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How can I avoid rattlesnakes on the trail?

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  • How can I avoid rattlesnakes on the trail?

    Im starting to have second thoughts about trail riding. Yesterday, our older dog was just outside our fenceline when she yelped and ran up to the barn. She had been bitten by a rattlesnake. I had been doing some yard work right next to that spot and had NO clue that there was a snake there. Didnt hear it rattle....and now Im spooked.

    We took the dog to the vet - luckilly she had already received her rattlesnake shot but her face today looks like a basketball. She is miserable. And still dripping blood. Poor girl. (we are going back to the vet this afternoon)

    So I have been loving the trail riding we can do up here... but now Im totally freaked about the snakes. What can I do when riding to make sure the snakes know we are coming? I would think the snakes would want to avoid us just like we want to avoid them......but maybe the snakes dont really care and dont mind biting! Can they sense when we are coming? Any ideas on how to make sure they would rather leave us alone?

    awful stuff!

  • #2
    As a short answer: You can't, they're out there, you're riding in their territory. BUT learn their habits. I see them most often in the late afternooon/evening, as they're coming out of their hiding spots and laying across trails to warm up. I rarely see them at high noon. They hide under rocks and ledges, don't walk or reach there. Don't have your horse step over something you can't see (like a downed tree or large rock). I think snakes are there but hear our vibrations and move off.

    I've had two incidents on single-track trail that were the nerve-racking. One I slowed, watched the snake slowly slither away. He took his sweet time, but my horse knows to stand patiently, and we did till the snake was long gone. Another time the lead horse in the group ran right over the snake! Then he started slithering down the trail towards me (the second rider in back), the snake was just getting away from the thing that ran him over! I was glad my horse knows how to back and turn on the hindquarters, we just backtracked a bit and waited.

    Remember they can strike the length of their bodies. So if one is rattling next to the trail, just wait, back off, he'll move on. They don't want to bite you or your horse, you are too big and not prey for them, but of course it is their only defense. Teach your horse basic trail maneuvers, make sure he listens well, pay attention (though not so focused you make the horse nervous) and ride.

    If you're extra worried, in my area there is also a vaccine for horses just being introduced. I know it depends on the type of rattlesnake, and they said it would help but the horses still need treatment. Just another option.
    "Do your best, and leave the rest, twill all come right, some day or night" -Black Beauty



    • #3
      Don't ride out. That's the only way to avoid them.

      I live in Phoenix AZ and I see upwards of 3 rattlers on each ride depending on how far we go. Doesn't matter if it's around the corner or if we've trailered out 20 miles away. They are everywhere.

      My dog got bit as well about a month ago. Luckily it was only on his foot. He recovered fine after a trip to the doggie hospital. He's on strict leash-only status until it cools back off, which isn't until Thanksgiving out here.

      Most of the time the snakes can feel the horses walking up and will warn you. Unless you are bushwhacking, you should be ok. I try to stay on trails and I'm always watching out. It's just how it is if you want to trail ride around here.

      Out of all the times I've come across a rattler on the trail, I've never had one strike. Coil and warn, yes, but strike out, no.

      Good luck. (and hope the pooch is ok!)


      • #4
        After years of riding in rattlesnake country we have only ever seen two while riding and both of them were trying to get away. I think they can sense the heavy hooves and get/stay out of the way. Horses are generally moving faster too so you're over the top of them before you realize they're there a lot of the time. They are passive if they can be but not fun if they go on the attack.

        Of course think about your time of day and how that affects it, watch the shadows in the day, watch the hot trail during the cool hours, think about water sources, watch for snake tracks across the trail to tip you off to where they are hanging out...

