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Self Defense for Trail Riders

Are you prepared if someone tries to attack you?

Do you ever ride alone? Have you ever wondered what you would do if a stranger suddenly grabbed at you and tried to pull you off of your horse? Will you kick at them, strike at them or will you reach for your gun and shoot them? Did someone tell you to use mace on them? You shouldn’t do any of these things as they will put you in more danger than you think. 

Some riders have a plan if this happens to them and some do not. However, in conducting clinics on this very topic I have found that most people do not have a plan, and those that do often have the wrong plan. In fact 99% of the people who have been through my clinics have reacted in the wrong way.

As they say, knowledge is power. And knowing what to do and when to do it can spell the difference between getting away safely and being a victim. As important as it is to know what to do, it is equally important to know what not to do.

There are five basic things that you can do to help insure your safety. These things do not take a lot of practice.

Be aware of your surroundings. This includes knowing where the trails lead and if there are alternative routes to get back to your trailer. It also means making certain that you know where your cell phone works along the trail and where it doesn’t. Cell phones work in some of the strangest places and don’t work where we think they should. It’s important that you actually use your cell phone to make some test calls while you’re riding. Don’t simply rely on the “signal bar” on your phone to indicate reception and calling ability. Wouldn’t it be a shame for you to have ridden a long distance to get help for you or a friend and in the process passed three or four places along the way where you could have placed a call to authorities to request assistance? 

There is no way to tell who is friend or foe as they approach. The human is the ultimate chameleon in the predatory world. No other animal can resemble those around it as well and not reveal its intentions. How do you think Ted Bundy got so close to his victims? However by being aware of certain predator traits you can increase your chance of escaping and surviving.

One of the most common behaviors for a predator is to try and act overly nonchalant and overly friendly in an effort to get close to you before springing his trap. He will often do this by asking a simple question like, “Can I pet your horse?” Contrary to popular belief there is nothing wrong with telling someone they can not pet your horse. Look at it this way, chances are if they will listen to your request not to pet the horse they probably aren’t that much of a danger. You now have time to carry on a dialogue with them and decide if you want to change your mind.

Trust your natural survival instincts and act on them. At one time or another, we’ve all had the feeling of the hair standing up on the back of our neck. This is a self-preservation mechanism. It’s the same sense that your horse, dog, cat or any wild animal uses to protect itself. This very sensation is also the one most humans choose to disregard as “just being paranoid”. Don’t ignore your instincts. It’s your first early warning sign that indicates you may need to react and gives you time to ensure that you’re prepared. Acknowledging this feeling doesn’t mean that you have to ride around on the edge of your saddle. It simply means that you’re going to be alert and prepared.

Be prepared and know what to do. Remember, however, that your preparation isn’t only about you – it’s about your horse, too. One of the most important things you can do is to become an alert and active rider. Many people tend to ride very relaxed on a trail ride, a bit too relaxed to be able to respond if they needed to. From the time you and your horse first detect a problem you need to ride like you know how to handle your horse. This includes asking your horse to do things like stop and start. Have your horse pick up the pace of his walk, cross the trail from one side to the other if it’s wide enough, and maybe even turn around and ride in the other direction for a few strides. 

By taking these simple steps, you’ve accomplished more than you may realize. These steps are important to get you thinking and to get your horse listening to your cues and aids. If you have been riding on the trail in a very relaxed manner and suddenly demand that your horse perform for you there is a good chance that your horse will be startled by the sudden cue and demand for performance. This delay is known as “lag time”, and it can cost you precious reaction time. Even if he reacts quickly, he may simply be startled and not respond correctly. 

Know the capabilities of your horse. It’s also critical that you know what your horse will do in a stressful situation. Many riders THINK they know how their horses will respond in a stressful situation. However, time and again, riders in one of my “Self Defense for Trail Riders” clinics have discovered that their horse won’t do what they thought it would. 
One of the most common misconceptions is that a person can ride his horse right over the human predator. This isn’t as easy as it sounds; one of the most obvious reasons for this is that we spend so much of our time teaching the horse not to walk on us or other humans – to respect our space. 

The first time a rider tries to have their horse ride into someone; the horse will usually balk or try to go around the person on the ground. This is especially true if the person waves their hands in the horses face (a normal response for anyone trying to keep something away form the,). All of us will do what we need to in order to protect our face and eyes, and so will your horse. Horses will generally react by pulling their head out of the way and trying to avoid the waving hands. Don’t assume that your horse will walk into a human if you ask. Some will, but most won’t without specific training.

Learn effective techniques for your horse to help you. An initial reaction by many is to plan on galloping away form the situation. But before you do this, make sure you know what you’re getting into. A fast gallop may get you away from the human predator, but it may put you in even more danger. What happens when you round the bend and come face to face with an innocent hiker coming in the other direction? You’d better know if you can stop your horse on a dime if this happens, as it would be a terrible accident to collide into a hiker or worse yet a couple of children. 

The average trail is not conducive to a fast gallop for any distance. Since most humans can run the speed of an easy lope and would be able to keep up with you, it requires some speed to escape. This also means that you need to be a very confident rider. Ironically many people who ride haven’t ridden their horse in an “all out” gallop for years, and more often than not when they discuss it at a clinic most admit they aren’t sure how well they might do. Figuring out how well this works on a narrow trail at a 35mph gallop might be a bit unnerving. 

Don’t rely on myths and misinformation from someone who has never used their horse in a tough situation. Much of what you are told will not work. Don’t rely on a firearm either as there are few situations in which you could use one. This could take an entire article to discuss, but do not listen to someone who says “I’d just shoot them”, chances are they do not know exactly what the law says regarding when they can use the firearm and when they can’t. Taking someone’s life is a serious matter, and I can guarantee you it does not happen like in the movies.

You should learn and practice the specific techniques that will keep you safe. Learn how to maintain your balance and retain your seat. Learn how and when to use strikes or kicks so that you can do it safely and not put yourself in more danger by being easily taken off your horse. Learn how to use your horse to help defeat an attack. Work with your horse and train him to respond in a crisis situation. Make safe riding an every day practice, and your new safe and healthy habits will come to your aid in an emergency.

For more information on what to do go to www.Horsethink.com  

Scot’s bio information:

Scot is a natural horseman and retired mounted police officer, having trained both riders and horses to work the streets. His award-winning “Self Defense for Trail Riders” clinics and training video have been widely accepted as the principal resource for safe trail riding and self protection. He has extensive knowledge of how horses think and learn and offers professional training and clinics in “Thinking Horsemanship” and other topics for both adult riders and youths. Find out more about Scot and his work at www.HorseThink.com . To inquire about hosting a clinic in your area, call 425-830-6260.

Copyright 2004 HorseThink™ and Scot Hansen 
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