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What to Do in a Trail Riding Emergency


Nobody wants to believe that a horseback trail riding emergency could happen to them. But the reality is emergencies are a very real risk when going on a horse trail ride. It could be something as small as your horse losing a shoe or something as serious as breaking your arm. No matter the emergency, it’s important to be prepared and have a plan in place should one occur. 

Horseback Trail Riding Emergency Prep

Prepare for an emergency scenario by following these seven tips.

Always carry your cell phone. When you trail ride your cell phone is your only way to call for help. Without it, you could find yourself trapped in the woods or in an unfamiliar landscape with no way to tell people that you’re in trouble.

Ride with a buddy. There’s a reason they say, “safety in numbers.” As you’ll see in the emergency protocol below, riding with a friend can make a big difference in an emergency situation. If you and your horse are stuck or can’t move, they can go get help. 

Prepare your horse. Get your horse exposed to the many obstacles you could encounter on the trail before you head out the barn door. This includes teaching your horse to tie safely, walk through water, get used to bicycles, and more. 

Keep an eye on the weather. A sudden storm can turn a regular old trail ride into an emergency situation. Knowing the weather forecast will allow you to either reschedule your horse trail rides or to prepare in case of bad weather. 

Wear the right clothing. Wearing a tank top on a cold day or a jacket on a hot day can mean the difference between heat stroke and hypothermia or coming home safe and sound. Wear layers so you can take off and add on clothes as needed. Try to choose clothes that are neon or brightly-colored, if possible.

Choose your time of day wisely. Nothing is worse than getting stuck in the woods after dark. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get home or to get to shelter before the sun sets. Horseback trail riding is no fun when you and your horse can’t see the trail in front of you. 

Know where you’re going. Horse trail rides are best in familiar territory so you won’t get lost. If you’re trail riding in an unfamiliar area, take a riding partner with you who knows the area well. 

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What to Do in Case of Equine Emergency

An equine emergency can be something as simple as a lost shoe or something as horrible as a horse stuck in the mud or collapsing underneath you. No matter what emergency has derailed your horse trail ride, you must always stay calm. 

First, get off your horse and examine them carefully. Look for any bleeding, scrapes, rapid breathing, distended abdomen, or any non-weight bearing legs. Pick up all four hooves and look for nails or other wounds. 

Next, check your horse’s vital signs. Before you head out on a trail ride, you should know how to take your horse’s heart rate and respiratory rate. Make a note of any of your findings. 

Provide any immediately necessary first aid, like stopping any bleeding. Use your emergency antiseptic spray to treat any cuts or scrapes. Apply a flexible bandage to hold pressure on any major wounds or to wrap on a dressing. If your horse pulled off a shoe, replace the horseshoe with a hoof boot. 

For serious emergencies, like collapse or colic, move the horse into the shade if possible, offer water, and call your veterinarian for further directions. If your horse cannot walk or move and it’s hot outside, create shade using jackets or saddle pads. If it’s cold outside, use jackets and saddle pads to insulate the horse. 

If you cannot continue your trail ride, contact your pre-determined emergency person. This could be your friend, trainer, or spouse. They should have a trailer and be able to pick you up at the closest access point.  

If you’re alone with no cell phone service and your horse can’t walk, you have a few options. Either wait for help to come by (which is more likely in a well-populated horseback trail riding area) or safely tie your horse to a secure post or tree and walk to get help yourself. If you’re with another rider and you do not have cell phone service, have your riding buddy head back to the trailer and come pick you up. 

If your horse can walk, walk to the nearest road/exit from the horseback trail riding area and have your emergency contact pick you up with the trailer. Do not get back on your horse, unless it’s safe to do so and your horse is not lame. For example, if your horse lost a shoe, but you replaced it with a hoof boot and you’re on good terrain, you’re probably okay to ride. However, if your horse is colicking or collapsing, do not get back on. 

What to Do in Case of Rider Emergency

There are several different scenarios in which the horseback rider is the one who is injured. This includes things like a broken arm or leg, a concussion, or a sudden onset illness. Just like we previously discussed, the most important thing you must do is to stay calm. 

If you are the injured rider and are safely able to do so, get off your horse and sit down. Have your riding buddy help you off if necessary. If you have fallen off your horse, stay still while your riding buddy evaluates you to see if it’s safe for you to move. 

Have your riding partner look at any obvious injuries and ask you to wiggle your fingers and toes. If you can’t wiggle your fingers or toes, this indicates a hidden injury. The hurt equestrian should not be moved until emergency personnel arrive.

Your horseback trail riding partner should also perform a concussion check before allowing you back on the horse. To do so, look at the injured riders' pupils. Uneven pupils, slurred speech, and an uneven smile can indicate a traumatic brain injury. Ask the rider basic questions they should be able to answer. This could include:

  • What day is it?
  • What is your name? 
  • What is your horse’s name?
  • Where are we?
  • What’s my name?
  • When is your birthday?
  • What year is it?

If the injured equestrian loses consciousness or displays any signs of a concussion, call 911 immediately and wait for help to arrive.

Now that you’ve evaluated the injured rider, use your first aid kit to stop any bleeding. If the rider has a puncture wound, do not remove the object in the wound. The object is helping to staunch the bleeding. If you administer any medication (an EpiPen, pain killers, antihistamine, etc.) make a note of exactly what it was and the dosage so you can tell the paramedics when they arrive. 

After performing emergency first aid, call for help. Whether you call your emergency contact or emergency services (911) will depend on the severity of the injury itself. If it’s safe and you’re able to do so, walk towards the nearest exit and have an emergency contact or ambulance pick you up there, while your riding buddy brings both horses back to the trailer. If at all possible, the injured rider should not be left alone. 

Be Prepared for an Emergency, Every Time

It’s impossible to predict when an emergency will strike. Be prepared to take action in the event of an emergency every time you go on a horse trail ride. Shop for all of the emergency supplies you need on our  Therapy & First Aid tab.

To learn more about horseback trail riding, check out this blog.

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