The last thing that ever crossed my mind when I was a kid riding my horse alone on the vast network of back roads and trails in central Vermont was the possibility of danger. Being out on the trail with my horse as my only companion was a happy place; a quiet place. It was a place for reflection and relaxation for both of us. Certainly, I wore a helmet. I told my parents where I was headed and gave them an estimated time of my return. But it was before cell phones (and they wouldn’t have worked where we lived, anyway), and really, other than the ever-present possibility of a fall from my horse, we didn’t think we had much to worry about.
The sad truth is that now homes and seasonal residences line many of those old roads, and where we once knew every family in a 20-mile radius, there are now mostly strangers. The shrinking of our “open” lands makes it far more likely I’ll run into other people using the roads and trails for other purposes. And without my pre-teen bravado casting a rosy veil over reality, I suddenly find myself wary of the individual hiker and leery of the lone car pulled over by the side of the road up ahead.
A fear-monger I am not, but I am an advocate for preparedness, and whether you are walking, running, or riding alone, it makes sense to know some basic defensive tactics that can help keep you safe, and instill the confidence that ensures you can continue to enjoy solitary rides along the path less traveled.
In his book BETTER THAN BOMBPROOF, Sgt. Rick Pelicano of the Maryland National Park Police, provides simple and effective techniques for staying safe on the trail. BETTER THAN BOMBPROOF is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.
4 Defensive Tactics for Riders
1 Stay Alert
The best line of defense, of course, is to avoid confrontation in the first place. As you ride, don’t allow yourself to grow complacent. Don’t develop “tunnel vision,” even if you sense something is amiss and are bent on your escape strategy. You may focus on one person in front of you while others are hidden somewhere close by. Look behind you every once in a while, as well, and don’t ever wear headphones or chat on your cell phone. With music or a conversation added to the sound of your horse’s hoof beats, you can be taken unaware very easily. Stay tuned in to your surroundings as you ride along.
2 Keep Your Distance
If you see someone who seems suspicious or you get that “wary” feeling, obey your instincts. The easiest deterrent is to put distance between yourself and possible trouble. Move away quickly or maneuver so there is an obstacle between you—a tree, bush, rock, or creek will work fine. And remember: You’re on horseback. If the person making you uncomfortable is on foot, you have the immediate advantage of being able to trot or canter away, and gain that safe distance far more quickly than you could if you were on foot.
When you are out alone and start to feel uncomfortable about a person approaching, do not—under any circumstances—allow him to pat your horse. When close enough to stroke your horse, he can easily pull the bridle off. Then, you really have a problem. We never allow a suspect to pat our horses, even during a standard traffic stop.
3 Use Your Horse’s Hind End
Let’s imagine a scenario: An initially harmless looking jogger passes you, then turns and suddenly attacks. What should you do? You need to use your horse to “push” into the suspect, then get as far away as you can. Remember, every horse seems dauntingly powerful to a non-horseperson, and you have a number of options for self-defense with a well-bombproofed horse.
When thinking about how to use your horse as part of your self-defense strategy, visualize your vulnerable areas by imagining a heart-shaped barrier surrounding your horse’s body. His head is at the top of the heart and his hind end at the bottom. The rider is most vulnerable if she allows a suspect into the heart area because both sides of the horse’s head and neck are open to a grab for the bridle or reins. The heart-shaped barrier tapers at the rider’s sides and the horse’s hind end, indicating areas where the rider is again at advantage.
It is always preferable to move the horse’s hind end into the attacker; this reduces the chance of the suspect grabbing your reins or bridle and then controlling your horse. You can leg-yield, side-pass, perform a turn on the forehand, or simply ride a small semi-circle in order to use the hindquarters as a deterrent. In the process, the suspect can be pushed away, stepped on, or struck by various parts of the horse, and then you are free to make your getaway as rapidly as you can.
4 Drive Your Horse Forward
When an attacker attempts to take control of your reins from the front, put your legs on your horse and drive him forward directly into the assailant. Then, using your aids, you can immediately follow up by:
· Leg-yielding the horse’s hind end into the person.
· Neck-reining the horse’s front end toward the person.
· Side-passing into the person.
· Neck-reining the horse into a turn on the forehand toward the person, so he is suddenly faced with your horse’s rear end and hind legs coming toward him in a threatening manner.
Once your attacker is off balance and moving to avoid being run over by your horse, you can get away.
BETTER THAN BOMBPROOF offers you the tools you need to take your bombproof training to a whole new level so that you and your horse can be safe and have fun, whatever your age, ability, or discipline. Sgt. Pelicano’s first book BOMBPROOF YOUR HORSE was the first book on mounted-police-tested bombproof training for horses. Both bestselling titles are available from the TSB online bookstore.