Preparing for spring trail rides

by horselover2

Just the thought of trail riding in April is enticing.  Sort of like the return of  Whooping Cranes, red-winged black birds or finches as they fill the skies with their presence. Or the first bunch of yellow daffodils.  

Different parts of the country, however, warm up at various times and dictate when to start trail riding. It’s best to start out with short trail rides, maybe a couple of miles on flat, easy terrain to get you both in shape for the season.

Prepare for any weather: Spring often brings severe changes in weather, especially at higher altitude. One day, you’re washing the car in 70 degree weather, wondering if you’ll soon have to mow the lawn. The next day, you’re on a mountain trail in falling snow so thick you can scarcely in front of you.

Wear layers that are easy to add and remove and bring fire-making equipment, a bit of food, a first-aid kit, navigation gear (map, compass, and global positioning system unit). Don’t be lulled into thinking these things are unimportant because you’re only planning a short ride.

Prepare to clear the trail: If you tackle wilderness trails in spring, don’t assume the trail will be passable. United States Forest Service trail crews don’t normally work until summer and groups, such as the Back Country Horsemen of America, wait until they’re sure the snow banks are gone. In some situations you’ll be able to clear the trail yourself, but if you’re determined to ride more difficult trails, make sure to take a saw.

Watch for mud and erosion: Spring means mud and possible trail erosion. Be careful on narrow ledge trails and hills as freeze/thaw cycles through winter caused wet soil to leach off their lower edges.

An inch of mud over frost is the worst type of  footing and is best avoided. No type of horse shoe helps, because traction devices don’t penetrate down into the frost.  The mud layer slides over the frost beneath it. Worse, the top surface of such footing can look dry.

Watch for high water: Streams can be problematic in spring. In the Midwest and South, high water often follows a big snow melt or seasonal rains. Level ground makes for slow, deep, treacherously muddy streams. Crossing with horses must be done with extreme care, if at all, because the bottoms aren’t visible and the footing is uncertain.

In the desert Southwest, rains hit soils that don’t absorb water quickly, which can cause flash floods. If you frequent desert country in spring, be aware of how quickly things can change. The dry wash you crossed that morning can be an impassable obstacle when you return in the afternoon.

In the northern Rocky Mountains, high water tends to come later.  Earlier rainstorms will have brought temporary rises to the streams, but true high water in Montana usually coincides with the full bloom of the wild roses, normally in early June.

On spring rides start easy, stay safe, and enjoy being with your friends and  horse.  There’s plenty of time for longer treks and camping trips during the summer and fall.

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