Northeast Iowa is a wonderfully scenic place to enjoy the great outdoors on horseback. There are plenty of centres where you can enjoy a supervised trail ride on a hired horse pretty much all year round or if you have your own horse, you might like to take a trip out to the countryside to explore the trails. This time of year is particularly beautiful as the trees turn colour, the air becomes crisper and the still woods are tinged of the evocative smell of autumn leaves and the smoke of campfires. It’s also hunting season and riders should be aware of this.
Check out these tips to keep yourself and your horse safe during hunting season;
Visibility: Make yourself as visible as you can! Deer and other game don’t generally wear hi-viz vests; which is exactly why you should! There are loads of reflective and hi-viz bits of kit available for horse riders and cyclists – hat covers, tabards, rein covers, quarter sheets for your horse; the list is almost endless. Stirrup lights are also available which you can attach to your ankle or around the top of your boots for added visibility.
Noise: Hoof beats can be muffled by fallen leaves, pine needles and snow and you need to be heard as well as seen. Sleigh bells or bear bells are really useful for this and with a little ingenuity can be attached to your stirrups or to your horse’s breast girth, if you use one. Do test this out at home first though as some horses can become spooked by the bells jingling. Carry a whistle too just in case you need to raise the alarm.
Company: It’s always safer to ride out in company but if you do go alone, always tell someone where you’re going and how long you intend to be out.
Dogs: Much as your dog might love to go riding with you, a wandering dog is an accident waiting to happen during hunting season. Leave him at home or if he must come too, kit him out in a hi-viz vest and bell – they make them for dogs too!
Take Your Phone: Always carry a mobile phone with you. Special horse rider-specific mobile holders are available which you can attach either to your upper arm or around your leg. Don’t put your phone in a saddle bag or attach it to your tack; should you and your equine part company, you need your phone within reach not receding down the trail at the gallop!
Which route to take: A horse moving through trees, especially in poor light could easily be mistaken for an elk. Be careful where you decide to ride if you are venturing into an area where hunting is popular. If possible, stick to open areas where you’re more obvious and easily seen. Try not to ride out at peak hunting times; i.e. early morning or sunset. The poor light makes you difficult to be seen.
If you do encounter folk out hunting as you ride, always be courteous and friendly. Tell them where you are intending to ride and ask where they’re headed; be prepared to change you plans if you need to.
Bear in mind that we’re able to enjoy riding our horses all year round whereas the hunting season is a short one and hunters are legally entitled to enjoy their sport as much as we are. A little courtesy and mutual co-operation will ensure a safe and enjoyable experience in beautiful Northeast Iowa for everyone.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.