According to Butch Sarabee, the National Park Service's search and rescue
expert, The number one cause of injury or death in the back country is
unpreparedness. When one contemplates it, this is an alarming statement. One
or more members of the group are unprepared for an adventure, causing the
breakdown. An accident or hostile situation occurs for which the group is
unprepared. The more I study equestrian trail and back country safety, the
more I am appalled at the mask of invincibility many of us seem to wear at one
time or another. As a result many riders oftentimes set out on their
adventures more protected by luck than forethought.
It is comforting to feel that we are prepared, as well we should be. Most
readers of Trail Blazer whom I have met seem to be serious about
outdoor horse sports and enjoy the process of replacing the element of luck
with knowledge and understanding. Besides, the problem which confronts us may
be that of the unfortunate soul whom we meet out on the trail, or the novice
whom we've agreed to take with us who is constantly teetering on the brink of
one catastrophe or another. (Novices also include riders of many years who,
for whatever reason, simply repeat their first year's experience over and
Sometimes we need to measure how we are doing. Therefore this month's
"Survival Guide" is a survival test. This is not so much of a pass-fail type
of thing as it is a means for you to assess in which subject areas you are
strong and in which areas you need more preparation. (Also, some of the
subject areas in the test have yet to be discussed in the "Survival Guide"
Have you inspected your first aid kit(s) this season?
Do you have a map for every area which you ride?
Do you ordinarily carry a bright colored nylon shell?
When was the last first aid course you attended?
Tack Maintenance: (5 Points)
Have you thoroughly inspected and serviced your saddle(s) and
bridle(s) this season?
Your Horse's Endurance / Condition: (5 Points)
List two reliable locations (points) where you can take your
What is your horse's resting pulse and respiration rate?
How quickly should your horse recover (after exercise) from its
increased pulse and respiration rate?
Trailering: (5 Points)
(If you don't own a trailer, earn points by determining what should be the
When was the last time you repacked your wheel bearings?
For how much drag should your trailer brake controller be
How tight should the cable for your "break-away" brakes be
When was the last time you checked the spare tire on your
Do you have a jack which can lift your trailer while it is loaded
and do you know how to use it?
Orienteering: (10 Points)
Relative to reading a map, define scale
What is a contour line?
What is a contour interval?
When using a compass for guidance, what is declination?
When travelling in open country, what does the term "bearing"
You've lost your bearing during the day. How can you determine
your orientation using your watch?
You've lost your bearing during the day. How can you determine
your orientation using a digital watch?
You've lost your bearing. How can you determine your orientation
You are stranded and in need of water. You have a map which has
contour lines but does not illustrate streams or ponds. Where would
you most likely find water?
You are lost in hill country and are not sure where you are. You
have a map with contour lines. How can this map help you orient
Fire Safety: (5 points)
What are the most critical weather factors affecting
What are the most critical topographical factors affecting
What is the most dangerous place to be in a backcountry fire
What is the safest place to be in a backcountry fire
During high fire danger season, when should you be concerned
about seeing smoke?
Bad Weather: (5 Points)
On a cloudy day, what are reliable indicators that you may be
confronted by a severe storm?
Which lightning strikes are always fatal?
Where is lightning most likely to strike?
How long after a lightning strike is the cloud likely to recharge
and another strike occur?
What are the typical signs that a thunderstorm is clearing?
Heat Emergencies: (15 points)
How serious is overheating to your horse?
Relative to heat, of what is a crampy horse symptomatic on a hot
What conditions typically predispose heat exhaustion in
Other than simply needing more air, why does a horse pant?
What can happen if heat exhaustion is not addressed?
Outside of conditioning, what are two effective ways to prevent
List 3 ways to treat a heat exhausted horse?
What happens if the heat exhausted horse stops sweating and how
serious a problem is it?
How critical is cooling the horse described in the above
How significant is conditioning to prevention of heat exhaustion
and heat stroke on hot days?
What two other elements are necessary to safe workouts in hot
weather? (2 points)
When is the best time to provide electrolytes?
What impact can trailering your horse have on his ability to
handle heat while working?
Cold Emergencies: (5 Points)
Define hypothermia and describe its basic symptoms.
