Nov 102017

By Patty Wilber

Riding high country trails is a goal of many riders.  I understand that goal because it sure is fun to be way out there on a good horse.  “Way out there” can mean far from help, also, so here are some things to think about (in the form of a checklist) when considering a back country ride. Understanding what you are up for can help you pick when and where to ride.

I can hike backcountry terrain at elevations over 9 thousand feet.

  • 1 mile
  • 2 miles
  • 5 miles
  • 10 miles
  • Over 10 miles

Hiking??? I thought we were horseback!  We hope to be, but in the case of emergency or a lost horse, can you get out?  If I lost my horse, most of my gear would be gone as well….but that is a different problem!

I love hiking on cliffsides. Not. And this was at sea level, but still.

I can lead my equine:

  • On the flat
    • From both sides
  • On easy trails
    • From both sides
  • On backcountry trails
    • From both sides
  • From behind…but then is it really leading?

The heck with leading! Check out the blog link for the story behind this picture I found on the Internet.

The leading skills are for emergencies, also, and it turns out leading an animal over steep and uneven terrain can be a lot more challenging than it may seem.  Animals may want to walk faster than we can.  If the trail is narrow your mount may have to follow you, or you may have to follow your mount (see the picture; this is called “tailing”).  Leading or tailing over rough terrain takes some practice.

I can ride in:

  • Fair weather only
  • Windy conditions How windy? _____mph
  • How cold? ____F
  • How hot? _____F
  • Rain
  • Thunder and lightning
  • Sleet
  • Snow

May 2015.  The day started off sunny.  We were 7 miles in and this was WET snow. I stayed warm and dry, although I did wear rain pants, a rain jacket AND the duster style Muddy Creek rain coat. My boots were SnoSealed

Weather forecasting is pretty darn good these days, but if you are not at the trailer anymore, and a weather event hits, are you and your animal mentally prepared?  Do you have the right clothing to weather the weather?   Anyone that rides with me knows that I hate to be cold, so I have gloves (oh 3 to 5 pairs…), hats and scarves and several varieties of raingear with me, at all times.  I don’t mind the heat much, but then I am sure to have plenty of water.

I know:

  • Basic first aid
    • Human
    • Equine
  • Basic CPR
  • Basic wilderness survival techniques
  • How to use a gun for equine euthanasia and carry a gun for such

It is also helpful not only to know basic first aid, but to have a basic first aid kit…just saying! I do not carry a gun unless I am hunting, but it does make sense to have one.

What about our equine partners?

My equine is comfortable crossing

  • Logs
  • Mud
  • Ditches
  • Mud in ditches
  • Puddles
  • Boggy spots
  • Culverts
  • Running water in creeks
  • Large creeks
  • Rivers
  • Rushing water

“Yeah, yeah, my horse goes in puddles”, she said.  Well, puddles and back country stream crossings are two different things.  Most of the NM stream crossings I do are flowing, but not deep.  They can still worry a horse that has never seen running water.  And a horse that won’t cross this stuff readily can really wreck a day, so it is a good idea to practice before you get way out there and are stopped by water.

Jim trained himself to cross water!

Having a seasoned horse really helps a young horse learn. Thirst on a ride can be motivational, too!

This crossing in Chile was tricky, so we let the young, agile guide demonstrate!

My equine and I are comfortable on trails like this:

  • Smooth and flat
  • Smooth with moderate elevation change
  • Rocky
  • Steep
  • Steep and rocky
  • Switchbacks
  • Muddy
  • Snowy

So, I was NOT all that comfortable with this snowfield (in Chile), but my horse was.

In a day, my equine and I can easily ride

  • 3 miles
  • 5 miles
  • 10 miles
  • 15 miles
  • 20+ miles

I think the idea is to have fun, so picking a ride length that is not going to result in misery at the end of the day seems reasonable.

My equine

  • Is a chicken and spooky
  • Will try new things if I coax
  • Will try new things if we have a buddy to follow
  • Will try new things readily
  • Is very brave and steady

It takes more patience and a better seat (for the abrupt changes of direction) with the spooky, chicken horses, but the more miles you put on the better things tend to get.  Nevertheless, if the ride is too challenging, it can be dangerous.  Also, I have learned, almost the hard way, not to overestimate what the brave and steady horse can do and put them in danger that way. It is up to the rider to match the trail to the abilities of the mount.  Turn back if necessary!

My equine

  • Ties well to trees
  • Hobbles
  • Drinks readily from streams
  • Crosses bridges
  • Is fine with slickers
  • Is fine with maps
  • Can wear saddle bags

My equine

  • Wears shoes
  • Has a saddle that fits, with a breast collar
  • Back cinch recommended

Equine footwear is a whole ball of wax, kettle of worms, matter of preference, but proper hoof protection is paramount.  Boots that fit and don’t fall off, instead of shoes, wotk fine.  Rarely can a horse go barefoot over back country terrain.  We are luck to have one: our Spanish Barb. He is 20 and has been barefoot his whole life.  His feet barely even chip, even on super rocky terrain.  The rest of the crew is worn to nubs in a week or two of shoeless riding around here!

Feel free to add other suggestions! 

I have another check list for equipment, stuff to put in saddle bags and what to carry on your body instead of in the saddle bags (like car keys and phone).  I could break that out for next week…

Happy Trails!