Five items you should always have with you on the trail

1.Water. Even if you don't get thirsty enough to drink it, you never know when you might need water for cooling down an overheated horse or rider, or for rinsing out a wound. Tip: For an always-cold drink, drain the top inch from a full plastic water bottle, then freeze it until the remaining water becomes ice. It?ll thaw gradually during your ride, with the unthawed portion keeping the water cold.

2. Rain gear. The unwritten rule about whether to take rain gear on a ride: If you have it, the sun will shine. If you don't have it, it'll rain! A storm can blow in when you least expect it, especially in high country. And few things will leave you more miserable than to be soaked to the skin with miles yet to ride. Tip: If you don't want to invest in, nor carry, a full-length rain slicker, tuck an inexpensive plastic poncho--or even a large heavy-duty leaf bag--in your saddlebag. The latter can be made into makeshift rain gear, and has many other potential uses as well.

3. Sharp pocketknife or folding multi-tool. Whether used to free a rope-entangled horse or to pick your horse's feet, this is a don't-leave-home-without-it item. Tip: Carry it securely on your person rather than stuffing it into a bag carried on your horse. That will allow you to access it instantly should an emergency occur--and you won?t be separated from it should you find yourself unhorsed.

4. Food. It's always smart to have some sort of energy source with you, as you never know when a planned short ride will turn into a long one. Tip: Choose non-bulky foods suitable for carrying on horseback, without need for cooling. Good choices include non-frosted energy bars, jerky, nuts and dried fruit, tuna or salmon in easy-open pouches, or trail mix without chocolate (which has a low melting point).

5. First-aid items. Your list of items can be as simple or detailed as you wish; even a single roll of self-adhesive bandage and few aspirins are worth tucking into your stash of ?just in case? items. Trick: Keep all first-aid items in a single bag, and color-code it for easy recognition during an emergency. Choose a red bag, for instance, or tie a red ribbon or bandanna to the first-aid- kit side of your saddlebags.

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