Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dealing With Dangers On The Trail

First I want to mention how much fun today is going to be. My daughter and I were invited, along with some very good friends, to go Christmas Caroling on Horseback over at Mustang-Spirit Rescue here in Pinon Hills. It should be a blast! There is a potluck lunch first starting at 2 pm, then we'll ride out at 4 pm and spend the next two hours riding the neighborhood singing! We can't wait. Nothing like spending quality time with good friends, fellow horse lovers and our beloved mounts. :)

Now on to the post...

How many of you as a matter of routine take off down the trail alone, just you and your horse? Did you ever stop to think about what could happen if you encountered any number of dangerous situations out there? Alone? Possibly injured? Particularly if your horse is not a seasoned trail mount, or if you are not familiar with whatever area(s) you'll be riding in, you could have a great deal to be worried about.

Maybe you don't ride out in the wilderness, and perhaps you're under the impression that there really isn't anything to worry about just hacking around the neighborhood, but you couldn't be more wrong. All it takes is one of the many dangers to present itself and your life could change forever. Personally I would rather be riding in the wilderness, or open Desert (the most often location in my case), because there is less of a chance I'll encounter dogs, dirt bikes/quads or other potential dangers.

Lets create a scenario: You saddle your horse, who's relatively fresh after sitting for a few days during a spell of bad weather, but decide against longeing him first. He doesn't usually need to be longed, does he? Down the driveway you ride, with your mount bouncing and jigging. No problem, right? Until some kid on a dirt bike blasts around the corner, spooking your horse who dumps you unceremoniously in the middle of the road. The guy's not stopping, either. Chances are he never knew what sort of havoc his sudden appearance wreaked.

Here's my policy on bikers ~ you can hear them when on a horse...they cannot hear you. Whenever I hear a bike in the distance that sounds like it's headed my way, I seek high ground if possible to draw attention to my presence, or at least make sure my horse and I are not on dedicated dirt bike trails (those known to be used by the bikes). Can we (bikes and horses) share? Sure. But if you notice evidence of regular use by dirt bikes on a wash, trail, right-of-way or any other roadway, beware. Keep in mind that you may need to stay off the trail for a bit until danger passes.

Another danger can be loose dogs, I deal with them all the time while out on our local trails. While this problem is worse in the neighborhood than it is in the "middle of nowhere" on a little used trail, some dogs can be downright dangerous and possibly harm your horse.

My landlady Tina and I were out trail riding recently, she had asked me to ride one of her beautiful mares, Katrina, because she has difficulty with her on a regular basis. For the entire ride, Katrina was absolutely perfect for me, my landlady was in awe she was so good. :) However, on the way home from our ride, a neighbor's large dog came out and not only charged at the mare I was mounted on, but began biting at her hocks. Had we not been able to show the dog an imposing presence by turning toward him and scaring him away, he might have been able to do some serious damage. Thankfully the mare was completely fine ~ that was not the first horse this particular dog had tried to go after.

Several years ago in the neighboring town of Hesperia over at the Mojave River (some 20-25 miles away on the far side of town) a horse was savagely attacked and literally dragged to the ground by two pit bulls. TWO dogs brought a large Quarter Horse gelding to the ground. Fortunately the owner/rider was able to chase the dogs off, but not before they did significant damage to his horse. That should be enough to frighten most anyone away from riding alone, even in populated areas.

Something else I regularly find out here are old barbed wire fences that were built long ago for cattle and the perimeter marking of properties. Most of them are not standing, but strands of barbed wire criss-cross various areas and unless you really keep a lookout for them, a horse could get badly tangled up. Over the years I've seen the ugly result of this, though thankfully I have never (knock on wood!!) been through that. Being careful will generally save your horse from that kind of grief.

Out here in the Desert we also have a wide variety of wildlife to look out for, from rabbits (especially the large Jackrabbits) that like to jump out from under a bush right in front of the horses spooking them, to snakes (mostly in the Summer, of course) ~ we have several varieties of rattler here ~ to coyotes, though they generally are solitary when you see them, and either run from the horses or try, often unsuccessfully, to remain unseen.

There are a variety of other hazards you'll potentially encounter depending on where you live and the time of year. Summertime hazards such as those above-mentioned snakes and other creepy-crawlies really are pretty easy to avoid, though monsoon season dangers like flash floods and the possibility of bogs or quicksand after a particularly heavy period of rain can create a complex set of problems. I have seen the result of horses running into boggy, swamp-like flood control basins, and it ain't pretty. Having had to assist in two such rescues, it really sinks in (no pun intended) what the power of mud and water can do. Then you have the Winter riding issues like more or worse mud, snow, ice and frigid wind (though in some nearby areas there can be wind year-round) that can blow things onto the trail which could potentially spook your horse or hurt you or your horse.

Any possible peril must be addressed and having a little bit of foresight (as in thinking about what might happen) can save your life. Riding a 1000+/- lb creature with a mind of it's own, especially when combined with both natural or man-made dangers, is often a recipe for disaster. That's why you might want to be like the Boy Scouts and be prepared!

Other than all that, have fun and I'll see you on the trail!!



  1. Another danger is riding up/down a dirt road (or up the "dirt tracks" where the road crests) and you cannot see what is coming down/up toward you. I was riding below the Marianas one day and just "had this feeling" and rode to the side of the tracks. Here came a guy in his pickup truck, airborn as his truck shot off the crest and landed about 15' below it.

    Had my riding companion and I been ON the road, we would never have been able to get out of the way in time, and he might very well have landed ON us.

    I figure "riding across the prairie" is a good idea whether there's a road or "trail" or not. As long as the terrain is flat and you can see what's coming your way (or coming up behind you), riding on the trail is fairly safe. If it's hilly, I'd stay off the trail and be extra alert when approaching the crest of any hill.

  2. Very good point. Likewise when the road dips into a low spot before it crests again.

    My daughter and I were riding up Snowline Drive over in South Phelan about a year and a half ago when out of nowhere a dirt bike came flying up behind us from one of those situations, used that crest like a jump and landed literally ten feet behind my daughter's horse.

    Fortunately he is a one in a million boy, because that could have been disastrous.

    With the dirt bikes out in Apple Valley (where we had quite a few high/low trails, I learned to use those hilltops to become visible to the kids riding bikes. If you're down in a wash for instance, they will never know you are there. If you ride to the top-most hill (OFF the trail/track), they will be able to see you and be aware there are horses being ridden in the area, therefore more likely to take your presence into consideration.

    There will always be the inconsiderate jerk who will purposefully try to spook a horse (and I am inherently biased against dirt bikes and their riders from many experiences from way back when I was a kid out in Riverside), but I do have to say that overall, I am impressed with most of the riders I have encountered out here in the Desert, most of them have been "raised right" to be courteous to the horses and give them the right-of-way.

    One of my peeves, though, that I have made it a point to explain to some of them is I'd rather they idle past as opposed to kill the motor, then fire it back up once they are past (and behind the horse!).

    Excellent tips, great advice, thanks!

  3. Btw, we got back from the Mustang-Spirit event just a short while ago and it was a BLAST!! We told Tania we can't wait to do it again next year!


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