I find the term Trail Riding Equipment to include many different categories of gear. So when I was asked to write on the subject, I divided the equipment (and my comments) into two parts: the trail saddle and tack and trail riding accessories. In this article, I discuss trail riding accessories.
Saddlebags. If you are riding for any length of time or any distance from home, I think horn bags and saddlebags are crucial pieces of equipment. Besides the obvious water and food, I think there are a few items you should always carry with you, regardless of how long or how far you are going. I have offered a list of items to bring in my article, the Importance of Being Prepared.
Saddlebags are really only useful if they work well. Otherwise they are just an annoyance. I have discussed saddlebags in several different articles. If you are new to saddlebags or frustrated with your current set and looking for something better, you can read about the TrailMax Saddlebag System to learn more about the crucial features of good saddlebags and how these components are all part of our TrailMax Saddlebags and TrailMax Horn Bags. For both you and your horse to enjoy a ride with plenty of gear, you should familiarize yourself with Loading your Saddlebags, so that your bags are balanced and ride well.
Saws and Axes. Not everyone rides where they might come across a downed tree in the trail, but I recommend carrying one if you are riding near timber or brush at all. A saw and/or an axe is a crucial item on my list of items to carry to be prepared in the event of an accident when you may need to build a fire. Although I don’t load my axe or saw in my saddlebag (folding saws usually do fit, but I carry a full size pack saw), how to balance its weight on my saddle is mentioned in Loading your Saddlebags.
Rain Gear. Being able to protect yourself from the weather could save your life. If you get wet, you can get cold. If you get really cold, you can put your life and that of others in jeopardy as the cold affects your ability to make decisions. You should always carry rain gear that offers protection for your body, head, legs and hands. A saddle slicker can protect your body and legs. I wear a coat and shotgun chaps to achieve the same result. Either way, be sure to have gloves and a head covering of some kind. Staying warm and dry can save your life.
Hobbles. I have found horse hobbles to be another useful item on the trail. Cowboys used to always have a set of leather hobbles attached to their saddle so that no matter where they stopped on the trail, they could safely keep their horse from running off. You can’t always find a spot with the perfect tree to tie your horse to. These days, hobbles are also made from lightweight neoprene and nylon and won’t add much weight to your load.
Pickets. Once your horse is trained to horse hobbles, you can introduce him to the picket line. Picketing your stock in the backcountry is a great way to graze them safely.
Highlines. Horses are much more comfortably contained in the backcountry on a highline than tied to a tree. On a highline a horse can move around, lie down and even roll. Using a horse highline is a simple process once you have done it a time or two. We make it easy with our original TrailMax Inline Swivel, which is a component of our 4-Horse Inline Swivel Highline Kit. Besides avoiding having to tie loops into your highline, the In-Line Swivel keeps your lead rope from unraveling or twisting up tight as your horses move around.
Portable Electric Fence. This is another handy method for containing your stock in the backcountry if you have extra room to pack it. Most kits, like the Powerfield's Portable Electric Fence Kit, come with everything you need and are usually packaged in a carry bag of some sort. The usefulness of this type of containment is obvious for overnight trips, but it can be convenient even on a day trip if you are riding in a group and plan on stopping somewhere for a length of time. If the animals get along well, one person can carry the fence kit that contains all the horses at the resting place.
Water Buckets. “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.” This isn’t usually the case on a trail ride as most of us make sure that there will be water somewhere along the trail before heading out. However, sometimes the watering hole just isn’t that accessible for your horse. In those cases, I bring along a collapsible water bucket. These come in a couple different sizes and styles and can be used for your horses, dogs or your own drinking/cooking water. They are also a convenient way to regulate the water your horses drink if necessary.
First Aid. Always pack First Aid for you and your horse. This seems like a no-brainer, but so many people take off down the trail without a second thought to what they would do if there is an accident. I start with a basic kit and then add a few items to it depending on where I am going and what possible injuries could occur. Know your terrain and the dangers it presents and talk to your veterinarian about what specialty items might be necessary in your first aid kit. And then remember to bring it with you.
The mention of first aid could take me off on a tangent of what I call the “must have” list, which varies for each person based on their preferences, experiences, terrain, weather, distance, etc. This list can get quite extensive and this is not the place for it. Suffice it to say that you should make up your own “must have” list. To do this, think pessimistically but pack for efficiency. You may revise your list and your packs several times before you get it right, but eventually it should all come together. Most items that you would want for human first aid would also be useful for equines, and vice versa.
Trail Riding Equipment is such a vague term. You could ask ten people what constitutes Trail Riding Equipment and get ten different answers. Even if my list above seems short (or long) to you, I hope that it gets you thinking about what you need or might need so that you ultimately pack well and are prepared.