The first time I ever rode alone was when I was 17 years old. My barn, with my trainer and all my friends, was going to school cross country at another local barn. I didn’t have a trailer. I had my own two legs, and Vintage, my green appaloosa. It was way too far for me to walk, it would have taken all day. The only way I could get there would be to ride there. It was a trail through my neighborhood and onto the back roads, a route I had taken before, but never by myself.
Everything I had ever read about horses and riding had told me never to ride by myself. It was simply too dangerous. If you got thrown off, you could be laying there for hours before someone noticed. Not to mention, I was riding a green horse. I’d had Vintage less than a year at that point, and she didn’t come trained. She’d never been out by herself.
I was terrified, but the urge to join my friends was way too strong. I saddled up, and off I went. In the first ten minutes, my mind was close to panicking, but somehow, nothing happened. As the ride progressed, I became relaxed, and actually enjoyed myself. About 30 minutes later, I was with my friends, schooling cross country, and having a blast. I even jumped a stone wall, one of the biggest jumps I’d ever jumped before. I literally pushed her forward, closed my eyes, and prayed. It was totally worth it.
I will admit that some of my confidence came from ignorance. I was completely ignorant of how bad it could have gotten. If someone suggested I take Stu out on a trail ride today, by himself, I would say absolutely not, I value my own life too much.
But that one ride gave me so much confidence. One solo ride, and then I was doing it all the time. If I couldn’t meet my friends, no worries, I’ll just ride by myself, not a big deal at all. It might have been the overconfidence of youth, it could have been my unicorn of a horse that I’ve never met a match to. Years later, I was still riding her solo, and we had a great time. Up until her retirement, for years, I could always trust her on solo adventures, whether we were going to familiar places or new places all by ourselves.
But the truth of it is, not every ride goes well. Just because I’ve had 200 great rides doesn’t mean that the next one isn’t going to be a disaster. Just because my horse would never purposely throw me doesn’t mean that she could prevent stumbling and falling. There’s a reason that people are encouraged to ride with a friend or have someone watching. To be blunt – someone needs to be conscious to call for help.
But if we waited around for someone to be there, we might never be able to ride. Some people don’t have the luxury of having someone to watch over them. So what can you do?
The Benefits of Riding Alone
The day I rode Vintage alone to the cross country course was a turning point in my riding. Regardless of how I might feel about taking a green horse now, I still did it that day.
I realized I capable. I was competent. It’s a confidence booster, and from that day on, I kept riding alone. I stopped waiting for a friend to ride with, and just rode. The more I rode, the more my confidence and abilities grew. I may not have been perfect, but I was doing alright for myself.
Even later, when I had Berry, I took her places alone. It started out with lessons alone. Then we did shows alone. Then we went to the park alone. For a long time, I didn’t have friends who had a trailer or even a horse. If I didn’t do it by myself, it wasn’t going to happen.
It did make me feel capable. I wasn’t scared of very much at all, because we just went out and did it. The best way to get over your fears is to acknowledge them, and then just do it anyway.
But the reason I did it with Berry and Vintage is because I had no choice. I didn’t have anyone to ride with. Now I am finding myself in an interesting position with Stu. I do have people to ride with. And what has happened? I hate riding alone.
Of course that will eventually change. As I ride Stu more, take more lessons, and grow more confident, I’m sure I will be riding Stu alone. But right now, it’s just too risky for me. He’s too green. He’s not ready.
But one day he will be ready. I am eager for the day when I can just take off in a field at a gallop with him, all by myself. It will happen one day. Having those kinds of moments with your horse are incredible. Just you and your horse, together, moving as one, totally in sync with each other. Those are the moments we live for.
If you’re going to ride alone, you should take a few measures to be safe. The last thing you want is to be tossed off, and no one finds you for hours. You just lay there, unable to move, on the cold ground, and think about every thing you’ve ever regretted doing. That hasn’t happened to me, but I imagine that’s how it would feel.
Here are some things to avoid that scenario:
- Don’t ride alone if you’re a beginner rider. I know I just said a whole bunch of stuff about how it helps your confidence, but just assume it doesn’t apply to beginners. In no way should a beginner rider go off in the fields by themselves.
- Keep your phone attached to your person. Don’t attach it to the tack. Otherwise, your horse may take your phone far, far out of reach.
- Tell people where you’re riding and when you expect to be back. Then they can send out the search party if you don’t return.
- Smart Watch Monitor: From the Kanega Watch to the Apple Watch, Fit Bit Versa 3, and Galaxy Watch, there are loads of watches that will monitor your heath. The Kanega Watch is specifically for falling.
- Apps: Check out FallCall (ios), Man Down (ios) and Horse Rider SOS (ios & Android). They will send out an alert if you fall.
- Tag your horse: It seems almost silly, but yes, it still happens. Just a couple of weeks ago there was a post on Facebook requesting help identifying a riderless horse. You can put an ID tag on your tack, so if your horse is found, they can start contacting people.
A big safety measure that I think is overlooked: knowledge.
Knowledge not the catch all that will save you. Plenty of people have tons of knowledge and still ended up hurt. But the more knowledge you have, the better decisions you can make. Beginner riders aren’t likely to make great decisions so their risk of getting hurt is way higher. The more knowledge you have, the more ready you are to deal with the unexpected nature of horses. The more you can deal with it, the more confident you are, and the more the horse believes in you. Yes, your horse has to believe in you, too. If the horse thinks you’re a worthy leader, it’s going to listen to you way better than if it thinks you’re a coward. A leader isn’t going to let it get eaten by a plastic bag, a coward might. Even if you don’t feel confident, fake it. The horse probably doesn’t know.
So, should you ride alone?
It’s up to you. Only you know if you’re capable. You don’t need to ride alone, if it doesn’t come up naturally in your lifestyle. I don’t recommend it if you feel unsafe. I recommend you do whatever keeps you safe, and able to ride for a very long time.