This time of year is hands-down, my favorite time to hit the trails. The colors of all the leaves, the more comfortable weather, the bugs go away… It’s fantastic. There was a time, many years ago, when the show horse circles I ran in, sneered at the idea of turning a horse out, or trail riding. They’re SHOW horses, they live in stalls and stay pretty. I’m relieved that I quickly saw the error in that line of thought, and did things my own way. My horses would echo my opinion. They’re horses, and they need to be horses. This, is why trail riding works out so well. It gives everyone, horses and riders, fresh air and a blank canvas.

I’m a member of a group on LinkedIn called “Horse Lovers of the Business World.” If you’re not currently on LinkedIn, and a member, I recommend you join. It’s a great group of genuine, horse-loving, intelligent people, who love to share stories and advice among their fellow members. I credit the group for inspiring me to start blogging. When I decided to write an entry on trail riding, it was the first place I went, to ask for tips and tales from actual experience, and collectively, we put together a sort of “top ten” list, of the things you want to remember when you venture out onto the trails.

COMMUNICATION-Whether it’s a message board at your barn, or a heads up phone call to your emergency contact, before and after your ride, communication is critical. It doesn’t matter if you ride alone or with friends, multiple riders/horses can become injured or impaired as easily as singles. Make sure before you head out, someone responsible is aware of your ride, your planned course, and rough eta. Then check in with them again upon your return.

SURROUNDINGS AWARENESS-Make a point to find out in advance (whenever possible) the conditions of the areas where you’re planning to ride. Take a map if you’re unfamiliar with the trails, and a guide isn’t available. Learn about local hunting, and take that into serious consideration. If you feel safe, it’s still a good idea to wear some orange or other bright clothing, to make yourself easier to see. If you’re nervous, listen to your gut, it’s not worth the risk. Sadly, in the area where I live, there are regular news stories about hunters “accidentally” shooting animals, pets, and even humans.

MULTI-TOOLS-There are many available now, at a variety of prices, and with a great selection of features. Look for one that you can perform basic tasks with, cleaning out a hoof, cutting wire, pulling a nail, etc. They usually come in a sheath of some kind, that you can slide onto a belt, or clip onto your saddle. I’m a fan of carabiner clips too, they’re simple to use, and make attaching items to a saddle easy.

INVENTORY-Have a talk with all riders before you set out, to plan your ride, and make each other aware of any special issues you or your horse may have. If you’ve got a horse that spooks at birds, or maybe a rider who’s diabetic, everyone should be aware, so they know how to react and help.

PHONES (or, should you ride in poor-coverage areas, go old school, walkie-talkies still get the job done)-Keep your phone or walkie talkie on your person. In the event of an unplanned dismount, a phone still attached to your saddle, or tucked in a bag, isn’t doing you a whole lot of good, if it’s galloping off into the sunset, while you’re curled in a ball on the ground, crying, hyperventilating, or maybe even wetting your pants a little (don’t be a hero, it happens to us all! LOL).

WATER/SNACKS-Water is always important, even in cooler weather, when we tend to be more forgetful about hydration. Anything can happen, and a short ride can turn into an all day adventure in the blink of an eye. If you get stuck out on the trail for longer than expected, wouldn’t it be great to have a protein bar or handful or trail mix to keep your blood sugar level, as well as your thinking?

HALTER/LEAD-A little added bulk, for more peace of mind. You might want to give your horse a break and tie them off somewhere. Someone could get hurt and you might need to pony their horse back to the barn. A broken limb could be splinted with branches and the lead, again, anything can happen.

FIRST AID KIT-These don’t have to be super sophisticated, or take up a lot of space. Some Advil and a few bandaids may be all you ever, or even never need. It’s something that should be tailored to you, know your needs, and consider what could happen, then pack a small assortment of items to make sure you can patch things up until you’re safely home, or in the care of a trained medic.

MARK YOUR TERRITORY-This was a new one for me, but I loved the suggestion. One member said to “luggage tag” your horse. Either on their halter, or braided into their mane, find a way to leave your name and phone number on them, should the two of you get separated, so the finder of your horse, can then also locate you to return them.

LIGHTS OUT-Carry a small flashlight or even wear a headlight. The darkness settles in quickly and earlier as the weather turns. Your horse may not be uncomfortable seeing in the dark, their vision is better than yours, but you’ll feel better if you can see too.

Ultimately, if you fail to plan, then plan to fail. Don’t set yourself up for a bad time, trail riding is supposed to be fun and relaxing! If you crave spontaneity, make up a small bag with supplies and clips to fasten to your saddle, and keep it ready at all times. This way, if you decide to head out on a whim, you don’t have to waste time packing, you can just grab your kit and go. Remember too, if your horse isn’t a seasoned trail horse, start slow and easy. They get sensory overload, especially when trying new things.

My gelding was a great show horse, and a fun trail horse, until the farm owners left rows of plastic-wrapped round bales near a trail we used. These “giant, killer marshmallows” were probably going to get us, every time we saw them. He was a big sissy, and would fuss in mud, “ewwww, my feet are dirty,” but plow through a creek bed without batting an eye. Or alternately, would absolutely REFUSE to step over the thinnest crack of water running through a field. Honestly, you couldn’t even see it until you were right on top of it, but he knew it was there, and it might have swallowed him, you don’t know! A friend went on a trail ride once, her horse spooked at deer that turned up out of the trees unexpectedly, and in addition to nearly getting tossed, her bra also failed to be “trail ready.” (love you Karah!) So ladies, here’s a lesson for us. When trail riding, part of your prep should include an undergarment check. Nobody wants the “girls” going without adult supervision on a trail ride, especially if you’re also dealing with a spooky horse.

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