As a trail rider, you need to balance between packing lightly for the trail and yet being well-prepared to face harsh weather. Even a fantastic forecast can deteriorate unexpectedly and rapidly. Downpours, snow squalls, and wind- or sandstorms can surprise even the seasoned trail aficionado miles from shelter.
Then there are riders who set out on equestrian journeys of such lengths that facing bad weather is inevitable and must be endured, or who love trail riding so much that foul weather isn't to be avoided but rather considered just part of the demanding, authentic experience.
In fact, the greatest fulfillment in trail riding often results from overcoming the toughest difficulties. The most horrendous meteorological disasters during a ride are exactly what linger for decades as family legends. Members of The Long Riders' Guild (www.longridersguild.com; an international association of equestrian explorers who've completed a continuous horseback journey of 1,000 miles or more) know this as well as anyone.
Spending months, if not years, with-out interruption on horseback to accomplish extensive expeditions, Long Riders put gear to the test in the harshest possible conditions. Their reports and advice can provide insight into some great basic gear for anyone wanting to be prepared for the trials of the trail, wherever you may ride.
The Long Riders' Guild doesn't sell, manufacture, or endorse any particular gear, or accept outside advertising revenue from any gear company. That said, Long Riders are typically all too happy to report on their favorite gear, which the guild supports.
Here's what three Long Riders had to say on the subject of foul-weather gear.
About the rider: Long Rider Andi Mills called herself "a 56-year-old, diabetic, grandmother of five still up to meeting an awesome challenge" when she rode from the Pacific Coast, across the Mojave Desert, and on to Arkansas, racking up 1,500 miles.
Unfortunately, soon after completing her journey, her list of challenges grew to include sudden, permanent blindness caused by a genetic disorder. Yet, with a talking computer, Mills is the leader of the international collection team for the largest global equine DNA project ever undertaken, which is being fielded by The Long Riders' Guild Academic Foundation (www.theworldride.org).
Her in-saddle outerwear: "I have some things that have worked very well for me," Mills reflects. "I have an oil-cloth duster. It is long, with a split in the back that allows you to sit on your horse. It covers your legs and the saddle and the horse's rump, for that matter. You can zip in a liner in cold weather for warmth. It keeps out the wind, rain, and cold very well.
"I am not brand-specific on much other than my saddle and my boots," she continues.
"I guess the dusters would have to be the right brand for the individual, but I definitely favor Ariat boots with the gel insoles. When they were fairly new, I walked in desert sand for 11 miles and even walked 18 miles in the mountains, and never had a blister or sore feet.
"I use a pair of 'duck boots' when I am in mucky mud to keep my riding boots from getting all messed up with mud and water. They even have a bit of a heel so your wet foot doesn't slip through the stirrup.
"In a bad storm, I would get off [my Quarter Horse] Jericho, let him turn his tail to the wind, and stand in the shelter of his chest. The best defense for your gear is to have it well-oiled so it will repel the water. I am afraid that there are not too many ways to keep perfectly dry while on a horseback journey.
"I carry 30-gallon garbage bags in my saddlebags in the event of a storm. I slide my tack and gear into one, tie it in a knot, and wait it out. You can also slit one open and use it as a small, temporary shelter from the rain.
"I always figured that foul weather was part of the deal. I guess it is all the yucky, bad-weather days that make me appreciate the nice days!"