Ah, trail riding. Whether it's a half-hour hack around your own place, a day ride with friends, a group camp-out weekend in the mountains or at the beach, or a multi-day outing in the
backcountry, this type of horseback fun is supposed to be just that--fun. But, no matter what version of "let's hit the trail" sounds appealing to you, your ride won't be much fun if you end up unsafe, uncomfortable, or greatly inconvenienced.
That's where knowledge of some tested tips and tricks comes in handy. We canvassed trail-riding readers, plus Horse & Rider's own experienced trail hands, to bring you 50 good ones.
5 Must-Take Items
- Water. Even if you don't get thirsty enough to drink it, you never know when you might need water for cooling down an overheated horse or rider, or for rinsing out a wound.
Tip: For an always-cold drink, drain the top inch from a full plastic water bottle, then freeze it until the remaining water becomes ice. It'll thaw gradually during your ride, with the unthawed portion keeping the water cold.
- Rain gear. The unwritten rule about whether to take rain gear on a ride: If you have it, the sun will shine. If you don't have it, it'll rain! A storm can blow in when you least expect it, especially in high country. And few things will leave you more miserable than to be soaked to the skin with miles yet to ride.
Tip: If you don't want to invest in, nor carry, a full-length rain slicker, tuck an inexpensive plastic poncho--or even a large heavy-duty leaf bag--in your saddlebag. The latter can be made into makeshift rain gear, and has many other potential uses as well.
- Sharp pocketknife or folding multi-tool. Whether used to free a rope-entangled horse or to pick your horse's feet, this is a don't-leave-home-without-it item. Tip: Carry it securely on your person rather than stuffing it into a bag carried on your horse. That will allow you to access it instantly should an emergency occur--and you won't be separated from it should you find yourself unhorsed.
- Food. It's always smart to have some sort of energy source with you, as you never know when a planned short ride will turn into a long one.
Tip: Choose non-bulky foods suitable for carrying on horseback, without need for cooling. Good choices include non-frosted energy bars, jerky, nuts and dried fruit, tuna or salmon in easy-open pouches, or trail mix without chocolate (which has a low melting point).
- First-aid items. Your list of items can be as simple or detailed as you wish; even a single roll of self-adhesive bandage and few aspirins are worth tucking into your stash of "just in case" items.
Trick: Keep all first-aid items in a single bag, and color-code it for easy recognition during an emergency. Choose a red bag, for instance, or tie a red ribbon or bandanna to the firstaid- kit side of your saddlebags.
10 Items that Could Save the Day
- Cell phone. And while you're at it, bring a hand-crank charging unit for it.
- Coach's whistle. Use it to sound for help or signal a warning; the piercing sound carries farther than a shout, and takes a lot less wind.
- Duct tape. From emergency tack repairs to protecting a hoof after shoe loss, this item truly does have 1,001 uses.
- Baling twine. Like duct tape, this stuff has a list of uses limited only by your imagination and the circumstances in which you find yourself.
- GPS or compass. Being lost is never fun--enough said.
- Roll of toilet paper. This tip comes from a search-and-rescue group. Imagine a worst-case scenario, where you're lost, or someone in your party is gravely ill or injured, and you need to pinpoint your location for rescuers. Use your roll of TP to "draw" giant arrows on the ground, pointing in your direction. The markings will be visible from the air or from hilltops.
- Flashlight. Even better: a headlamp, which leaves you with both hands free to do whatever needs doing in the dark.
- Fire-starting materials. Lighters, waterproof matches, dry paper, or other kindling-type material won't do you any good if you don't have them with you when you need them.
- Space blanket. This is a lightweight blanket designed to reduce heat loss from a person's body during emergency situations. It consists of a thin sheet of plastic material coated with a metallic reflecting agent that redirects body heat to the wearer. Find one at sporting-good stores, usually for under $5.
- Plastic shopping bags. Weighing almost nothing, these freebies from supermarkets or other sources have lots of uses. Examples: Slip one over each boot to keep them dry during a cloudburst; create a makeshift water carrier; make a compress holder or bandage cover.