Recently I was on a training ride with a client horse in my favorite park. The horse was exceptional and I felt very secure on him. He just needed time and miles.
While walking up a fire road he all of a sudden became very stiff. In a blink he was bouncing all over the place trying to turn around and head back down the trail. Another blink and I could hear a large-scale commotion headed my way. In that split second my thought was it must be a group of mountain bikers (dang bikers!). Instead it turned out to be a loose horse being chased by a group of riders (those horseback riders are always causing trouble!).
While my horse and I worked our way through the trees and brush without a clear path, the frenzied group went by in a flash. I could see one rider who seemed to be in control of her horse with two other riders holding on for dear life.
Now back on the trail after having found my hat and sunglasses (which had not survived so well), I noticed a rider running down the trail at a break neck speed. Obviously, the one who lost the horse to begin with and she was clearly on a mission!
The thing that worried me the most was all the “non-combatants” who were also on the trail. These people were in for an exciting morning whether they wanted one or not. I had passed hikers, dog walkers, and moms with strollers. At this moment without knowing it, they had a herd of crazed horses and riders heading their way!
All this could have been avoided if some rules were followed.
- Never chase a loose horse: They can out run the best. Besides, what are you going to do when you catch up to it? Rope it? Grab its reins? Tell it to whoa? Yeah- right.
- If solo, don’t panic: Stay where you are and think things through – then react. You can call for help on your cell phone that you carry on your person – not attached to your saddle. Alert authorities. Then calmly walk or jog in the direction you think your horse went. Typically they don’t go too far and generally stop to eat grass. When you catch up approach them calmly but naturally. If given the chance most horses will head uphill into wide-open grassy areas. Rarely will they run down hill unless it’s for water. This is usually only if they have been loose for a while. Most don’t run far and will usually head back to where they came from such as the barn or the trailer.
- If you’re with a group of riders, bring all the horses together and keep them calm: Quite often the loose horse’s herd instinct will kick in and they will stick with the group. At this point the downed rider, if uninjured, can calmly approach the horse and catch them.
- If the rider is injured, attend to them first: Create a chain of command. All horses and riders should stay with the injured rider. If you start separating horses you will have a whole new problem on your hands. Have two people call for help on their cell phones to make sure help is contacted. Keep the injured rider stable until help arrives. Once help arrives then it’s time to find the loose horse. Most likely the horse will have returned to the group by now. If not, you can work with authorities to search for the horse.
A loose horse usually is not nearly as bad as it may seem if these rules are followed. But with any situation sometimes unexpected things happen.
If the horse does not return to the group, call for help on cell phones but stay together. Let authorities know where you lost the horse and where you believe it’s headed. Try to stay calm and walk or jog to your trailer. You will need it once your horse is located.
You can minimize the risk of losing a horse by making sure you have good control to start. Your tack should be in good shape. Don’t ride in places beyond your horse’s or your abilities. Always wear a helmet and carry your cell phone on your person.
On this day the horse that got loose eventually turned uphill and was munching on grass when I came upon it about 20 minutes later. When he saw me he trotted right up as if to say, “Where have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you.” Unfortunately, the green horse I was on wasn’t at all happy about his enthusiasm. After I got back out of the brush again I dismounted and led both horses down to the parking lot where everybody had gathered. The owner was grateful to have her horse back and the lead rider was exclaiming what a good time she had had. The other two riders seemed thankful to be alive.
No one was hurt but there were definitely a few non-equine park attendees who were rattled by all the commotion. All in all the day ended well but it sure could have gone a lot smoother.