Trail In­sights

Aware­ness in these five ar­eas will keep you safe on the trail.

Horse & Rider - - Contents -

Aware­ness is the key to safety on the trail.

When you ride, it’s easy to get so fo­cused on the task at hand that you lose sight of all else. Your horse, on the other hand, is al­ways aware, notic­ing changes in weather, your mood, the dis­po­si­tion of other rid­ers and horses, and his en­vi­ron­ment. As a non-prey an­i­mal, it’s likely you over­look many of the things that im­pact your horse’s emo­tional state or cause him to re­act. By in­creas­ing your aware­ness to match that of your horse, you avoid many po­ten­tially haz­ardous sit­u­a­tions.

Though you’re more alert, you can still have fun on the trail and en­joy your friends. Here I’ll share the five ar­eas where you should heighten your aware­ness to keep your­self and your horse safe.

Aware­ness of Your Horse

Be­fore ev­ery ride, pay at­ten­tion to your horse. Does he seem moody or ir­ri­ta­ble? If so, check for a phys­i­cal dis­com­fort caus­ing his change in de­meanor. If he hasn’t been rid­den in a while and has ex­cess en­ergy, longe him in a safe area be­fore rid­ing. This lets him work off his ex­tra en­ergy and get com­fort­able in what might be a new en­vi­ron­ment or stress­ful sit­u­a­tion.

If you ride a mare, this means be­ing aware of her heat cy­cles and think­ing ahead enough to place her at the back of a group trail ride to keep her from kick­ing an­other horse be­hind her and to min­i­mize squeal­ing. Same thing for any moody horse.

Through­out your ride, be aware of your horse’s tem­per­a­ment. Sud­den ir­ri­tabil­ity can mean he needs a break or a drink or that the ride is too in­tense.

Be cog­nizant of your horse’s needs through­out the ride to avoid bad sit­u­a­tions be­fore they hap­pen.

Aware­ness of Self

Your horse reads your emo­tions ev­ery time you ap­proach him. If he senses stress, he gets anx­ious. He doesn’t un­der­stand that your bad day at work doesn’t have any­thing to do with him. He sim­ply per­ceives that you’re up­set and re­acts de­fen­sively. Once this hap­pens and your horse gets worked up, it’s dif­fi­cult to get him back un­der con­trol.

Instead of ap­proach­ing your horse with your own per­sonal mis­sion in mind, be self-aware. If you ar­rive to the barn flus­tered or up­set, do your best to calm down be­fore you ride—or even be­fore you load your horse to haul him to a ride. Clean stalls or your tack, take a walk in the fresh air, or spend some quiet time on the ground with your horse, groom­ing him. If you’re less stressed when you ride, it de­creases the like­li­hood you’ll fight with your horse or cause him to get worked up.

While rid­ing, pay at­ten­tion to your mood. Con­flicts usu­ally hap­pen when you get mad—at your horse, other rid­ers, or your­self. If you start to feel a fight com­ing, stop and try to calm down. Slow your cues and take deep breaths. Quick, jerky mo­tions will only con­tinue to cause him to con­tinue to over­re­act.

Aware­ness of Oth­ers

On group rides, you’re of­ten around unfamiliar horses. Your mount doesn’t know who the leader of the herd is, which in­creases the like­li­hood he’ll be hy­per-aware of other horses’ anx­i­eties. Watch other rid­ers and

be mind­ful of the group dy­namic so you don’t get into trou­ble. If you see a rider strug­gling, give her plenty of space so that if an is­sue oc­curs she has room to get her horse un­der con­trol. At the same time, pro­vide the lead­er­ship your horse needs to stay calm and avoid es­ca­la­tion.

If you aren’t pay­ing at­ten­tion and an­other horse spooks, your horse will over­re­act. Stay in con­trol of your emo­tions to help dif­fuse his anx­i­eties. Pro­vide clear, calm guid­ance. If your horse is the one that spooks, be mind­ful of those around you. Keep your dis­tance from other rid­ers to en­sure that you don’t bump into other mem­bers of the group.

Aware­ness of En­vi­ron­ment

Be proac­tive as you ride down the trail. It’s like driv­ing a car. If you only look at what’s in front of you, you can’t re­act quickly enough if some­thing hap­pens, such as a deer jump­ing out of the bushes in front of you. It doesn’t mat­ter how much work you put in at home to de­sen­si­tize your horse, there will be things that ap­pear on the trail that star­tle him and/or make him ner­vous. If you’re aware of your en­vi­ron­ment, you’ll be pre­pared to re­act in a way that makes your trail horse feel safe.

Look ahead to watch for signs of wildlife and other po­ten­tial fear fac­tors in your en­vi­ron­ment. Rustling bushes or trees can sig­nal the sud­den ap­pear­ance of birds, deer, or other wildlife. If you see birds fly­ing in a group over­head, con­sider what might’ve caused them to move. Per­haps an­other rider, an­i­mal, or trail user flushed them out as they passed. Be pre­pared for this per­son or an­i­mal to cross your path.

Weather also plays a role. Do your due dili­gence and check the weather be­fore your ride. If you’re on a long or overnight trip, watch the sky. Re­mem­ber this warn­ing: Red sky at night, sailor’s de­light; red sky in the morn­ing, sailors take warn­ing. The color of the sky can sig­nal an ap­proach­ing storm/un­pleas­ant weather or calm, blue skies.

Aware­ness of Gear

Each time you ride take in­ven­tory of items to be re­placed, in­clud­ing old or worn leather pieces, lati­gos, and miss­ing Chicago screws. As you cinch up and ad­just your head­stall, pay at­ten­tion to the fit of your gear. If your horse’s body com­po­si­tion has changed, make ad­just­ments. A hang­ing back cinch can easily snag on a branch or bush and cause prob­lems. A too-loose cinch or breast col­lar won’t keep your sad­dle in place, which can cause un­nec­es­sary prob­lems on the trail.

Dur­ing your ride be aware of your horse’s tem­per­a­ment. Sud­den ir­ri­tabil­ity can mean he needs a break or a drink. It can also mean that the ride is too in­tense for him.

Be aware of poorly ad­justed tack, such as a loose back cinch (shown here) that can easily snag brush or branches on the trail.

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