The Outdoor Experience - 'Equipment' Part 2
A Outdoors Person will tell you that 'going the extra mile' can me fun, relaxing and physically satisfying. Doing it with your dog or horse is even better. Even a cat can choose to accompany you for a stroll around the yard. When I go outside, I take a look at my peaceful pond, walk down the stairs and step into my own peaceful world. I am usually accompanied by at least three or four of my cats! We walk around the pond and they will talk to me.
A vacation or day outside can easily include your pet. I am a visually displeasing rider, having learned riding by being thrown on a unsaddled horse and the horse being slapped on the rump. I closely resemble a monkey on a hot stove! But nothing is better than taking a horse for a trip into the country side; no competition, no strings attached, just peaceful exploration of one's own 'backyard'. The same reasoning was the base for my explorations on bicycles and foot, taking my dogs on Kilometer long trips. Do you know of all the beauty you could possibly find in your own backyard? Or do you only know what you can see from the road? I have taken my camera into the city and found some amazing sights.
But precautions need to be taken! The days where we children would drink water from natural springs out in the woods are over! Consider that before you start your ride, bike-ride or 'Marsch' into the wilderness! You should always have a bottle of water with you; or more if you go on longer walks. Water doesn't only have health benefits and can, in certain amounts, be an important part of a diet, but it will also allow you to keep your four-legged companion hydrated.
A very smart individual discovered a much better use for a backpack. Rather than having the 'handler'/hiker carry the 'load', a backpack was invented that can be strapped on a dog's back. This works especially great for energetic dogs like Shay, who will be still walking when you are ready to quit! A good amount of bottled water and such for the trip will add a little weight to her load and magically wear her out a bit sooner. And if chosen in bright colors, it can help you keep track of your dog in wilderness settings.
Here is an example of bagpacks available online:
There are also a wide variety of saddle bags for horses and bicycles that can be filled with bottled water, energy bars, a first-aid kid and other valuable items.
An article about "Summer Hiking with Dogs" by Melissa Gaskill gives a list of basic items that should be taken:
"Essential Gear for Hiking with Dogs
Dogs can carry their own gear with backpacks made especially for them. Essentials to pack include water (not all natural water is safe for dogs to drink), water bowl, food, basic first aid supplies, collar and leash, and ID tags. Plastic bags for disposing of dog waste are a must, as dog waste is not part of the natural environment and contains harmful bacteria. Dog booties come in handy on harsh surfaces, and will also keep a bandage in place if the dog injures a paw. Dog backpacks and booties are available at REI stores, some pet stores, and from Planet Dog. Dogs should be introduced to wearing a backpack and booties before going on a hike.
Human hikers need to carry sun protection; emergency shelter, such as a rain poncho or space blanket; a flashlight; matches and fire starter, such as cotton balls covered in petroleum jelly; and first aid supplies. A map and navigation aids, either compass or GPS, are also essential."
It can be found here: http://www.suite101.com/content/summer-hiking-with-dogs-a123623
In a lot of the Southern States that have a wide variety of ...unfriendly or unsocial creatures, it is also a good idea to add a snake-bite kit and similar products to your gear.
In addition it is VERY important to ensure that your companion is UP-TO-DATE on all vaccinations, on Heartworm protection (especially in mosquito-rich areas), carries some form of identification with your contact information/ and properly restrained if necessary. Dogs can easily get lost in unfamiliar territory and will be unable to find their way home. The cases of dogs returning home over long distances are rare and no guaranty that your dog will be safe.
Biking doesn't necessarily have to take the extend of a 20 Kilometer Endurance Test performed by the German Shepherd Club. A great past-time in Germany is taking the family, the family pet and a picnic basket on a bike trip to any great local spot such as a river, a wooded area, a historic site or the beach.
A great way to provide 'Fido' with the daily exercise needed is a daily trip with the bicycle 'around the block'. Depending on the distance some of the supplies mentioned above may have to be taken in consideration, but for a shorter trip a bottle of water should be sufficient. I know quite a few Athletes that use these trips as part of their own personal exercise program, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a work-out for the owner; still providing exercise for the dog.
A well trained dog can be lead with a leash system especially made for bike riding. Some examples can be found here: http://www.petexpertise.com/dog-toys/dog-bicycle-exercisers.html.
I personally prefer the low-key/cheap way of a regular $5.99 horse lead held in the hand that is not steering the bike. The possible dangers of having a dog attached to a bike at basic to high speeds just doesn't appeal to me; especially when trying to work out a high-energy running machine like Shay, my B&T Hound/Labrador. If something happens or she goes after livestock or deer, I rather let go of the leash or have the option to yank on it to get my point across, rather than being dragged across tar or gravel.
I also prefer a heavier street-bike, amateur mountain bike or an actual mountain bike over a race- or light street bike. The 'abuse' on a bike involving a running dog may be easier on a more solid bike. While such bikes can be anything from $100 to several thousand dollars, I have found local thrift stores/yard sales or even pawn shops to be great places to find a good bike for less than $50.
