Are you ready to hit the trails now that winter is finally past? Spring trail riding might be the perfect antidote to all those cold arena rides you’ve put in over the past few months, but it’s not without hazards. Stay safe on the trail with these tips.
Get a good weather app. Spring and summer weather can be dangerous and unpredictable. Depending on your region’s climate, you might be dealing with potentially violent storms which crop up without warning… or maybe not. With smartphones, as long as you have cell service, you have warning before even the most unexpected weather. Get an app you like, making sure it has notifications set up for severe weather, including wildfire warnings, and make sure you take your phone with you! That way you won’t find yourself under a tree during a thunderstorm on a previously pretty afternoon. I personally use Weather Underground’s apps, https://www.wunderground.com/download.
Tack up wisely. Do you have the right gear for a long trail ride? If it’s been a while since you spent a few hours in the saddle, and your horse has a tendency to get excited and pull, make sure you’re protecting your palms with a good pair of gloves. Check your saddle fit and be sure your girth is clean, lessening the chance of sores and rubs under the tack after a lengthy ride. While you’re at it, check your billets and buckles! All it takes is one good spook-and-spin to pop some loosening threads and send your saddle one way while your horse goes in the other. Oh, and remember that excellent weather app? Don’t lose it if your horse leaves you behind — keep your phone on your person, not in a saddle bag.
Keep your eyes on the road. When was the last time you were out on this trail? Keep your eyes open for hazards ahead, especially if you’re traveling at speed; you never know what winter weather might have left behind. Rocks on the trail, muddy patches, washed-out sections, fallen trees: a lot can happen out on the trail, and your horse can only catch so much on his own.
Slather/Spray on the protection. Bug spray and sunblock: the twin potions of summer. With spring showers filling puddles and flowers lighting up the meadows, it’s time to think seriously about biting insects and the diseases they spread, to say nothing of the discomfort and distraction. Mosquitoes are more potent than ever, as scientists predict that North America will see the Zika virus this summer. Don’t just worry about your horse, worry about yourself, too — use insect repellent on your skin and clothing, and cover bare skin if you’re going into mosquito-prone countryside. The same goes for sunblock: exposed skin gets covered or gets sunblocked — or it gets sunburned.
Ride smart. Be aware of the differences between riding in a groomed arena, or even a paddock, and out on trails with varying terrain and elevations. Avoid mud when you can; hooves damage wet ground. In mountainous country, use caution on northern slopes until the summer months, as frost could still be lurking under a layer of mud, causing a layer of ground which could slip right out from under your horse’s hooves. Going down a steep hill? Remember to ride straight down, instead of traversing the slope at an angle. A horse going straight down can lock his legs and slide down; a horse at an angle can lose his footing and fall over on top of you.
Heading out on spring trails can be your big reward for getting through another winter. Just be safe out there, preparing yourself and your horse for the challenges of the open countryside.