Being prepared when trail riding when you become the prey
There is a beautiful area with tons of trails that people use for biking, jogging, walking dogs and kids close to my barn. I have ridden all the trails in this area and have been doing this for years both alone, with my very level headed and reliable QH. We have had great rides in there, seen many bears and deer over the years. No big deal. There is always tons of people in there at any given time in the day. Sometimes I pass hundred or so people. In the past month there has been a cougar in the area that has stalked a couple of people and even chased a truck that had a dog barking in the back of it. Anyway, there has not been any sightings recently and being that we have never had any issues we went down for a ride, me NOT on my older reliable horse but my 5 year old. Anyway, we are on the top trail, one girl on her pony in front, me on my horse being a major pain in the butt up until this point, fighting me every step which I am not impressed with, and a friend of mine at the back. We are on the trail heading home...it is a long straight trail. We had just mentioned how quiet it was that there was no birds or anything making noise and that we had not seen one person at all. Looking back two big signs of something possibly lurking around. Girl on pony turns around quickly and I see her horses eyes and the girls eyes are about as big as her pony's,,,,I look past them down the trail and a cougar is walking towards us. We turn around and walk away (don't know if this was right or not), but we did...my horse spooks and backs up slightly rearing and ends up in a ditch...I get him out back on the trail and I decide for mine and his safety I will get off and walk him I'd been fighting him the whole ride and this wasn't the time to go sideways. We walk about 10 minutes and are on the trail heading back to the main trail to get out and I hear cracking in the bush alongside the trail we are on probably about 30 feet into the bush. None of us say anything, we get back to the main trail and get back out onto the main road. Only when we got back into civilization did we ask each other if anyone heard the branches cracking in the bush and we all did and realized that it was paralleling us. I was so scared I was shaking, sweating profusely and even felt like I couldn't breathe at one point. It took about an hour to finally get myself together completely. Sooo....here's my questions after all of this:
1) What should we be carrying to protect ourselves: Bear spray, knives, etc.
2) What is the right thing to do when you see a cougar while riding. Thinking of safety of the rider and the horse. Our horses were not going to face it and stand still.
Any other advice would be welcome. I know we (I) probably did a lot of things wrong and probably shouldn't have gone into the trails in the first place. It is only when you are in situations like this when you realize that things can and do happen and that you really don't know how to deal with them.
Thank you for any advice or suggestions. I am now calm, and enjoying a beverage to further calm my nerves.