A great weekend activity is the longer bike-ride with/without picnic. Joe Smo dog owner can enjoy maybe a few miles while those fit and experienced bikers can entertain themselves on long trips throughout the wilderness and through more difficult terrain. When attempting longer trips one should be well aware of one's physical limitations, the limitations of one's family/family pet and the current weather. The supplies taken should be similar to those taken on a longer hike. These activities may require not only some physical preparation (such as some extending bike rides to become fit enough for a longer ride), but also some planning of routes, supplies, and possible emergency matters.
Riding your bike with your dog can become an exercise program for a (human) sport or an actual sport for your dog. You can take the human out of a competition, but you can't take the competitive mind out of a human!
The above mentioned 20 Kilometer Endurance Test I encountered in a German Shepherd Club was part of a test required for certain activities for those more professional members. I personally (and my dogs even more) just enjoyed the challenge and the exercise. These tests were well prepared, the dogs trained and fit enough to compete and the entire process tightly monitored by veterinarians and professionals. The dog's feet were checked for sores and injuries and vital signs were taken during scheduled breaks. These dogs weren't just family members, they were often as trained and spoiled as a successful race horse; carefully chosen and prepared to be set up for success.
Some rescues have actually started to use Marathons/Runs for Fundraisers that are geared towards the human runner and his/her canine companion. And while this sport may still be trying to outgrow the child-size shoes, some have actually been quite competitive.
A domesticated wolf with the blood of a born long-distance runner in its veins may be a perfect training partner for a Marathon Runner; but it can also be a born athlete in itself. And what can be more efficient to provide the necessary daily exercise than something that simulates the running a wolf does naturally and daily?! But like with any sport involving animals, it is VERY important to take great care in the training and competing of these animals. Money and prestige have taken animal sports to great levels, but the lack of humane character in some individuals have also brought great suffering to those animals. Competitive minds tend to go to great lengths to succeed, often forgetting the impact and damage this success may inflict on the 'athlete'.
A sport should be a sport and reflect the same morals and honor one expects from a soldier serving his/her country. When animals get hurt in the process, it damages the fundamental pillars of what sport should be all about!
When I was little I lived at the edge of town and my 'backyard' was a former orchard. Our diet probably contained more apples, pears, plums, cherries and corn cobs from the farmers than any other 'normal' food.
One of the 'Schreber-Gaerten' in that area had a few ponies. We children were picked up and placed on the pony; and off we went. Eventually those short trips extended to hours and hours of riding through the German country-side. We knew every forest and every lake in our 'territory' and followed every promising trail. Only daylight and our appetites provided limitations.
While it seems that in America this freedom is restricted by "Keep out" signs and traffic, a large amount of public parks offer a great variety of trails available for walkers, bikers and riders alike.
Having had some experience with falls and usually favoring solitary rides, riding in small groups still has its advantage. Young and/or inexperienced horses and riders can find comfort, guidance and advise in small or larger groups. And in case of emergency help is easier found in groups than alone in the wilderness.
The basic supplies needed are similar to those for the hiker and biker with his/her canine; of course adjusted to the needs of a horse. In addition to standard things such as water and First Aid kits, some more experienced riders may benefit from the tools to remove or re-attach a lose horse shoe. I always found that insect repellent is a treasured commodity when riding in the woods. I am a firm believed that horse-flies are named as such due to their size equaling the size of a full grown horse. These flies and mosquitoes can make a rider and horse very uncomfortable and in their 'activities' can spook a annoyed horse or allow a arm-swing for protection rider to accidentally spook a horse. And while increasing the speed can temporarily bring relief from these pesty critters, experience taught me that you can't outrun them!
Like with any other longer trip, careful preparation and planning is necessary. Fitness and training of the horse and rider can become as important as the horse's familiarity with traffic such as tractors and Semi-Trucks. And should one decide to take the dog, it is necessary to ensure that both dog and horse are familiar with each other and the dog can be restrained properly if necessary.
The ultimate fun within a trip on horseback lies within the magic of a camping trip. If you haven't had the pleasure of doing such yet, you haven't had all the fun that horseback riding in the Country can offer!
Training & First Aid
In addition to being physically fit, well familiar with a bike and have the appropriate amount of experience to ride a horse outside a fenced in area, some additional training can come in handy.
I personally feel that every teenager & adult should have the basic understanding of First Aid. But when going on long hiking, biking and riding trips into the 'wilderness' it can become even more important to be familiar with necessary responses to an emergency.
There are multiple First Aid courses available for humans, dogs/cats and horses, but one of the most well-known and probably easiest to find series of courses are available through your local American Red Cross.
Here is a website with some information on First Aid courses for your pet:
Here is also a more local example for the Red Cross chapter in Greensboro, NC and the courses offered:
While having a great First Aid kit with you can be life-saving, it becomes a challenges when you are unable to use it properly.
Below are a few more links with First Aid kits and information available:
Here is an example for a snake-bite kit. I am no expert with snakes and the value of these kits, but in Texas we always carried at least one during our K-9 Search & Rescue Training.
Please be advised that I am not affiliated with these companies/websites and have no further information on them beyond having found them in a web-search.