Trail riding is the reason many of us started with horses in the first place. It's still our favorite horse activity. There's no pressure to perform, no judges and no clock; just your trustworthy mount, you and Mother Nature. Although Mother Nature can play tricks on us at times, we can minimize the effects with good trail ride preparation.
The first thing you can do is to let someone know about how long you’ll be gone and, if possible, what route you’ll be following. If you have a map, bring it with you. If not, and you’re riding in an unfamiliar area, stop and turn around every once in a while to take note of what the scenery should look like when you’re returning home.
For a long distance ride or in rough terrain, an endurance saddle or a properly fitted Western saddle would be preferred to an English or dressage saddle. They distribute the weight over a larger area making it more comfortable for your horse.
Dry spots on your horse in the saddle area after you ride indicate that your saddle is causing undue pressure on those particular areas. This prohibits the sweat glands from operating and is probably causing your horse pain. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need a different saddle. You may have to pad appropriately. Basically you want to be able to insert your hand between the saddle and the horses shoulders or loins without feeling pressure. You should not be able to do this where the saddle is resting on his back.
The use of a breast collar or rear cinch is a matter of personal preference, as well as terrain. These tools can help stabilize a saddle on an especially round barreled horse, or up and down steep slopes, so plan accordingly. If you’re going to use saddle bags, we find most horses prefer pommel bags, which don’t irritate the horse as much as bags tied behind the cantle.
In either case, tie the loose end to your saddle to prevent it from flopping against your horse. Tie a slicker or raincoat to your saddle in case it rains. Wear, or bring along a hat for the same reason. If you are 18 years old or younger, the laws in many states require that you wear a riding helmet.
Always take along a halter and lead rope. We prefer a rope halter and a 10-12 foot lead rope which can be rolled up in a hangmans knot and hooked over the saddle horn. This will allow you to remove the bridle and bit if you chose to stop and rest.
Should you tie your horse to a tree, make your knot at wither height or above and allow only about two feet of rope length between knot and buckle to prevent him from getting tangled. Your lead rope/halter can also double as a bridle and reins should you break a rein or a bridle piece. We all know those Chicago screws can come loose at the most inappropriate times (you can fix this by applying nail polish into the hole before inserting the screw).
If you ride with friends, have a prearranged meeting place should something unforeseen occur forcing you to scatter in different directions (bee or wasp attacks, for instance). Anyone that is allergic to insect bites or stings should carry the appropriate medication.
If you horse throws a shoe and you’re not carrying an Easy Boot, you can wrap the hoof with Vet Wrap and then cover it with duct tape to make an emergency shoe. Take along your cell phone, but, realize that it may not work if you’re riding in a remote area.
Occasionally, your horse will get a rock stuck between the sides of his horseshoe that will not come loose no matter how long or hard we pick or pull on it. When confronted with this situation, try using another rock and slam it against the side of his shoe. You can usually dislodge the intruder with one or two hearty strokes.
Carry a first aid kit containing the above mentioned Vet Wrap and duct tape along with bandages, rolled cotton and a blood coagulant (such as Wonder Dust). This should be considered a minimum supply requirement and can be used on horse or human. Lastly, you should always carry a sharp knife, as well as some strong rope or a lariat, just in case someone gets stuck and has to be pulled up or out. Knowing you’re well prepared should allow you to relax and enjoy your trail ride.
About Bob Jeffreys and Suzanne Sheppard
Bob and Suzanne are a unique horse training partnership striking a perfect balance between the English and Western disciplines. They love to teach clinics for everyone from recreational riders to the pros! Visit TwoasOneHorsemanship for more info.
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