Fall is a gorgeous time of year for trail riding, especially here in the midwest. The leaves are turning, the weather is finally pleasant again without sweating yourself silly or wearing so many coats you can’t move. The bugs are retreating, and hunters are all prepping for another season, or seasons. Yeah, nothing spoils a nice, relaxing trail ride like gun shots ringing out, a frantic deer darting across your path, followed by angry hunters stomping as fast as their layers of camo will allow to chase after their near miss. Meanwhile your horse has wet his fur, you’re clinging sideways to your saddle, and you’re THIS close to needing those emergency pants you keep in your tack box, for a variety of reasons. Good times…
Let’s go over a few things to refresh yourself and your barnmates on for the season. First, and most importantly, education and awareness. The easiest way to avoid a surprise confrontation with a hunter or hunting party, is to avoid them. Captain Obvious would be proud! Check your local depart of wildlife and county calendars for which hunting season are open and when. Familiarize yourself with the rules and guidelines, and plan your rides around the times when risk is greatest. If there’s only a short hunting season in your area, and you’re fairly certain there won’t be any random hunters who accidently stroll onto your riding property, it might just be best to delare a moritorium on trail rides until the season closes. Here in Ohio, we have season for guns and bows, seasons for youth and adults, and for several animals. If you can’t shut down for the duration, at least make a point to know what you could be riding into.
Be aware of property lines, and make sure all no trespassing signs are up to date. Save the riding for daylight hours only, and if hunting is allowed on the property you ride on, be sure to know who you might expect to bump into.
Remember, even if they aren’t currently being hunted, deer are usually on the move as farm fields get harvested, so you could see more woodland animal activity on your rides, and that always has the potential to surprise your horse. A well-turned-out hunter is as good as a ninja in your horse’s eyes. Just because you can see the guy in the tree stand, doesn’t mean they have, and it certainly doesn’t mean the flying ninja isn’t going to come after you and kill you and or your horse!
If you fail to plan, then plan to fail. Dress for success when you hit the trails. Brightly colored clothing, reflective gear, and anything else you can think of that at a glance screams, “I’m not a deer, and neither is the critter I’m sitting on, so please hold your fire!” While in general, hunting is a fairly safe activity, we hear stories every year of people, livestock, sheds, all being “mistaken” for deer or other game and being on the receiving end of a slug.
I hate to see headphones or earbuds around horses, they create lots of opportunities for danger, and especially now, when all senses need to be on high alert. Extra noise though, isn’t a bad idea. A small radio, or even jingle bells fixed to your saddle can entertain, while making other animals and nearby hunters aware of your presence. Even the most experienced hunter probably can’t think of a time when they caught a deer or turkey strolling through the woods with a boom box on their shoulder, so in theory at least, it should be a good indication that you’re human/a non-target.
When possible, leave a note with contact information, the time you left, who you’re with, and the time you plan to be back. If you’re only going for a short cool down ride, and haven’t been seen for a few hours, that can be the best way to get a search party out looking for you. Pack your cell phone or walkie talkies if you’re riding in bad service areas.
Lastly, safety in numbers. If your horses are just going to be turned out in a potentially hazardous area, try to dress them in bright colors again, and make sure they have friends. If you want to trail ride, try to not go it alone. Horses just can’t tell a story like Lassie used to if you get hurt and they have to return to the barn alone.
There’s no reason to not take advantage of the change in scenery, but there’s every reason to be extra safe when you head out, to make sure you can enjoy more of it on your next ride!