During my 20-plus years in Washington state, I lived adjacent to beautiful woods and trails where we rode year around. Those woods were state-owned which meant that at certain times of the year hunting was allowed, so beginning in September we had to take precautions when trail riding.
While the fall weather is cooler and often more pleasant for riding, if you live near or trail ride in rural areas it is extremely important that you are aware of hunting season safety points. For many people hunting season is a celebrated event, usually beginning in September and extending into February. Before you ride, research where hunting is allowed and what the seasons are through your state’s fish and wildlife department.
Here are a few tips we’ve acquired over the years to keep horses and riders safe:
• Be visible—this is a good time to wear orange! Lots of reflective orange riding paraphernalia is available such as vests and helmet covers for riders. For horses there are orange split boots, neck collars and quarter sheets for starters. Cyclists also have night-time equipment available that can be useful such as blinking LED lights you fasten to your ankles or to your horse’s bridle.
• Make noise—put a sleigh bell on your horse's breast collar or your stirrups. Or you might sing or talk to your horse. Carry a whistle should you need to sound an alarm.
• Don't ride alone—you'll be more visible and make more noise if you go out with a buddy. If you do ride alone, it is always a good idea to let someone know where you're going and when you will be back.
• Keep dogs safe—leave your dog at home during the hunting season. A wandering dog during this time is a tragic accident waiting to happen. Otherwise, orange vests for dogs help make them more visible.
• Carry a cell phone on you—not on your tack. If you and your horse part ways you'll want your phone within reach, not heading down the trail.
• Choose your route–avoid riding in known hunting areas. Stay in open fields where you will be more visible. A horse traveling through the trees might be mistaken for an elk but is more obvious in the open.
• Avoid riding at peak hunting times—such as early morning or sunset. The lower light of dusk and dawn makes it more difficult for everyone to see.
While trail riding I have come across hunters and while this is un-nerving it is important to keep communications open and be friendly. I always talk with hunters, tell them my planned route and find out their plans. Most hunters are conscientious sportsmen who follow the rules. If we equestrians are respectful and courteous hopefully they will respond in kind. We are lucky enough to be able to enjoy our sport year-around but hunters only have the legal right to enjoy theirs for a relatively short time.
About the Author
Alayne Renée Blickle, a life-long equestrian and reining competitor, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award winning, nationally acclaimed environmental education program. Well known for her enthusiastic, down-to-earth approaches, Alayne is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners for over 15 years teaching manure composting, pasture management, mud and dust control, water conservation, chemical use reduction and wildlife enhancement. She teaches and travels North America and writes for horse publications. Alayne and her husband raise and train their reining horses at their ranch in sunny Nampa, Idaho.