Wednesday, May 27, 2015

5 Ways to Be Prepared for a Potentially Disastrous Trail Ride

Dramatic enough for ya?
Now that the weather here in New England can officially be called "nice", the ground is drying up and equestrians, mountain biker, walkers, and runners alike are starting to hit the trails. Between fancy prancing and jumping practice, I like to take the occasional hack through the woods and I am very lucky to have  access to two state forests within walking distance of my barn. 
Trail rides are normally uneventful. I'll be honest and admit that I sometimes find them downright boring (mostly just because we have to walk a ways down the road before we get to the trail head), but it's good for both horse and rider to take breaks from all the arena work. One day last summer however, we had a particularly exciting ride - and not in a good way.
I fell off.
I fell off Maggie in the middle of the woods and she ran away and I had to go chasing after her.
Fortunately, things turned out fine. We both had quite a run through the woods and she had a few little nicks on her legs, but other than that no harm was done. Things could certainly have turned out a lot worse and I'd like to share with you a few things that I think helped us out that day as well as a few things I wish I had done differently:

1. DON’T settle for an ill-fitting girth.

I fell off in the first place because Maggie got spooked by a noise in the woods (just a rustling of leaves as far as I could tell, nothing terribly out of the ordinary) and jumped to the side. I got unbalanced, my saddle slipped, and I couldn't right myself.
I was riding in my Wintec that day and at that point I hadn't had it for very long so I hadn't yet purchased a designated girth for it. I had been borrowing a girth that was really too big and having trouble getting it tight enough. I had tightened it up as much as I could before I got on, but I think once we got to the trail head I could have used to tighten it up another hole or two.
I think that if the saddle hadn't slipped I probably would have been able to ride out the spook and regain my balance, thus preventing further disaster.

2. DO have your cell phone with you and keep it on your person - NOT on the saddle or in a saddle bag.

I hope you've heard this one before. If I'm not wearing a jacket with zip-up pockets where I'm sure my phone won't fall out, then I always stick it in the side of my boot or half chap. I've never had a problem with it staying in place there and personally it never bothers me. If my horse had run away with my cell phone I wouldn't have been able to go running after her like I did. I could have, I guess, but I don’t think it would have been the smartest thing for me to go running through the woods without a way to contact someone. For one thing, I didn't know which direction I was actually headed so it could have been very possible that I would have needed to call someone to come pick me up if I ended up somewhere far away from my barn.
As I was chasing after my horse I was able to call both my husband and a friend of mine, let them know what happened, and get them to help search and call other people. 

2a. DON’T have only one person in the group with a cell phone.

It was just me and my friend riding together that day. Thank God we had both brought our phones with us. If we hadn’t both had our phones I would have had no way of communicating with her after Maggie ran off. Since we were able to call each other we decided that the best course of action was for me to go after my horse and for her to take her's back to the barn. And since we both had our phones we were able to waste no time in communicating with one another. We kept talking about our options even after I had gone off after Maggie.

3. DO have some sort of identification on your horse or their tack so that if someone catches them they can contact you.

One of my (many) worries once my horse got loose was that if someone caught her how would they know who to contact? How would I find where she was and get her back? Before my next trail ride, I got a little tag with my name and phone number on it and put it on Maggie's bridle. I just went to my nearest Petco and used the tag maker machine there, because it was the quickest. Another option is to order custom bridle tags from a company like Dover or Smartpak. As an eventer, of course I have multiple bridles so I made sure to eventually get a tag for the bridle that I use for cross-country too.

4. Know the local police station's phone number/ have it programmed in your cell phone.

I didn't have the police station's number in my phone and I was too busy running after my horse to stop and Google it on my phone. I phoned a friend who then called the police and also the local trail association for me and altered them of the situation. If someone finds your horse they are most likely to call the police to report it if you don't have a tag with your phone number on the bridle (as I didn't at the time). If your horse truly goes missing, it's the police who will probably end up helping with the search.

5. DON’T leave your car keys somewhere that your friends can’t get to them and DO have friends that can haul a trailer.

As I was running through the woods, one small comforting thought was that at least I remembered where I left my car keys and that they were accessible to someone if I told them where they were. That way, if my horse and I ended up far enough away from the barn (or tired enough) that we couldn’t walk back I could tell my friend where my keys were and she could grab my truck, hook it up to my trailer, and come pick us up.

By some strange miracle and with the help of some strangers hiking or biking the trail along the way who had seen my horse, I had managed to follow the correct path and find my horse being held by a very helpful girl (in riding apparel no less!) accompanied by two other bystanders who had helped catch her, plus a local police officer who was just driving up as I was jogging in.
With just a few small scratches on my horse's legs, a nice bruise on my hip, and my wounded ego we were able to walk the mile and half along a road back to our barn. We both needed a nice long cool-out anyway.
Do you have any tips for staying safe on the trails?


  1. These are great recommendations! I am definitely guilty of not following most of these suggestions on the trail. Food for thought.

  2. These are very savvy! Great post! Trail riding is not something I'm super experienced with and frankly was never taught proper "safety" for aside from don't ride alone and watch for holes. Terrible, I know. It's something on my list to rectify because it seems like Nibbles enjoys riding out! I wish there was an adult intensive Pony Club or something so I could fill in all my holes from riding as a kid. I had a great teacher, I know quite a lot, but I want to make sure I know... everything? xD

    1. I was never really taught "proper trail safety" either...I really think a lot of it is just common sense, but I think that these few things aren't mentioned in a lot of trail safety articles one might find online. Like, I knew to always have at least one person with a cell phone, but before this happened I never realized how handy it was to have TWO cell phones!

  3. omg that is actually my worst nightmare. Aaaaaaah. I'm so glad it turned out well!

    These are good tips - one I'd add is to always make sure that someone has a fully-stocked first aid kit in their trailer or their car, juuuuuuust in case, along with an extra halter and lead rope.

    1. Yes - definitely! Those are great tips that aren't limited to trail riding either! You never know when you might need and extra halter and lead rope - maybe yours break while you're at a show or you have to help catch someone else's loose horse!

    2. I actually keep a halter and lead rope in the trunk of my car at all times. I've caught loose horses on two separate occasions while just driving around. (Vermont!)

  4. I am not a huge trail riding fan, but these are great tips!

  5. Great tips. Where we ride there usually isn't cell service though so we're on our own if something goes wrong.

    1. Scary! Do you have any special precautions that you take for being without cell service?

  6. yikes - glad everything worked out ok! loose scared horses are a nightmare situation (as are falls from a slipped saddle - somehow they always end up worse, imo). great tips!

  7. Oh, these are really good tips, especially for those of us who don't trail ride often AND whose worst fear is falling off... alone... in the middle of the woods.