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    Trail Riding Safety Essentials

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    November 06, 2018

    I’ve been a trail rider for a long time, and I’ve experienced my fair share of trail emergencies. I’ve seen injured riders, injured horses, and damaged tack. I’ve fallen off and been hurt, been cold and hungry, and run out of water on a hot day. And I’ve taken a wrong turn and gotten lost.

    I’ve learned from those experiences that having the right equipment with you and being prepared can make the difference between a mild misadventure and a disaster.

    Experts advise hikers to carry the “10 Essentials for Survival,” including waterproof matches, a flashlight, extra food and water, and a mirror for signaling rescuers. These are important items for horseback riders to carry, too.  But we also need a few other things hikers don’t, so here’s my version of the 10 essentials for horseback riders (some might be good for hikers, too):

    1. Riding Buddy. The No. 1 most important thing you can have with you is another rider. Riding with a buddy is not only more fun but also safer; your riding partner is also your first line of defense in an emergency. If you get hurt, he or she can administer first aid, get help, manage your horse, and even drive you to the hospital.
    2. Helmet. Your brain is arguably your most important organ, and you need to protect it. Today’s helmets are far more comfortable and attractive than they used to be, so do your head a favor and wear one.
    3. Navigation. Always carry a map of the area you’ll be riding, even if you know the trail. I refer to my map at trail junctions and major landmarks to keep myself oriented. I also carry a compass, a GPS, and extra batteries on every ride. A GPS app on your cell phone is a convenient tool, but it’s useless if your battery goes dead, so please don’t rely on it alone.
    4. Water. You can survive for weeks without food, but only a few days without water. In addition to bringing extra water, I carry a small water purifier in case I need to refill my water bottles from a stream.
    5. Clothing. Always bring one more layer than you think you’ll need. In addition to a jacket, I carry hand warmers, a fold-up rain poncho, and an emergency space blanket. They take up little room in my saddlebag, but I’m glad to have them if the weather turns bad.
    6. First aid. You’ll need two first-aid kits–one for you and one for your horse. My personal first-aid kit includes Band-Aids, insect repellent, insect bite cream, antibiotic ointment, gauze pads, adhesive tape, needle for removing splinters, Ace bandage, sunscreen, and pain-relief tablets. For my horse, I have Vetrap, gauze pads, antiseptic scrub, an equine thermometer, and Banamine (flunixin meglumine; always use under the supervision of a veterinarian).
    7. Tools. A good knife is essential because it can be used in fire-building, first aid, and food preparation. I carry a Leatherman-type tool that includes a knife and other helpful gadgets like a saw, tweezers, screwdriver, scissors, can opener, etc. I also carry shoelaces or baling twine for emergency tack.
    8. Food. Bring food for one more meal than you think you’ll need. I carry trail mix, energy bars, nuts, or dried fruit. I also carry a can of tuna—I’m not tempted to snack on it during a normal ride, so I know it will be there in an emergency.
    9. Light. If the sun goes down, you’ll want a flashlight or a hands-free headlamp. I carry the batteries separately, so the device won’t drain the batteries if I accidentally switch it on.
    10. Fire. Waterproof matches and a fire starter, such as a candle stub, can make a night stranded in the mountains a lot more comfortable. I carry a few cotton balls and a small tube of Vaseline, because smearing the Vaseline all over the cotton balls produces a long-burning fire starter that doesn’t take up much room in my saddlebag.

    Keep in mind that if you and your horse get separated, all that great emergency equipment in your saddlebag won’t do you any good. Be sure to keep the most important items on your person. Your cell phone, waterproof matches, and a knife are probably the bare minimum. If your riding clothes are short on pockets, use a fanny pack or a Cashel ankle safe trail pouch to carry critical items. And be sure to put your contact information in your saddlebag in case your horse runs off.

    Finally, always tell someone where you are going and when you’ll be returning, then stick with your plan. That way if something goes wrong, they’ll know where to start looking for you.

    Be prepared, ride safely, and have fun!

    Kim McCarrel
    (541) 410-4552

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