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6 Self Defense Skills for Horseback Riders who Trail Ride

Self defense may not be something you associate with horseback riding, but there are times on horseback when knowing a few self defense skills can give confidence and keep us safe- especially for those of us who ride alone on trails.

For example, what would you do if you encountered a shady character on the trail? How would you respond if someone you met on a trail tried to pull you off your horse? We know this isn’t a fun topic, but it is essential, and every rider should have a contingency plan to help stay safe while trail riding.

In this article, I’ll share:

  • The top 6 defense techniques you should use on a trail ride
  • Things you can do at home to prepare for a safe trail ride
A horseback rider rides alone down a trail confident in self defense skills.

Top 6 Self Defense Techniques for the Trails

We have put together a list of six self defense techniques you can use while riding your horse. They come from a retired mounted police officer who now runs horse riding self defense clinics. As someone with a lot of experience in hairy situations while on a horse, their self defense tips should be regarded as sound advice.

Know Your Surroundings:

When you head out on the trails, ensure you know where the trail goes. It is also worth knowing an alternate route home if you see something on the trail that makes you uncomfortable.

Another part of knowing your surroundings is learning where your cell phone works. If you are in trouble and ride for help, you want to know exactly where you are riding so that you can find the closest place with a signal. Don’t just rely on looking at the signal bars on your phone. They are often inaccurate. Call a friend from various spots along the trail (whether you have 3 bars or no bars) and really get to know where you can call for help.

Knowing your surroundings also means being aware of who is close by. We aren’t telling you that you need to be anxious and constantly looking for trouble, but a general awareness is essential. Being aware of who is around you means you should be able to spot any people that are close to you.

Trust Your Instincts:

If you get a bad feeling from someone, trust your instinct. However, bad people don’t always give off a creepy vibe. People who intend to harm you might be overly friendly and try to get close to you and your horse. They may even ask to pet your horse. You are allowed to say no to this request, and you should consider doing so, especially if you are riding alone.

When riding alone on a trail, never let anyone get close enough to grab your reins. If you encounter a stranger, wave hello but keep your distance and keep moving.

Much like animals can detect danger, humans can as well, and it often happens subconsciously. Trust your gut if you feel the hair on your neck standing up or if you feel like someone/something is watching you. This doesn’t mean you need to ride around full of anxiety waiting for something to happen. It just means don’t dismiss the feeling and be extra aware of your surroundings so that you can react quickly if you need to.

Know What to Do:

Knowing what to do isn’t just about ensuring you know what to do. You also need to make sure your horse knows what to do. When we ride, we are often very relaxed, and if you become suddenly stressed or ask your horse to act quickly, there can be a lag between you giving a command and your horse following the command. For example, my horse used to get very stressed if I became tense. Because of that stress, she would stop responding to my commands as well as she usually would.

To help alleviate this lag time and keep yourself and your horse alert, try asking them to start, stop, turn around, and side-step at random times with no warning. It gets both you and your horse used to reacting quickly.

Know What Your Horse Can Do:

Many people might try to use their horse as a weapon if they encountered a truly threatening person- but modern horses aren’t war horses! Today, horses are taught from a very young age that they cannot step on, talk over, or hurt a human. So unless your horse has been specifically trained, please don’t rely on them running over the person in front of you. Alternately, you may be able to position your horse in an intimidating way. Just because your horse won’t walk into someone doesn’t mean you can’t make the dangerous person think they might!

Learn How Your Horse Can Help You:

Before you plan to gallop away on your horse, make sure you know what the trail looks like. Is there a blind corner that may result in you trampling a hiker or children playing? Is the trail safe for your horse to gallop (are there a lot of holes for your horse to step in)? Running away is a self dense method, but it too carries risk.

The average human can run at the same speed as a relaxed canter, so a gallop is often needed if you intend to run away. However, you must know you can stop your horse on a dime if someone steps in front of you. You also need to know you can gallop. There are a lot of riders that haven’t ridden at a gallop in years.

Don’t Listen to Misinformation:

If a rider tells you their self defense technique and they have never actually been in a challenging situation, take their advice with a grain of salt. For example, if someone says they would use a weapon on the person coming after them, they may not be fully aware of the consequences. Each state has very different laws for self dense, and there are very few situations where you are allowed to deadly force. Know your local law before defending yourself beyond de-escalation and escape.

Things to Do at the Barn to Increase Your Self Defense

 To ensure that you are as safe as possible, you can do a few things at the stable to prepare yourself to use self defense techniques.

Attend a self defense clinic: There are clinics available across the country that can help provide a sound knowledge of what you can and can’t do on horseback. Even a typical self defense class (find one near you) can help yo identify techniques that could work on a horseback riding trail.

Perfect your seat: Make sure you perfect your balance when sitting on your horse and ensure you can regain your seat if you lose a stirrup or get thrown onto your horse’s neck.

Practice Your Skills: Practice your galloping, stopping, turning, and any other maneuvers your may need to use while running away. Having complete control of your horse in a challenging situation is essential if you don’t want yourself or your horse to get hurt.

🦵 Practice Your Kicks: Once you know what kicks and strikes you can use on horseback, practice them in the arena so that you can do them quickly in a bad situation.

Train your horse: Work with your horse and train them to react calmly in a crisis. Give them random (but clear) instructions so they are used to doing odd and unexpected movements while walking in a straight line.

Finals Thoughts on Self Defense for Horseback Riders

As a horse rider who uses the local trails, you should always practice safe riding and be aware of your surroundings. Practice your self defense techniques and work with your horse so that they become an asset and not a hindrance in a crisis. It is also a good idea to make sure that people know when you are going on a trail ride, where you are going, and when you should be back so that they know if something has happened to you and can come looking.

While we sincerely hope you never need to use any of the advice in this article, however all riders should be aware of the possible dangers and practice their de-escalation, escape, and defensive riding in case the worst-case scenario happens.

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