach a nameplate to your horse (example - braid into the mane)
14. Work with your horse so that they will not spook when encountering new things on the trail.
15. Don't allow your horse to defecate in natural water, minimize hoof prints in natural streams
16. Don't ride in washes when there is rain in the area, horses can not outrun flash-floods (again a AZ specific item)
17. From living in Michigan - Be sure that the ice is completely frozen before trying to cross a lake (or I preferred just avoiding that all-together, watch for packed snow in shoes, there will most likely be ice on roads and your horse will slip, don't ride there
18. Carry a cell-phone on your person.
19. Know the areas your going to ride in, make sure it is not private property or have the owner's permission first

My opinion - Helmets are important and should be worn, it is not a license however to ride recklessly and leave out important training for your horses.

Teresa L. Winning writes...

One of the most dangerous things you can do is to ride near the edge of a lake, creek, river, etc. Muskrats will burrow into the banks making a honeycomb of the underlying terrain that is not visible. Riding a horse, or even walking on this ground can cause it to cave in. I do not know how far in muskrats will burrow, but if I must ride on a trail that goes very near (within 10-15 feet) to the edge of a body of water, I always dismount and walk my horse.

Cindy Filmore writes...

Never try to tie your boot laces whilst on horse-back. Never wrap your leg around the saddle horn to tie said laces. Always make sure your trail partners are semi- intelligent, or at least smart enough not to take off at a lope while you have your leg wrapped around the saddle horn, tying your boot laces. Hint : If someone's idea of trail riding in busting through the bush, humming "Happy Trails to you" , they MIGHT not be as proficient a horse-person as they claim.

Another one : Be sure to introduce your horse to 'trail hazards' well before actually being on the trail. Try to instill in your horse the idea that out-houses (porta-potties, back-houses, etc., etc..) are NOT horse-eating monsters. But be prepared for them to ignore the lesson, should someone happen to jump out of the out-house.

Oh ! One more : Learn the emergency dismount, but do NOT think it will help you when your horse attempts to climb a tree, while trying to escape from the monster that just left the outhouse. In that instance, just be glad you wore your helmet (the mare actually had her front feet IN the tree, on the first rung of branches, before I convinced her to climb back down) (I don't know WHAT I'd have done if those hind legs had come off the ground) (note to self : do NOT let the cats climb trees to get away from the dog WHILE the horse is watching)

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