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Carrying & Managing Drinking Water on Rides

There appear to be various opinions on how to best manage your "carried" water when riding (or hiking). Many people seem to feel you should take small sips to "stretch" your potable water supply — that's a dangerous approach. There have been many deaths from dehydration and/or heatstroke over the decades of people who still had drinkable water in their canteens — that water did them absolutely no good in that canteen.

The very best place to carry water is actually in your stomach — when thirsty, drink. If you don't drink enough, you dry out, stop perspiring, and your core temperature gets even hotter. When that happens, you're entering into a life-threatening situation AND your reasoning power goes to pieces when you need it most. You'll not think as well nor as clearly, and even your balance will suffer — this is also not good — you're on a horse for crying out loud! And maybe in dangerous countryside, or steep hillside!

Instead, have no fear about drinking your water. Once it's gone, it'll be where it will do the most good for the longest period of time. You may still find yourself thirsty, but at least you'll be thinking straighter and your perspiration will be warding off heatstroke for a longer period of time.

Water Temperature and Salt
Don't worry about keeping the water cold. It'll warm up to air temperature as you ride and is just as valuable to your body. If a hot humid day, you may also want to include some salt tablets to keep your sodium and chlorine electrolytes up. You don't need to mix them with your water, just take them as pills with your water. The way you usually can sense your dropping levels of body salt is that you'll start getting some stomach cramps on a really hot day as you exert yourself.

And even though you're not able to keep your water cold, generally, clean water in your canteen should be safe to drink for two days or so. After that, bacteria levels are high enough that you'll need to sterilize that water (or replace it) for it to continue to be safe for ingestion.

When and How Much to Carry
But do you need to carry it on all rides? How much? What's the best way to carry it?

I carry at least a one-quart canteen on every trail ride, even a "planned" short ride. Why? There are many reasons; here are a few that happen occasionally:

  1. I may go out on a "short ride" just to find it's a wonderful day and my fellow riders and I want to change our plans to ride longer, or further.
  2. I'll be returning from a ride and will meet another rider out on the trail, or several, and we'll collectively decide to embark on another ride or to another location.
  3. I find the day is hotter or dryer than expected and I'm very thirsty, even though I didn't expect I would be.
  4. My horse or I get a bad scrape or injury somehow (I'm sure you know there are at least a hundred different ways that can happen) and I can use the water to clean the wound(s).
When any of the foregoing happen, I'm delighted I have water along.

When expecting a longer ride, I want to bring more water along and take at least two one-quart canteens. You can also get water bottles in sheaths with straps that clip to an available D-ring or footmans' loop. My only problem with these bottles is that most carry only 16 - 20 ounces of water — not nearly enough for me on a hot day. But they may do for a short ride and any amount of clean water when you need it is better than nothing.

Water for Your Horse
And DON'T FORGET your horse! He/she needs water too, and my fellow riders and I are always on the lookout for a clean, fast-flowing stream or brook of safe water to drink. On longer rides, I try to plan the trip with occasional drinks for our horses in mind and know from experience or from reviewing my maps where I should be able to find drinkable water.

As we get into the later (and hotter) summer months, it pays to remember that brook and pond levels will usually be lower, sometimes even stagnant or dry. We need to assure our horses can get drinkable water somewhere out on the trail — several times on longer rides. Unfortunately, it's not easy to carry along as much water as they require — we need to plan.

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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