There's no such thing as travel insurance for trail riders, but today's equipment can make a huge difference to your safety and visibility on the trail. If you're a savvy, experienced trail rider, there's a good chance that you already own and use many of the items discussed here. But you might be inspired to add some of the items to your collection.
Here, we'll first discuss items designed to protect you, the rider, as you tackle trails mild and wild. These include foot/leg gear, headgear, gloves, vests, visibility enhancers, no-hands lights, sunscreen, and insect repellent. Then we'll cover items for your horse. These include stirrups and specialized tack, plus reflective items you can attach to your tack and even directly to your horse to enhance visibility. All can help make your trail-riding experience safer and more enjoyable.
Along the way, we'll also give you a checklist of safety items for the trail and safety-gear resources.
You likely don boots to protect your feet both in and out of the saddle. Depending on where you live, you might add chaps or half-chaps to protect your legs from brush and thorns. Other standard protective apparel includes a long-sleeved shirt and bandanna to protect your arms, neck, and face from sun, wind, and blowing dust, and perhaps a wide-brimmed hat to help protect your eyes, nose, and lips from the sun. These are all good choices, but today, you have more options than ever before.
Foot/leg gear. No matter what your riding style, boots and chaps will help protect your feet and legs from branches and brambles, thorns, snakes, and - if you spend any time leading your horse - the unpleasant effects of a wayward hoof, tall, wet grass, and other on-the-ground hazards. You can wear tall boots or short boots, chaps or chinks, or the increasingly popular combination of short paddock boots and half-chaps. (Chaps and half-chaps are available through State Line Tack and other riding-apparel stores and catalogs.)
Whatever footgear you choose, look for comfort, protection, some ankle support, and, for maximum security and comfort in the stirrup, some traction and shock absorption. Ariat International pioneered the athletic riding boot in English, Western, and trail-riding models; other reputable bootmakers have followed suit; for a partial list, see the resource guide on page 60.
Make sure your boots have good heels and one-piece soles to help keep your feet from sliding all the way through the stirrups. Here's why: Say you're riding down the trail and your horse spooks, throwing you off balance. Your low-heeled (or no-heeled) footgear shoots through the stirrup. You lose your seat and fall off - but your foot is caught up in the stirrup. Your horse takes off down the trail - dragging you by your foot over every hard bump, which can lead to injury and even death.
In addition to proper footgear, specialized stirrups and stirrup accessories (which we'll discuss in a minute) can also help prevent dragging incidents.
Headgear. Old-time trail riders didn't have our advantages - they would've loved today's lightweight, ventilated, comfortable, and highly protective equestrian helmets. You can add a waterproof cover to ward off rain, a net cover if biting insects are a problem, and a warm fleece cover that will hold in the heat and also keep your ears and neck warm.
If you miss the shade that a wide-brimmed hat or a good baseball cap provides, try one of the long, wide, sport visors from Cashel. (They go for about $11). You can attach these soft foam visors to any safety helmet, and they'll provide full shade for your eyes and face.
Salamander makes a visor system that attaches to any helmet, and is popular with many outdoor enthusiasts. It's made from lightweight, closed-cell foam inside poly cloth, and attaches to the helmet with hook-and-loop strips. These visors go for less than $20 from The Distance Depot.