Let’s look at a few sticky trail situations and how to handle them.
Know the Trails
It’s a good idea to know where you’re going before you set off on a trail ride. If you don’t know the trail, ride with someone who does. If you’re exploring a new trail, ride with an experienced horse person who has a map. It’s not a great idea to go trail riding by yourself, but if you do tell someone where you’re going and when you think you’ll be back so she can raise the alarm if you go missing.
Always take a cell phone with you when you hit the trails and affix it to your body with a clip or case. Don’t slip your phone into a saddle bag. Why? If you fall off your horse and he gallops off, wave goodbye to your phone!
The best way to avoid snake encounters is to avoid riding through areas with tall grass. Stick to trails or fields where you can see what’s on the ground in front of you. If you spot a snake, steer clear of it! Back up or give it a wide berth as you pass it by. Don’t throw a stick at it to try to make it slither off as this will just make it more agitated.
Rattlesnakes are the type of snake most likely to bite a horse’s leg, so it’s a good idea to know what they look like.
If your horse gets bitten, don’t panic and don’t dismount. You don’t want the snake too get you too! It’s unlikely that a snake bite will kill an adult horse, but it’s important to get your horse back to the barn or campsite so a vet can treat him. It’s best to walk your horse back to the barn because galloping will only elevate his blood pressure which quickens the venom’s absorption into his bloodstream. Call the vet as you head home so he can be there when you arrive.
Sometimes you have to share the trails with mountain bikers and people riding all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and a horse may spook if a cyclist zips up behind him or an ATV roars down the trail. Get your horse used to these scary monsters back at the barn. Ask a friend to ride a bike around you and your horse until your horse gets used to it. If your barn has an ATV, ask someone to drive by you and your horse a few times until he becomes desensitized to the noise.
Your horse may still spook at bikes and ATVs on the trail, but at least he will know what they are and he shouldn’t go too crazy.
If you a biker or an ATV rider approaches you on the trail, hold your hand up to ask him to slow down. If your horse starts acting up, ask him to halt or walk him in a small circle while the bike or ATV passes by. Stay calm and your horse will soon calm down too. If the rider slows down, thank him by giving him a friendly wave.
If you plan to trail ride in the fall or winter, find out when hunting season starts and finishes in your neck of the woods. Visit the website of your state’s Wildlife and Fishery department to see the dates when people will be shooting in your area and stick to the arena during these periods.
Riding can be risky during hunting season, so even if hunters don’t normally shoot near your local trails, it’s still a good idea to wear a high-visibility vest or jacket when you ride so hunters can see you and don’t think your horse is a big deer! It’s not a bad idea to wear hi-viz clothing every time you hit the trails.
Check out the horsey hi-viz clothing at www.equisafety.com. You can find cool jackets and vests made just for riders on this site!
Training Sessions on the Trail
There are all sorts of natural obstacles on the trail. Your horse may balk at walking over a log or stepping through a puddle. If he starts acting up, turn his tantrum into a training session. Stay calm and let your horse investigate the scary obstacle. If your horse wants to sniff the log or puddle, let him. Be patient and positive and make him stay near the object and continue to encourage him to step over it or into it. Be prepared for a big leap though when he finally decides to walk over the log or into the puddle. Walk him over the log or through the puddle a few times until it’s no big deal.