Create an Equestrian Trail First Aid Kit

Whether you're riding familiar trails or exploring new territory, a trail survival kit can help you handle emergencies.

By Christine Barakat


 So you're not the rugged, survivalist type. You're not alone. It's a fact of 21st century life that fewer and fewer people are experienced in surviving in the great outdoors. Moseying on horseback through the local park on a sunny Saturday may be the closest some of us ever get to a wilderness adventure.

Yet even on a familiar trail a mishap can occur that could ruin your fun or, worse, get someone hurt. Serious accidents on trail rides are rare, but venturing from the security of home on horseback always poses a certain amount of risk. Changing weather, wildlife, the limitations of your own sense of direction--many potential hazards can sour what should be a pleasurable ride. Even on a short jaunt, an injury to yourself or your horse can isolate you, forcing you to rely on your own resources--reason enough to plan ahead and prepare for the unexpected.

That said, you don't need to be an Eagle Scout turned Forest Ranger to be ready for the challenges of the average trail ride. A few simple tools, and the skills to use what you've packed, can help you handle small emergencies on your own or summon and await help safely if necessary. The odds are that you'll never need most of the items in your survival kit, but you can never be too prepared.

You need not be an endurance rider or a backcountry explorer to benefit from a trail survival kit. And it doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive--in fact, you probably already have many of the necessary items and materials on hand. Nor does your survival pack have to be unwieldy--you can fit most key items into a medium-size fanny pack.

A well-stocked kit will reflect the type of riding you do. To help you decide what to pack, we've asked the experts for their suggestions, then sorted the items based on how challenging your riding excursion is likely to be. Start with the "routine" kit, then add items from the "exploratory" and "adventurous" lists, depending on where you plan to ride as well as your personal needs or preferences.

Once you've collected the items you need, find a way to carry your kit yourself, in a fanny pack, backpack or another conveyance. Don't attach the kit to your saddle: If you fall and get separated from your horse, the items in your saddlebag will do you no good. Finally, once you've got your kit stocked, resist the temptation to raid it for regular riding needs. The hoof pick you remove and forget to replace today may be the one that could salvage a trail ride tomorrow.

The Routine Ride

If you're sticking close to home, riding for only a few hours in an area you know well, a few basic tools are probably all you'll need:

Cellular phone. An inexpensive phone with a basic calling plan is a small investment for the security of being able to call for help immediately from nearly anywhere. (If you're heading into more remote areas, you might want to check with your service provider so you'll know if you'll be out of range of the transmission towers. Deep canyons and high ridges may interfere with your cellular signal.)

Swiss army knife or Leatherman tool. The more features the better on this essential item. Look for a model that has wire cutters, which can be lifesavers if your horse gets tangled in old fence lines.

Whistle. A loud, shrill whistle will get the attention of passersby and potential rescuers in an emergency. Carry this even if you have a cell phone; a whistle never has dead batteries.

Hoof pick. A small, folding hoof pick takes up little room in a kit and can save a ride that a stone lodged in a hoof would otherwise end.

Synthetic shoelace or plastic baling twine. With your knife and a little ingenuity, a shoelace or twine can repair bridles, stirrup leathers--and even saddles--long enough to make the ride home. (Cotton or other natural ties will do in a pinch, but generally, synthetic materials are stronger.)

Bandanna and safety pins. This small piece of cloth has multiple uses, from stopping bleeding to repairing tack. Pin a few safety pins to the bandanna for safekeeping.

The Exploratory Ride

If you're venturing farther afield, taking a long ride in terrain that's unfamiliar but still well-traveled by others and easily accessible by potential rescuers, a few more items may become helpful:

First-aid items. A small first-aid kit of antiseptic, a small bottle of saline, no-stick wound pads, gauze roll and self-adhesive wrap can help you treat minor equine and human injuries on the trail.

Desitin ointment. Even if your tack fits perfectly, long hours on the trail can rub painful sores onto your horse, especially under the girth. This thick, greasy ointment (available in a small tube) will sooth and protect girth galls, saddle sores and chafed areas until you get home and can tend to them. Desitin can treat minor rubs on riders, too.

Plastic bag. A large plastic garbage bag provides warmth and protection from sudden showers. But it's a good idea to desensitize your horse to the noise of rustling plastic beforehand.