Which is more dangerous from the standpoint of hypothermia; a dry
15 degree day or a rainy 50 degree day?
What are some of the first early warning signs that frostbite may
How effective is alcohol in fending off the effects of serious
What effect does smoking have on the extremely cold and/or
Biting Pests: (10 Points)
Which do more people in the US die from, wasp and bee stings or
Can rattlesnakes "see" as well at night as they do in the
Which are more dangerous, adult or juvenile rattlesnakes?
What happens when you try to "cut and suck" a snake bite?
What is the most important action you should take if you are
List 4 other things you should do if snake bitten.
What is the most important supply you can take to aid your horse
in rattlesnake country?
Water Crossings: (5 Points)
When sizing up where to cross a stream, which spot should you
generally choose; a wide stretch or a narrow stretch (but too wide to
At what speed is a stream defined as "very fast" for the purposes
of water safety?
__A__3.4 MPH; __B__7 MPH; __C__11.6 MPH;
As the speed of water currents double, how much does its force on
objects (e.g., horses, humans) in the water increase?
List two objects which you always want to avoid crossing above
If you get pitched into a fast moving stream, what is the best
position to take until you get your situation under control?
Staying found: (5 Points)
List two reasons you should notify others in your barn or group
when you ride into back country (other than in a formal event).
List three reasons you should always carry a map.
Being rescued: (5 Points)
You are thoroughly lost. What should you do (e.g., stay put, try
to hike out, etc.) and why?
You are not lost, but your ride has broken down, you are unable
to continue and you have had to seek shelter. What should you do to
improve your chances of being rescued?
Why is a bright shell or light jacket important?
What should you always leave with a trail or air search
Basic Survival Skills: (15 Points)
What is more important to survival; food or water?
How much water do you need to drink each day?
What's the simplest, safest way to treat backcountry water?
How important is finding things to eat when you are stranded?
You are out of water. Should you consume salt or alcoholic
beverages that you brought with you?
What are the three items that survival experts indicate you
should always carry with you in the mountains?
In addition to the knife, lighter and garbage bag, what "15
essentials" should be in every saddle bag?
Can you build an emergency shelter from the supplies you normally
have on hand?
What are your construction priorities when forming a shelter?
Give yourself 1 point if you did inspect your first aid kit this
season. First aid kits suffer from age and exposure to the elements
(changes in heat and humidity). Shoddy looking supplies need to be
replaced. People typically forget what is in their first aid kits
unless they inspect them periodically. An inventory list should be
located inside each kit so you will know what kind of supplies which are
no longer there should be!
This question is worth one point. Subtract a quarter point for
every place you ride without a map which is more than a couple of miles
across. You may know your way around but in an emergency you may need
to send someone else for help and in such situations, verbal directions
Give yourself a point if you carry a bright shell or jacket in
back country. Now be sure to take it regardless of the weather. You
might need it for a signal flag!
Give yourself two points if you attended a first aid course "this
year", one point if you did "last year". If it has been longer, better
sign up for one. People forget and procedures change over time.
Give yourself 5 points if you tore down your tack for inspection,
oiling and tightening sometime this season. Give yourself 4 points for
only inspecting, cleaning and oiling without taking everything apart.
Give yourself 3 points for a reasonably thorough cleaning and
inspection; two points for just looking it over. Deduct 50% if you did
these things last year but not this season! (For synthetic materials,
substitute the recommended care for "oiling".)
Inspection is as important as cleaning. Cracks in leather or rubber
and discoloration around rivets are signs of potential failure which
will often occur at times of greatest stress (e.g., bucking or spinning
Give yourself a point for identifying any of the following pulse
locations: The heart (felt by placing your palm under the left elbow
against the chest), the facial artery located on the underside of the
horse's jaw, the transverse facial artery located under the horse's eye,
the dorsal metatarsal artery along the backside of the canon bone on the
hind limb and the digital arteries just below each fetlock bone.
The horse has the largest variation of heart rates of any
species. A sedate horse may have a pulse rate as low as 25 to 30 beats
per minute (BPM). A moving horse would more likely to show a rate of 40
BPM. A walking horse would likely show a rate of between 50 and 90 BPM.
Under extreme stress (e.g., galloping) a horse's heart rate may race
above 200 BPM!
