Self-defense, first response on four legs

November 19, 2018

MOUNT VERNON — It’s easy to feel protected against assailants while atop a 1,200-pound horse — but equestrians are sometimes just as vulnerable to attackers as people on foot, instructor Lucinda Blenis said at a horseback self-defense class Saturday.

If a horse shies and the rider falls off while being attacked, they’re even more as risk, she said.

Trail riders in particular are at risk of being attacked, instructor Patrick Welsh said.

“There’s a lot of very weird people out in the woods,” he said.

That’s why the Skagit Chapter of Back Country Horsemen hosted the clinic, chapter member Marilyn Pineda said. Over the past several years the group has seen a rise in people hanging around the Les Hilde Trailhead, she said.

While no member has been approached or harmed, Pineda said, some riders feel uncomfortable and at-risk.

“People were beginning to develop a hesitancy to use the trailhead,” she said. “We can’t have that.”

So Pineda invited Blenis and Welsh, who run a horseback self-defense and first-response training program based in Pennsylvania called The Tactical Horseman.

“I always thought, ‘Who would approach me on a horse?’” Blenis said. “But if someone is going to approach me aggressively while I’m on this animal that could kill them — they have only one thing on their mind, and that’s to do me harm.”

People preoccupied with getting their horses ready to ride in a trailhead parking lot are also perfect targets, Blenis said.

At the clinic, attendees learned on-ground, self-defense tactics, how to use common riding gear like whips and spurs as weapons, and how to use their horse against an attacker.

Walsh started The Tactical Horseman about three years ago after witnessing riders’ lack of preparedness to help a young girl injured on a trail ride. He noticed riders rummaging through saddle bags struggling to access First Aid materials.

“I thought, ‘There must be a better way to do this,’” he said.

That moment led Walsh to develop military-inspired equestrian gear to make life-saving equipment more accessible and then to begin teaching first response and self-defense geared toward horseback riders.

“There’s a need for equestrians to learn how to take care of themselves until they can access help,” Walsh said.

For Pineda, she said the clinic was all about “being proactive rather than taking on attitude of a potential victim.”

Trish Groda, one of the about 40 people in attendance, said she came because she’s known equestrians who had run-ins with “unsavory” people out on trails.

“(Self-defense) is just something I think is really important,” she said.

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