Don't go out on the trail without these essentials

The right gear and gadgets make your trail ride safe and fun. There's nothing like having what you need when you need it to help you feel competent and in control.
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The right gear and gadgets make your trail ride safe and fun. There's nothing like having what you need when you need it to help you feel competent and in control.

There's nothing like having what you need when you need it to help you feel competent and in control. When you and your horse are ready to leave home and go out on the trail, you can prepare for the changing environment and its challenges with additional clothing and equipment that's simple and affordable.

trail riding

To help you plan ahead, our experts--trainer and trail clinician Bruce Lachiusa and Tevis Cup-winning endurance rider Lori Stewart-- tell you what, depending on where they're going, when, and for how long, they take along on the trail.

FOR YOU

Extra layers of clothing. Include a lightweight wind-and water-resistant pullover, for changes in weather.

Bandanna. "A bandanna is over my ears in cold weather, around my neck in hot weather. It's an emergency compress, or a hanky. It repairs equipment, or ties stuff to my saddle," says Lori.

Gloves. Use to keep your hands warm, protect your hands when handling rocks, branches, brush, and wire.

Fanny pack. Find one that fits close to your body without bouncing. Inside it, stash the items you want to stay with you if you and your horse part company, including:

  • Cell phone, to call for help, or to phone home.
  • Pocket knife or multipurpose tool.
  • Whistle, more audible than a yell for getting help.
  • Flashlight, for dealing with emergencies in the dark, finding your way, and helping others to find you.
  • Large plastic trash bag (fold small and secure with a rubber band) for emergency poncho, ground cloth, or tablecloth.
  • Purse-size pack of facial tissues.
  • Juice box or other packaged drink.
  • Durable concentrated energy food, such as a PowerBar or Clif Bar (in outdoor and health-food stores) or Payday candy bar. "Avoid things that melt or crumble," says Lori.
  • Sample-size bottle of sunblock.
  • Lip balm with UV protection.
  • Small tube of petroleum jelly or Desitin to treat minor abrasions or chafing.
  • Topographical map (from a stationery or outdoor store) or good road map of the area where you plan to ride. Get your horse used to your unfolding it at home, on the ground, and then (cautiously) on horseback.

Water bottle(s). These are valuable for long rides. Trail and some tack stores have these in no-bounce holders that fasten to the saddle in front or behind you (either works, says Lori)--or choose a cantle bag with bottle holder attached.

Cantle bag. Make sure the one you buy can attach to your saddle. Most are made for Western saddles. For an English saddle, a "Snug Pack" from Sportack's catalogue works well; it includes water bottles/holders. In your cantle bag, stow:

  • Easyboot to keep the small problem of a lost shoe from becoming the big problem of a damaged foot.
  • Hoof pick.
  • Small roll of duct tape for emergency repairs or reinforcing Easy Boot.
  • Reflective vest (as little as $4 in surplus stores, suggests Bruce) for safety if you're caught out after dark; rolls up.
  • Roll of reflective tape for hock- and tail-wrapping after dark.
  • Extra bandanna.
  • Roll of bandaging tape, such as Vetrap, for emergency care.
  • Extra-long leather bootlaces for repairing tack or tying objects to saddle.
  • Inexpensive stethoscope for checking pulse and gut sounds. Lori stores hers by stuffing it inside an old sock.
  • Spray bottle of water/alcohol or water/witch-hazel mix to cool your horse; seal in Ziploc bag to avoid leaks.
  • First-aid kit including bandages, antibacterial cream, etc.

FOR YOUR HORSE
Bridle. Recommended is a nylon or biothane halter/bridle, which is washable, durable and inexpensive (under $50) from trail-specialty catalogues, plus snap-on reins (not biothane, which doesn't provide enough grip, or leather, which isn't safe to tie with; rough-surfaced nylon or cotton rope and cotton webbing are okay) that convert quickly to a lead shank. To your bridle, attach an "attention-getting" bit, slightly stronger than you use in the ring--for instance, a slow-twist snaffle if your ring-riding bit is smooth.

Saddle. Your current Western or English saddle might work fine--but if you trail ride often, consider a saddle made specifically for trail riding.

Saddle pad. An all-purpose pad in natural or synthetic fleece or cotton fiber works well; make sure it extends out far enough from your saddle to prevent water bottles, cantle packs, or other attachments from chafing.

Sponge. Lori likes The Australian Connection's big Dunking Sponge; enclosed in a net bag, it attaches to one of the saddle's D-rings by means of a long string and a clip.

Halter and lead rope. Unless you use a convertible halter/ bridle, you'll need a good-fitting halter and a lead rope to tie your horse safely.

Spare stirrup leather. In case yours breaks on the trail.

Full chaps. These protect your legs from thick, high brush or dense woods, and improve your grip, but can be clumsy for mounting from the ground.

Seat pad. A seat pad cushions your rear on long rides; and protects your saddle from scratching.