Horseback Riding Vacation Tips For Non Riders
So, You Want To Do A Horseback Trip?
...but you have never actually ridden a horse. The idea is both exciting and intimidating. Is it even possible to do a multi-day riding trip when you have no saddle experience?
The answer is, emphatically, yes. It is quite possible for a reasonably fit and able-bodied person to find a barn or ranch that will take them on such an adventure, and there are even barns that will take the disabled and families with young children.
If you do your research and prepare yourself properly, you can enjoy any kind of riding trip and learn a lot about horses on the way.
Do Your Research
Not all barns will take beginners. Others have specific trips on which beginners are not welcome. Also, make sure that you know the liability rules for the country you are going to. On a recent trip to Wales, my husband, a perfectly competent rider, was forbidden to canter because their requirements for being allowed to do so were to ride to BHS Stage 2 level. (Which I found ridiculous as that includes being able to jump a 2'6 course...which I haven't done in years, although I suspect I still could on the right horse). They claimed it was because of liability and insurance, which may well have been true.
Also, make sure you know what kind of trip you want to take. Research the climate, terrain and riding style. In general, riding western is easier than riding English - I recommend that anyone who intends to learn both start with English, but for the casual rider, western is often better. Pretty much all trail riding and vacation barns and ranches in the US use western tack. In Australia, Australian stock tack is common. English barns all use English gear, although I'm told things are different in parts of continental Europe. Both are seen in New Zealand.
Do you want to camp, stay in a lodge, chase cows? All of these things are available, and be clear on your needs. Always call the establishment before booking and talk to them about how they keep their horses, where they get them, and what their policies are.
Prepare Yourself Physically
Horseback riding is hard work. It's not uncommon for people who have never ridden or who have only done one hour trail rides in easy terrain to think the horse does everything for you.
This is not at all true. Riding requires core strength, a good sense of balance and a certain amount of strength in the lower body. If you are not used to riding, it is a good idea to hit the gym for a couple of months before the trip. Do core exercises including crunches and reverse crunches (very important as riding works the core muscles below the waist, which are often neglected in fitness programs). Squats are also useful. Riding is not intense cardio, but does require endurance.
Stretching before and after getting on the horse will also help you avoid saddle soreness, but be aware that it is inevitable (I ride regularly and I still get saddle sore if I'm doing a longer ride than I'm used to). Make sure to take a supply of an over the counter NSAID (Tylenol works fine) just in case you end up needing it. Keep moving in the evenings so you don't stiffen up.
Here is a sample packing list. Many establishments, especially dude ranches and wilderness outfitters also provide lists. If so, use theirs, as they know what the climate is.
* Safety helmet unless provided by the establishment.
* Sturdy shoes or boots with a smooth sole and at least some flat heel.
* Two-three pairs of sturdy jeans that are in good condition.
* Tops suitable for the climate - avoid riding in short sleeves unless it is hot and humid and remember that light colored clothes are vital in the desert.
* Sun screen
* Insect repellent
* Painkillers - trust me, you may end up needing them.
* Rain gear - no ponchos, and definitely include rain pants. Just a slicker doesn't cut it when riding.
* Gloves - cycling or leather driving gloves are perfect, as are cheap riding gloves. Never ride in plain wool gloves - the reins will slip right through your hand.
* Long underwear if camping.
* Sunglasses (with a lanyard...if you wear prescription glasses you may also want one)
* Flashlight if camping - you really will need it
* A shooting stick or folding chair if camping
* Camera in a case with a lanyard.
1. Obey the instructions given to you by guides and wranglers. They know the terrain, they know the horses, and their job is to make sure you stay safe.
2. Pay attention. Keep a bit of distance from the horse in front of you if possible. I have, on rides, had people fall off right in front of me and had to stop in a hurry. Be careful about taking photos and if you have to stop and do something, make sure the wranglers are aware of this.
3. Do not drink before the ride or take medications you are not used to that might make you drowsy.
4. If you get saddle sore, do stretches and take a painkiller before bedtime. Okay. When you get saddle sore. It usually happens on the second day and is gone by the fourth.
5. Take every opportunity you can to learn. If they offer to show you how to tack up, groom, feed, take it. Learn to appreciate the wonderful animals. On one trip I tried my hand at roping stumps and gained a great appreciation for the skill of cowboys. (Yes. I was that bad).
6. In wilderness areas, follow the rules. Pack out what you pack in and never feed wild animals.
7. If you happen to be somewhere you can get bars, silence your cell phone. Cell phone rings can spook horses.
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