        We always have our dogs with us and I think that has helped too-our dogs have never been bitten on a ride, just around the house for some reason.
        “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey


        • #5
          Don't put out "hater" vibes to them. Several times, I've almost stepped on one hiking with dog, while paying insufficient attention, & they just lay there, realizing that I meant no harm. Recently, I really tuned into one's being really tuned into my intent, & as soon as he saw that I just wanted to go by the trail that he was lying across, he obligingly cleared out. It's like horses, they're good at reading intentions. Linda Tellington-Jones has a neat snake story in one of her books, describing the same thing.


          • #6
            I just moved to an environment with rattlesnakes. In six months, I have encountered 2. I was warned and my horse, who has never encountered one, stopped in her tracks and did a perfect pirouette. I would love to take my dogs trail riding with me but I am too afraid they will get bit. I have researched and spoken to many people from the area and they have advised me that a rattlesnake bite to a horse or dog (excluding the face), will not be fatal. From what I have seen, the late afternoon sun attracts the snakes to the warm rocks. So, if a rider avoids these areas and sticks to well groomed trails, the chance of an encounter will diminish.


            • Original Poster

              Thanks for the input. This afternoon, our dog's face swelled enormously. We hustled her back to the Vet and thankfully this evening after additional meds, it appears she will survive.

              Some of the trails we ride are wide, and well maintained which make it fairly easy to tell "who or what" is out there. Unfortunately for us, we have to ride a ways down a narrow somewhat weedy trail to get to these main trails - and that is where we encountered the rattler.

              Think we will spend some days with our tractor widening and clearng the trail - although its not "ours" so hopefully the owners (who dont live in the area) will appreciate our efforts....

              In the meantime, Ill try to ride in the cool of the mornings and keep my eyes open on the trail....


              • #8
                I just get a feeling in the pit of my stomach...call it a "snake sense" and you better believe I pay attention to it!


                • #9
                  Originally posted by irish_horse View Post
                  (like a downed tree or large rock)
                  Ah-ha. That's why my old boy spooks at logs, tree stumps and large rocks. He's never lived in rattlesnake country, though.

                  OP, hope your doggy gets better soon!


                  • #10
                    you need to spread a load of mothballs on the trail, they are cheap to buy and the snakes hate them and stay away !


                    • #11
                      Most of the time, I just spot the snakes and watch them slitter off. Every once in a while, One will coil up and rattle. Just back off and go around.

                      Sometimes my horses see them first. If the snakes are quiet and not moving. I usually see them first. The horses don't seem to be tuned in to long skinny things laying on the ground.

                      We don't have a lot of rattlers. I'll see 5-6 per summer. They are found more in the lower elevations, and once it gets hot, I'm heading for the mountain tops and cooler tempetures.


                      • #12
                        Also keep in mind the time of year: when snakes are moulting (shedding their skin), they are extra crabby and can't see well either, so they are more likely to strike.

                        I have to admit I really enjoy living in a place where we have ZERO poisonous snakes... although we DO have bear, cat, moose and (I'm told) wolves.

                        I think I'd be more afraid of the snakes.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by daisyduke View Post
                          ... I have researched and spoken to many people from the area and they have advised me that a rattlesnake bite to a horse or dog (excluding the face), will not be fatal. ...
                          May not be fatal but can cause severe damage and a very LONG recovery. A friend's horse got bitten on his leg in his stall. He had a six month recovery period before he could be ridden and still has some issues with that leg. There is a well known rider, whose name escapes me at the moment, that chronicled her horse's long road back from a rattlesnake bite.
                          "And I will be an embarrassment to all
                          Who have not found the peace in being free
                          to have a horse as a best friend."


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Linda View Post
                            We took the dog to the vet - luckilly she had already received her rattlesnake shot ...

                            ...awful stuff!
                            I've never heard of a rattlesnake shot. How much are they? How effective are they? Anything to worry about, like, significant side effects?
                            "Random capitAlization really Makes my day." -- AndNirina


                            • #15
                              I rarely see snakes when I ride out, they tend to move out of the way before we make are way up to them. Most every one I see is heading out of the way. The only one I worry about out here are the Mojave Green Vipers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crotalus_scutulatus which are a nastier rattler variety. But as you get to know your area and learn the snake habit you will start to know what areas are better left unexplored, and so there are places I just do not go because we know the Greens populate those areas more.