Normal resting respirations range from 8 to 16 respirations per
minute (RPM) increasing to a range of 30 to 40 RPM during heavy
Give yourself a point each for knowing your particular horse's heart
and respiration rate when at rest.
Experienced endurance riders should know this one! The pulse and
respiration rates of a healthy horse should start to drop immediately
after exercise and reach normal "at rest" rates within 12 minutes. Give
yourself a point if you knew this one (or know the current P&R
checkpoint standard for your local endurance ride association).
While recommendations vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, it
is a good rule of thumb to repack wheel bearings every season for
regularly used trailers, or every other season for lightly used
trailers. Good lubrication is essential to preventing mechanical
breakdowns, especially in dustier areas. Removing the wheels for
packing also exposes the brake shoes for inspection. Give yourself a
point if you are on schedule.
Electric brakes have the advantage of calibration according to
the weight carried in the trailer. The object is to never allow the
trailer to push the tow vehicle as this can create a jackknife situation
on slippery surfaces and at high speeds. Trailer brakes should not
engage too early as they can overheat, resulting in "fade", when acting
against the load of both the trailer and tow vehicle. I prefer to feel
the trailer brakes drag the instant before my pickup's service brakes
take hold. I start out with the trailer brakes set to engage slightly
"early", and adjust the controller slightly during the next few brakings
until I don't feel the "tug" of the trailer before the pickup's brakes
engage. Give yourself a point if you have figured this one out.
Your break-away brakes can only work if the break-away cable
pulls out of the switch before your safety chain goes taut. Thus the
break-away cable should be tight enough to pull out if the trailer comes
unhitched, but not so tight that it pulls out when making a sharp
You can easily test your hookup. Before dropping your trailer on
your hitch ball, connect your safety chain and break-away cable. Gently
pull forward. If the break-away cable doesn't pull out of the switch,
it won't work and needs to be shortened. (Don't forget to reinsert the
actuator into the break-away switch as soon as you finish this
Trailers can unhitch for a variety of reasons. Oftentimes the only
thing separating a safe stop from being rammed from behind and your
trailer flipping over is the drag from the break-away system. Thus both
the actuation system and the break-away batter both have to be working
properly. Give yourself a point if you know your cable is the proper
length and a bonus point if you know your battery is good.
If you checked your spare tire the last time you checked all your
other tires give yourself a half point. If the last time you checked
your tires was within about a month, give yourself a full point. If you
regularly check all of your tires (weekly or before every time out) you
deserve a bonus point.
Give yourself a point if you can honestly say you know the jack
you carry can lift your trailer while loaded. In this age of auto club
road service we often don't think of changing tires on the roadside.
However you cannot predict where you will have a flat and you may have
to deal with the problem yourself and may not be able to unload your
horses. (The only flat I have ever had with a horse trailer was on a
"gore point" where two freeways converged with my 4-horse loaded. I had
no place to unload the horses, had to get the tire changed and it was
too dangerous to just "hang out" and wait for the 3-A truck!
Scale is the ratio of the distance between two points on a map to
the actual distance on the ground (e.g., 1 in. = 100 ft.) is its
A contour line is a line on a map which remains level (in feet
above sea level) while following the contour of the land form; a
reference of elevation.
The difference in elevation between each contour line is the
The difference in degrees between geographic north and magnetic
north is declination.
Your direction of travel (described in degrees) is your
Finding south with a watch: Point the hour hand of your watch
directly at the sun. Due south is approximately halfway between the
hour hand and 12:00.
If you have a digital watch, you'll have to find south using a
stick stuck vertically in the ground. Make a mark or place a small
stone at the tip of the shadow. About an hour later, make a mark or
place a small stone at the tip of the second shadow. The direction from
the first mark toward the second is approximately due east. (The watch
method is obviously more expedient.)
At night locate the big dipper. Look upward from along a line
made by the two stars which define the front of the big dipper (farthest
from the handle) to the star which makes up the tip of the little
dipper's handle. This is Polaris, or the North Star.
When no other indications are present, water is more likely to be
at the junction or confluence of several drainages.
The contour lines will illustrate ridges, peaks and valleys. By
comparing the relationship of these illustrations on the map to your
surroundings, you may be able to determine your position. (Such
reckoning can be improved by climbing to a vista where more of the
surrounding terrain can be seen.)
