ARMED AND DANGEROUS?
Eddie Rodriguez and Rick Pelicano, both retired mounted police officers who now teach self-defense for riders, do not recommend carrying a gun on the trail unless you are fully trained in firearm tactics and familiar with all of the laws in your jurisdiction.
Civilians, like law enforcement officers, are held to the “use of force continuum” standard in determining how much force can legally be used against someone in a given situation. Escalating to a fatal gunshot before you have exhausted all other possibilities could mean you will be prosecuted for murder. “[Shooting] is a last resort,” says Pelicano. “If your life is being threatened and you have an escape route that you didn’t take—especially being on a horse—shooting in that circumstance could be a problem for you.” Pepper spray, which is legal in every state, can be an effective alternative for riders; however, it is subject to regulations and may be prohibited in some local jurisdictions. Check with local police departments and/or park management in the areas where you ride. If you do carry pepper spray, be sure to clip the dispenser to your belt where you’ll have ready access to it in an emergency.
You’ll also need to desensitize your horse ahead of time. Pepper sprays can be dispensed as gels, streams or fogs, and the sound of the device may spook your horse. Pelicano recommends stream-delivered pepper spray, which he says doesn’t tend to startle horses as easily; this type of device also delivers a steady stream that has a longer range that could be more useful for a person on horseback.
To train your horse to accept the sound, Pelicano suggests using Silly String. “I always use Silly String to teach a horse to tolerate it because it’s very similar to the pepper spray stream in sound,” he says.
Some riders may opt for one of the many other gadgets marketed for personal defense, including variations on tasers, knives, brass knuckles and billy clubs. Any of these can be used effectively when an assailant is up close, but choose a weapon with care. You need to have some strength and training to deliver a good punch, for example, and you need to be both practiced with your weapon and comfortable with the idea of inflicting harm on another person. If you hesitate, your assailant may be able to use your own weapon against you.
If you carry pepper spray, be sure to clip the dispenser to your belt where you’ll have ready access to it in an emergency.