                              Don't live in fear, just be aware
                              “Four things greater than all things are, - Women and Horses and Power and War”


                              • #16
                                Worst case scenario (horse being bitten) is not the horror you might imagine. My big TB, who should be named Murphy's Law, was bitten while I was riding him in 2001. My husband's horse was in front of us and must have gotten the rattler moving, my boy got bitten on his left foreleg, on the back of his leg about halfway up the cannon bone.

                                The first indication was a big flinch. He walked on about ten strides, THEN the snake started to rattle. As soon as we heard the snake, my horse started to limp. I got off, got to a clear area, and sent my husband back to get the trailer. We were about 100 yards from a road. Got the horse on the trailer and back to the barn within 40 minutes. Started hosing, got the vet there about 20 minutes later, and he got steroids and antibiotics. The fangmarks were wide! BIG snake.

                                The swelling was bad, despite the immediate and ongoing treatment. The upper part of his leg swelled to the proportion of a very fat human thigh, and the skin wept serum but did not split or necrose. 9 days later, I hauled the horse to a hunt meet to be included in photographs. He was so good, I ended up riding that day and he was fine. I know now that horses that have sustained snakebite are suceptible to heart attacks for about a year post bite.

                                This all sounds bad, but I have been around two horses now that have been bitten while under saddle, and both horses made a full and relatively speedy recovery. So keep an eye out, cross your fingers, and enjoy your rides. There is an interesting theory I heard recently about rattlesnakes: humans have killed so many that rattled in warning, that we have inadvertently selectively bred quiet snakes.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by irish_horse View Post
                                  If you're extra worried, in my area there is also a vaccine for horses just being introduced. I know it depends on the type of rattlesnake, and they said it would help but the horses still need treatment. Just another option.
                                  In southern a California there's also an equine rattlesnake vaccine. My vet is offering it to anyone to who wants it. She's told me that it MAY help lessen the severity of symptoms, it may not.

                                  Has anyone used it ?


                                  • #18
                                    We haven't bothered with it, because of the maybe/maybe not aspect.
                                    “Four things greater than all things are, - Women and Horses and Power and War”


                                    • #19
                                      I can't tell you how many times I've been riding with friends, watched their horses step over rattlers on the trail, and then informed them oh, 100 yards later, so that when they get the heebie-jeebies the snake is not in the neighborhood. Truly, it's not something I worry about (but then I caught and kept non-poisonous snakes as pets in my youth, so I suppose I'm weirder than most).

                                      They are most active morning and evening. In the heat of the day, they'll be in the shade somewhere. There are trails I do avoid in snake season, because if they are sunning on a rock which would be at my elbow, and the other side of the trail is a drop off, I'd rather not test to see what might happen. But other than that, no worries.

                                      Dogs are more apt to find them if tagging along on the trail, because they'll go nosing around in those shady spots. The biggest issue is not the venom, but necrosis and infection from the bacteria in their mouths. Huntsmen I know out west have carried shots combining steroids and antibiotics to be able to treat hounds that get bitten (although more frequently the hounds need removal of porcupine quills, and thankfully that isn't very often!).

                                      A horse getting bitten has not been a bad thing in my experience (knock wood), but it could be. Of particular concern would be a bite on the horse's nose, the swelling could cut off breathing. So some folks carry lengths of garden hose to insert in nose if need arises, to assure air supply.


                                      • #20
                                        I hope your dog is ok. Beyond clearing trail and keeping the horse's nose away from trunks and debris, I don't think there is anything you can do.

                                        Male rattlesnakes have deeper darker tones of black, wander larger areas in search of mates, and are more aggressive during breeding season - June/July. And yes, they can jump at least the length of their body so be careful.