Trail Safety


Have you ever wondered how you would react if someone attempted to grab your reins or pull you from the saddle while you were out trail riding? As the saying goes, knowledge is power. And knowing what to do and when to do it can spell the difference between getting away safely, and becoming a victim.

Here are five things you can do to increase your trail safety:

1. Be aware of your surroundings .
This includes knowing where the trails lead, and where there are alternate routes to get back to your trailer or home should you need to alter your course to avoid a confrontation. It also means making certain that you know where your cell phone works along the trail and where it doesn’t. Cell phones work in some of the strangest places, but don’t always work where we think they should. It’s important that you actually use your cell phone to make some test calls while you’re riding.

With so many different people using the trails, it’s difficult to know who is friend or foe. But by being aware of certain traits of predator behavior, you can improve your ability to react if needed. One of the most common behaviors a predator will use is to act overly nonchalant and friendly in an effort to get close to you before springing his trap. He will often do this by asking a simple question like, “Can I pet your horse?” There’s nothing wrong with telling someone that they can’t pet your horse. It isn’t unfriendly, it isn’t rude, and you can always change your mind if you feel it’s safe to do so. It’s better to slow things down and assess the situation with additional dialogue than to assume everything is fine and let a total stranger approach you.

2. Trust your instincts and act on them.
At one time or another, we’ve all had the feeling that something wasn’t right with a situation or person. This is a self-preservation mechanism designed to keep us safe. It’s the same sense that your horse, dog, cat or any wild animal uses to protect herself. This very sensation is also the one most common for a human to disregard. Don’t ignore your instincts. It’s your first early warning sign that indicates you may need to react, and gives you time to ensure that you’re prepared. Acknowledging this feeling doesn’t mean you have to ride around on the edge of your saddle. It simply means you’re going to be alert and vigilant.

3. Be prepared and know what to do.
This is crucial to your well being. Remember, however, that your preparation isn’t only about you – it’s about your horse, too. One of the most important things you can do for you and your horse is to become an alert and active rider. Many people tend to drone along on a trail ride, a bit too relaxed to be able to respond if they needed to. At the moment you or your horse “smells” trouble, you need to ride like you know how to handle your horse. This includes asking your horse to stop and start, pick up the pace of his walk, cross the trail from one side to the other if it’s wide enough, and maybe even turn around and ride in the other direction for a few strides.

By taking these simple steps, you’ve accomplished more in the way of trail safety than you may realize. Not only does this get you thinking, but it also gets your horse thinking. Most importantly, it gets your horse listening to your cues and aids. When you’ve been riding at the walk in a relaxed manner for awhile, it will take longer for your horse to interpret and respond to your sudden cues. Even if he reacts quickly, he may simply be startled and not respond correctly.

4. Know the capabilities of your horse .
Another aspect of trail safety is knowing what your horse would do in a stressful situation. Many riders think they know how their horse would react if trouble arises. However, time and again, riders in my Self Defense for Trail Riders clinics have discovered their horses won’t do what they thought they would.

One of the most common misconceptions is that you can ride your horse right over the human predator. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, and even horses that will drive cattle, run into an object, and seemingly go wherever their riders point them, won’t always go into or over a human. One of the most obvious reasons is that we spend so much of our time teaching horses not to walk on us or other people – to respect human space.

5. Learn effective techniques to be safe and use your horse to help you.
For many riders, the first reaction to escape a bad situation is to gallop away from or past the human predator. A fast gallop may put you in even more danger. For one thing, you may gallop around a bend in the trail and come face to face with an innocent hiker coming in the other direction. You’d better know that you can stop your horse on a dime if this happens, as it would be terrible to collide into a hiker, or worse yet, a couple of children. Learn and practice specific self defense techniques that will keep you safe. Learn how to maintain your balance and retain your seat.

Learn how and when to use strikes or kicks so you can do it safely and not put yourself in more danger by being easily taken off your horse. Learn how to use your horse to help defeat an attack. Work with him and train him to respond in a crisis situation. Doing so will help you both be prepared for the worst, and get away safely and unharmed.


Scot Hansen is a natural horseman and retired mounted police officer, and has trained both riders and horses to work the streets. His award-winning Self Defense for Trail Riders clinics and training video have been widely accepted as the principal resource for safe trail riding and self protection. He has extensive knowledge of how horses think and learn, and offers professional training and clinics in Thinking Horsemanship and other topics for both adult riders and youths. Find out more at HorseThink.com. To ask about hosting a clinic in your area, call 425-830-6260 or e-mail Sandy@HorseThink.com.

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