The most critical factors affecting wildfires are wind, lack of
humidity and temperature. Give yourself 1/3 point for each correct
During periods of extremely low humidity, light fuels such as grasses
can become extremely dry and are more likely to ignite. If it is dry
enough, by mid afternoon, even a spark from a horseshoe striking a rock
could start a fire. The rate of combustion doubles for every 18 degree
increase in the temperature. (The preheating of fuels by updrafts is
why fires race so quickly uphill.) Wind provides both fresh oxygen to
feed the fire and can preheat fuels downwind.
In general, the steeper the slope, the faster the fire will tend
to run it. The most critical points are natural chimneys which collect
hot gasses, oftentimes drawing energy away from outward rounding
hillside faces. Give yourself a point if you understand this
It is almost always more dangerous to be above the fire,
particularly in or near steep drainages or draws which can act as
chimneys. Give yourself a point if you knew that one. However, in very
steep country, one must also not get too complacent below a fire as
burning trees and logs can slide or roll downhill either on you or set
fires below you!
The safest place in an open fire situation is usually inside the
burned out area! However, moist, open, low lying areas, particularly
near streams and ponds are acceptable choices, so long as the area
chosen for refuge isn't so heavily wooded that the radiant heat from
intense burning could prove fatal!
You should always be concerned any time you see smoke
until you have established that it is not related to any situation which
could threaten your safety or impact your planned routes of travel.
Severe storms are often characterized in advance by heavy clouds
which churn and roll, erratic winds, and clouds which develop an anvil
Lightning upstrokes, which occur on promontories and mountain
peaks, are always fatal. Upstrokes rarely occur on flat areas and
bodies of water.
Lightning is most likely to strike the closest object to the
charged area of the thundercloud such as a peak, rock outcropping, even
a tall tree in a grove of shorter trees. (Note that the "charged area"
of the thundercloud can be relatively small as compared to the total
cloud, ergo not every tall tree, promontory, etc. will be struck.)
It takes the typical active thundercloud about one minute to
recharge. If it has not moved on, lightning can strike the same object
As a thunderstorm clears heavy clouds will break up and be
replaced with high, light patchy clouds.
If your horse cannot dissipate excess body heat, it can suffer
serious injury or die!
A crampy horse on a hot day is an indicator that your horse may
likely be sweating out essential electrolytes. These "heat cramps" can
precipitate a downward spiral in your horse's condition and should be
Working an unconditioned horse hard on a hot day, as well as any
horse on a hot, exceptionally humid day, can predispose it to heat
Since this is a "Heat Emergency" section, you should have
answered that horses pant to blow off excess heat. Panting horses who
don't need air due to physical exertion, or who should have recovered,
are trying to assist their bodies' cooling mechanisms (e.g., sweating)
which are overloaded or not working effectively.
Profuse sweating and loss of important electrolytes will continue
or accelerate. The horse may become uncoordinated, exhibit "thumps",
and even collapse as his body temperature starts to rise
Heat exhaustion can usually be forestalled in the healthy,
conditioned horse by providing ample supplies of water and maintaining
Get the horse into the shade, cool (but don't chill) the horse,
provide fluids and electrolytes. (If you answer, "Stand the horse in a
stream, or "Rub down with a wet sponge", those answers qualify as
Once the heat exhausted horse "runs out of sweat" his body
temperature will rise uncontrollably, leading to brain damage and death.
This condition is commonly called "heat stroke".
Heat stroke is a genuinely life threatening emergency. If the
horse is not cooled it will likely die. Spray with water, cool with
buckets, apply ice packs to the head, whatever it takes to cool the
horse. (Once the horse cools, realize that he is weak and take steps to
prevent chilling afterwards.)
Conditioning is a vital element necessary to your horse operating
efficiently under physical stress in hot weather.
Even the well conditioned horse needs ample supplies of water and
electrolytes to replace those lost during sweating.
Electrolytes are more efficiently utilized when metabolized
before strenuous physical activity.
A hot trailer ride before a workout can deplete some of your
horse's electrolyte and water reserves. Horses should be moved in well
ventilated trailers and during cooler parts of the day. When hot days
cannot be avoided, horses should be watered frequently and, if
necessary, offered electrolyte replacements.
