Poets tout spring, swimmers and boaters long for summer, and skiers covet the white slopes of winter. But here in Montana, most of the horsemen I know count the days to late September when the aspens turn golden and the first morning frost garnishes the green mountain meadows.
But autumn can have teeth, primarily in the form of weather that portends the changes coming soon. Perhaps last month a slicker tied behind the cantle seemed protection enough, but now it's time to add that vest, preferably made of fleece or wool for warmth when wet. In late autumn, or whenever significant elevation is involved, you'll want more-a packable jacket, gloves, and a hat that favors warmth over style.
Take more seriously, now, the usual contingency items, such as fire-making supplies, a medical kit (one for humans, one for horses), and emergency rations, even when lunch out isn't planned. An impromptu overnight caused by a blocked trail or an injury is one thing in July but quite another in October when daytime 70s can drop to bone-chilling 20s after sundown.
And look after your horse's warmth, furnishing him a cool-down blanket when you return him sweaty to the trailhead. But don't blanket him in the pasture, thus blocking growth of nature's far superior blanket, a healthy winter coat. Pasture blanketing is for show horses. Trail horses need hair.
Most of all, enjoy. Enjoy the colors, the smells, the dose of new energy that comes to you and your horse when that cool edge returns to the mountain air. See you on the autumn trail!
Dan Aadland raises mountain-bred Tennessee Walking Horses on his ranch in Montana. His most recent books include Sketches from the Ranch, The Complete Trail Horse, 101 Trail Riding Tips, and The Best of All Seasons. For information on his horses, clinics, and books, visit http://my.montana.net/draa.