Recent articles have talked about the enjoyment of escaping the confines of an arena or fenced enclosure to the wide open and woodsy trail environment, as well as suggestions for improving your own confidence (and that of your equine partner).
Along with your increased emotional and psychological comfort, you’ll want to ensure your physical comfort as well. Here are some ideas that will help make sure you dress efficiently, head out on the trail prepared for weather changes, and have some essential safety supplies on hand.
Think safety and comfort when it comes to apparel. First and foremost, you’ll want to put on a helmet. Modern advances have created many options that are lightweight, well-ventilated and adjustable for a near-custom fit. They can be purchased locally at tack shops such as AA Callister in Salt Lake, or Horse Crazy in Draper, UT. Distance Depot is an online e-tail site favored by endurance riders like local expert Janet Tipton. One of their greatest products, 'Da Brim' is an easy to attach helmet visor that turns any riding helmet into a shady sun hat!
Wearing riding pants that offer stretch, breath-ability and chafe-resistance are wonderful on long or short rides. Long sleeved tops can help fend off sunburn. New high-tech cooling fabrics can even lower your body’s temperature by five degrees or so! Check out local resources or look online at sites like Dover or SmartPak.
Take along a lightweight rain jacket that’s easy to roll up and put away if there’s any chance of encountering a summer rain shower. Breathable summer gloves are a good idea too; they can give wet or sweaty hands a better grip on the reins. Jackets, windbreakers and reins can all be purchased either at local stores (look at IFA along with Cal-Ranch, AA Callister and Horse Crazy) or online (Valley Vet, Distance Depot and SmartPak are favorites amongst Utah's equestrian shoppers).
Stay hydrated. Pack along a good amount of water. You can get water bottle holders that attach to the horn of your saddle and saddle bags that give you extra storage space to take along trail essentials. Gatorade or a beverage that can replenish your electrolytes is a good idea if you have room for it, too. If you’re going out on a lengthy ride in a more secluded location, you may want to pack a portable water filter. These are available at REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods and other retailers who specialize in hiking or camping gear.
Some riders like to wear a small well-balanced backpack or fanny pack to keep their must-have items on their own bodies as opposed to being tied to the horse. If you've ever had a horse spook and run off, you'll understand the logic behind this idea!
Take a snack. Even if you plan to go out for just a short ride, you never know if you may be detained or forced to detour for some reason. Lightweight, easy-to-pack, easy-to-eat foods like trail mix or granola bars work well, as do apples and carrots (the latter two can be shared with your appreciative horses as well).
Make smart footwear choices. Riding shoes or boots should have a heel; this prevents your foot from sliding entirely through the stirrup and getting caught in the case of a fall. Making sure the toe is safely enclosed is also a must! Choosing footwear with a comfortably cushioned foot bed will be a real bonus if you need to dismount and walk for any distance. Riding shoes that lace up are also nice if your feet tend to swell at all in hot weather, or if you twist your ankle and have a bit of injury-related swelling. While tall boots look elegant and provide protection on the calf, they aren’t always the most comfortable choice for trail riding. Consider a lightweight, breathable half chap instead.
Remember to take your cell phone and at least a small first aid kit. Make your own basic kit using a zip lock bag filled with assorted sizes of bandages, anti-bacterial ointment, alcohol wipes and plenty of sunscreen. A sanitary napkin can help absorb bleeding on horses and humans alike. Store lotions and liquids in their own zip lock baggies to prevent spills. Placing your cell phone in a separate waterproof bag can protect it should you happen to encounter any creeks, streams or rainstorms along the route.
Next week we’ll look at some of the tack and accessory options that can assist you and your horse in creating the most pleasurable trail experience. Get out there and enjoy the ride!