By Raye Lochert
I have a confession. While in college I taught scuba diving. The number one rule was "never dive alone". But, I was young and foolish and used every excuse in the book to get out there by myself. I dove alone many times. As an adult I now see how VERY unsafe that was. But, hey, I was super careful and took all precautions. Besides, I was immortal!
Though I haven't been diving in years, if I were to go out today, I would never dive alone. Unfortunately, there are still risky things I find myself doing by myself. Mountain biking, hiking, cleaning the gutters, and riding horses. A lot of us do these things and never think twice.
In my horse training program I don’t use assistants. But as I get older and the aches and pains of doing things myself have become more pronounced and I’m seriously considering changing my ways. But for now I frequently work alone. I take a lot of precautions these days that I didn't always when I was younger.
The obvious safeguards are making sure your horse is ready for the task and your equipment is in good repair. But quite often I see other protections being skipped over that really aren’t that difficult to implement. Especially considering the benefit if ever there was a problem!
First, have you told someone where you are going? Horse people are independent by nature. After all, we ride an 1,100 pound animal. We may tell someone where we are going if we go on special ride or a long one. But if we’re just going to the local park that we’ve been a thousand times we don't think twice about it. Funny thing, people have been lost in Shiloh Park which is not a very big area. What would happen if you came off your horse and were unable to walk out - or worse? Would someone know where to look for you? Always leave a trail plan for someone. Plan for the worst.
Second, where is your cell phone? I see a lot of folks putting them in their saddle or cantle bags. This is not going to do you much good if you become separated from your horse. Always carry it on your person. I recommend against putting it in your back pocket as I’ve picked a few off the trail that have been pushed out by the cantle. REI has a great nylon belt clip phone pouch that’s easy to open and is readily accessible when needed. It may not look super-hot but I’m thinking that’s not going to be a concern when your horse runs down the trail without you!
How about a signal device? Sometimes there isn’t cell service in certain areas. If something were to happen how would you get someone's attention? Voice only travels so far. A referee’s whistle is far more effective, inexpensive and easy to pack on your person. The sound can travel great distances and is very distinctive. I realize not everyone will know what it means when they hear it but the more of us that carry one and know how to use it the better.
Sound is great but in an extreme case the helicopter search comes along. A signal mirror would be very handy in this instance. Again, they are small and easy to pack. Besides, they’re very useful to check your look when that special someone comes down the trail.
I rarely see anyone carrying a first aid kit. They’re bulky and need to be stowed in a saddle bag. They are a must for longer more remote rides but, in a smaller park such as Foothill or Riverfront, they could be considered optional. It’s always better to be over-prepared.
One more thing I like to carry is a small headlamp. I ride at all times of the day and have been known to get back at a very late dusk. Okay, dark. The headlamp has helped out a few times and can also be used as a signaling device at night.
All these things are great but they don’t replace common sense. Never ride where you can't. What I mean is don't push yourself or your horse into places neither of you are comfortable with. Stay on the trail at all times. When in doubt, dismount. Don't take unnecessary chances. Don't be afraid or too proud to error on the side of safety.
The last thing I want to touch on is directed mostly to the ladies out there. It may be a touchy subject but I mention it out of concern. I ride the parks a lot and have noticed a huge change in the people using the parks. It’s no longer just the nature lovers! Be aware. If you don't feel comfortable with someone, turn around and ride away. Use your horse's speed to your advantage. Know the area you’re riding in and have alternate routes. I don't want to be an alarmist but I have come across some pretty strange people on the trail. 'm 6"1" and about 200 pounds so I have fewer people to worry about. Always error on the side of caution. The world is constantly changing and the places that were once safe are not necessarily staying the same.
The best defense against mishap is to always ride with a buddy. Sometimes that’s not an option or maybe not desired. If you chose to ride alone, take responsibility for your wellbeing. If not for yourself, for the consideration of the ones that love you.
As always, be safe and enjoy your horse.