Hypothermia is critical loss of body heat resulting in the
cooling of the body's core. Symptoms include (as hypothermia
progresses) uncontrollable shivering, stiff muscles, painful hands and
feet, slurred speech, slowed heartbeat, loss of mental acuity, lack of
coordination, inability to walk, death. Give yourself up to 3 points
for correct answers.
A rainy 50 degree day can have greater effects than a dry 15
degree day. Water pulls body heat away several hundred times faster
than air. Unless you have proper rain gear, you will lose significantly
more body heat once wet.
Frostnip is generally a precursor to frostbite. Signs and
symptoms include reddening of affected areas, usually the tips of the
nose, ears, upper cheeks and fingers., which subsequently turn white,
along with a feeling of numbness in the affected areas.
Consuming alcohol is not effective against the cold. It may numb
your senses and make you think you feel better, but it decreases
circulation, increasing the damage caused by exposure to the cold.
Smoking causes vasal constriction which can impair the body's
ability to warm its extremities.
More people die from wasp or bee stings than from snake bites.
Actually only about ten people die each year from snake bites in the
Rattlesnakes not only have excellent night vision, but hunt with
infrared sensing pits which can detect warm blooded prey up to six feet
Not all rattlesnake bites are venomous. Venom is usually saved
for hunting. Younger snakes, however, are not as effective in
controlling their venom and therefore more of their bites include the
injection of venom. An older snake, unless seriously provoked, is less
Cutting a snake bite damages nearby tissues and increases
absorption and proliferation of the venom, a real no-no!
The most important thing to do after a snake bite is to stay
calm. The less active your circulatory system is, the better off you
If you are snake bitten, keep the bitten part lower than your
heart. Remove any rings, bracelets or other constricting objects from
the affected limb. (It will swell!) If bitten on an arm or
leg, apply a light constricting band (not a tourniquet) about 2" above
the joint, rest and have someone go for help (or call 9-1-1), if you
have to walk out, do so calmly and avoid overexertion. Give yourself
one point for each right answer.
The most dangerous snake bite to your horse one to the nose,
causing swelling and suffocation. A couple of short pieces of garden
hoses (5" to 6" long) can be inserted in the horse's nostrils to
maintain an open airway.
Streams are usually shallower and water currents lighter at wide
points. Narrower crossings of the same stream can be expected to be
deeper, swifter and have turbulence. Except where water is pooling
behind a dam or other obstacle, your crossings are generally safer in
wider, more lazy points along the stream.
A stream flow is considered very fast when it travels at a rate
of 5 feet per second, or 3.4 MPH!
When the speed of water doubles, the effective force against any
objects in the water triples. This is part of the reason that even
slightly swollen streams and tributaries can be so dangerous. (Flooding
streams can exceed 20 feet per second, or 27 times the force of a "very
You never want to cross upstream "above" low head dams, snags in
the stream, slippery rapids or significant whirlpools unless you are
sufficient distance upstream (e.g., hundreds of feet) that if you go
into the water, both you and your horse can make it to the bank before
encountering any of these objects. Give yourself a point for each
correct item listed.
If you find yourself dumped into fast moving water, roll over
onto your back with your feet pointed downstream until you can orient
yourself and swim for shore.
The obvious reason you should tell people where you are going is
so that they can figure out where to look for you if you don't return at
a reasonable hour. The less obvious one is if you break down and
someone reports your problem with inadequate information, those likely
to go out and find you (or assist professional rescuers) will already
have some idea where you are, or can possibly make sense of mixed up
directions. Give yourself a point for each that you answered
Maps are important to keep you from getting lost. Even if you
are familiar with the area, you may need to give others directions if
you break down and they have to ride for help, or so you can pinpoint
your location to passers-by who may have to hike or ride out to summon
help. In addition, your familiar route may be blocked or a lame horse
or other problem may require you to take a less familiar route. Give
yourself a point for each correct answer.
