Iowa is a truly beautiful place in which to enjoy the great outdoors on foot, on a mountain bike or on horseback. Choose from one of the many centres that provide supervised trail rides on hired horses almost all year round, or enjoy the scenery and explore the miles of trails on your own horse.
The autumn is especially magical; the trees are turning colour, the air is crisp and fresh, and the smell of wood smoke and fallen leaves fills the air. It’s also the time of year when hunters are out and about, and riders should be aware of this. Here’s how to stay safe when you’re out trail riding during the hunting season.
Game doesn’t usually go in for wearing hi-viz; which is precisely why you should! You can buy all manner of hi-viz kit from tabards and hat covers for you to quarter sheets and bandages for your horse. Stirrup lights are also a really good idea and can be worn around your ankle or the top of your boots for extra visibility especially on misty days and in dark woodland. Always wear something bright and never opt for camouflage gear; for obvious reasons!
It’s important that hunters hear you coming. Hoof fall can easily be deadened by leaves, snow and pine needles so add bear bells or sleigh bells to your stirrups or to the ‘D’ rings on your saddle, if you have them. It’s sensible to have a dress rehearsal at home before you head off for the trails though as some horses can be spooked by jingling bells. Take a whistle with you too, in case you need to raise the alarm.
Riding out in company is always safer than riding alone, whatever the time of year. Whether you’re with someone else or on your own, always tell a friend or relative where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
Many horse riders take their dogs out on the trail too, but a dog wandering through the woods is an accident in waiting during the hunting season. Leave your dog at home or if you really insist on taking him with you, invest in some hi-viz for him – dog vests are available and don’t forget the jingle bells for his collar!
Keep in touch
Whenever you ride out you should always carry a fully-charged mobile phone with you. You can by special horse rider-specific holders which you attach to your upper arm or around the top of your boot. Never put your mobile in a saddle back or attach it to your tack; if you have a fall, you’ll want your phone within easy reach, not disappearing down the trail at a flat out gallop!
Which route to take?
Riding through trees, particularly early in the morning or at dusk in poor light is dangerous; your horse could easily be mistaken for an elk. It’s always best to choose open areas to ride in and avoid peak hunting times (early morning or sunset) when bad light makes it harder for you to be seen. If you’re in any doubt as to the safest areas to ride in, a quick phone call to the ranger station will put you right.
Iowa Department of Natural Resources Hunting Atlas Link
Wildlife Management Areas Link
Practice your shot at the local shooting range Link
Whether you approve of hunting or not, always be friendly and polite to any folk out hunting that you might meet at you ride. Ask where they’re heading and if necessary; be prepared to change your plans.
Remember that you’re able to enjoy riding your horse through the wilderness all year round whereas the hunting season is short and those taking part are perfectly entitled to enjoy their sport too.
Courtesy and mutual co-operation ensures a safe and enjoyable autumn experience in the glorious wilds of Iowa for everyone.