Typically if you have no idea where you are or where you are
going, and particularly at night, you should stay put and try to
construct some shelter. Never travel in a storm. You can jog in place
if you need to exercise to stay warm. (If conditions are favorable, you
could hike to some promontory point and try to orient yourself to where
you are, however generally speaking the farther you travel off course,
the more difficult it will be for others to find you.) If from a
lookout, for example, you are able to orient yourself and if the weather
is favorable, walking to safety can be a sensible choice.
If your ride breaks down and you have to take shelter, you should
leave some form of marker on the trail and/or in a location visible from
air. Such indicators could include leaving your saddle or other visible
object on the trail with a note attached describing your predicament and
where you are, or accompanies by the word "help" spelled out in stocks
or stones and an arrow pointing in your direction. You can lay out
bright colored objects (e.g., saddle blankets, unneeded jackets, etc.)
in an open area easily visible from the air in a line pointing in your
When not needed to provide thermal protection, a bright shell or
jacket can be spread out in a clearing and be easily seen by air
searchers. Several jackets, perhaps laid out in an arrow, will provide
an even more significant marker
You should leave some kind of message at your marker giving your
name, your problem and your location.
After oxygen, water is the most essential ingredient for life.
Humans can survive up to 30 days without food, but unless in a sedate
state in moderate weather, one can die in three days without water.
Exercising (e.g., hiking) in hot weather can reduce this period to about
36 hours. It is at this point where having an accurate map and the
knowledge necessary to read it becomes critical. (It is justifiable to
leave your shelter to seek water, but try to stay oriented and if
possible, leave some indication at your shelter that you have gone out
for water and expect to return.)
Consider you need to drink a minimum of 2 quarts a day if you are
staying put. Increase that amount to a gallon if you are doing any
hiking or other physical work (e.g., constructing a shelter). Double
that amount in warm, humid weather or in desert like conditions.
Iodine is the simplest treatment for water. It's simple to use
and comes in many easy to carry forms.
Eating is not a priority. Eating local plants, even ones you
think are safe, can result in vomiting and diarrhea which will increase
dehydration. Finding water and staying warm should be your primary
Neither salt or alcoholic beverages are useful if you have run
out of water. While salt tablets may have some benefit when consumed
with adequate quantities of water, all salines (including salty water
and urine) will actually increase dehydration. Alcohol will decrease
Survival experts recommend you carry a small folding knife with
locking blade (such as a Buck knife), a butane cigarette lighter and a
large garbage bag. You need a sharp knife to accomplish a variety of
tasks, in addition to lighting a campfire, a lighter is necessary to
burnish the ends of nylon string or halters which you may cut for
shelter. Give yourself a half point for each correct answer.
The garbage bag has many uses from becoming a solar water collector,
a water jug, a ground cloth, an impromptu raincoat (cut a hole for your
head first!) or jacket (stuff it full of leaves or grass for
For serious outback trail riding you should carry water, some
high energy food (e.g., dried fruit or a sports bar), map, compass, rain
gear (nylon shell), extra warm clothes, whistle (to keep track of and
signal each other when fanning out in a search pattern), first aid kit,
mirror, iodine (to sterilize water), a rope halter (they pack easily),
leadrope, one or two short pieces of garden hose (spare horse nostrils),
a pen (preferably a fine tip permanent marker) and a small pad of paper.
Give yourself a half point for every item you thought of.
A couple of trash bags, saddle blankets, reins, leadrope and
even a saddle can be used to construct an emergency shelter. The bags
can be ripped open to form mini tarps to protect you from ground
moisture or sandwiched in between branches and tree boughs to provide a
wind screen. Saddle blankets can also provide some ground cover and the
saddle can be used as a pillow. Reins, leadropes and the like (not
needed to secure horses) can be used to tie your shelter together.
If longer sticks are available you can even build a tepee which can
be enclosed using smaller branches, brush and the like. Be sure to make
it large enough to lay down inside, and avoid building your shelter in
drainages and washes which could be impacted by the weather!
Give yourself a point if you could accomplish this with what you
carry on a typical back country ride.
Shelter construction priorities include protection from cold and
This was not intended to be an easy test. If you scored 85% or above, you
are probably well prepared for accident prevention and survival. If you
scored poorer than that, you might do well to reference the areas in which you
are less knowledgeable... and pull out those old copies of Trail Blazer
Magazine or look through the KBR Safety Section and refresh your