How can I prepare for a long trail ride

You guys often ask me how you can prepare for long hours in the saddle and covering great distances on horseback during your horse riding adventures. In this blog I will be going over the best ways to prepare yourself and your horse for this type of long trail riding. Whether it be with your own horse at home, or by taking horseback lessons at a riding school. Stay tuned to hear about my upcoming adventure riding course as well!

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How can I as a rider prepare for a long trail ride?

Getting ready for a long trail ride is definitely not as hard as it may seem. You can train for long trails by taking more regular horseback riding lessons, or to prepare with your own horse at home. I will be going into detail about training with your horse at home below, so for now I will be telling you about achieving your goals through riding lessons. If you are already regularly taking lessons, great! Definitely continue with those, however, if you are mainly riding in an arena I recommend looking for ways to start trail riding. The only way to get in better shape for long distance trail riding, is simply to do more trail riding. The same way that to train for a marathon, you need to do more running. In the process of building up your fitness, listen to your body and take rest days.

The thing that is going to be the hardest on your body are long trots. Depending on which trail you will be doing, trots can last up to thirty continuous minutes. This isn't something most people do at home, and your body will be grateful if you practice beforehand. Something that will be a lifesaver during the trail is changing rein every now and then. For the preparation, your horseback lessons are the most important thing. See if it's possible to get a horseback guide at your riding school to accompany you on trails, and build up the duration of your rides accordingly. The great thing about lessons is that you have the opportunity to ride different horses. Of course you would like to ride your favourite every day, but it is super beneficial to regularly ride different horses at your school and get used to the difference in their gaits.

I've mentioned ways to stay fit for horse riding while traveling in one of my previous blog posts too. Keeping your body fit out of the saddle is incredibly important, also because you might have to get out of the saddle and hike for a while when you're tackling difficult terrain on horseback. Training your core and doing lots of cardio are the most important things. Your core is crucial to having a light, independent and balanced seat. You can train muscle groups at home or at the gym, as long as you feel strong in your own body. During long trots, canters or gallops on trail, your core might still get slightly sore the first few days. However, if you've trained your core at home, you'll recover much quicker. Cardio will safe your life towards the end of a long trail ride. Guides normally don't trot or canter in the last hour of a nine hour riding day but trust me, we want to. The only reason guides don't do it is usually because the riders are tired and they don't think they can trot anymore. For your body however, it's a lot better to stay active during that last hour than to walk at a steady pace the whole time. This is where cardio is so important, and you can let your guide know you're up for the challenge. Of course, the last twenty to thirty minutes are done at a walk to make sure the horses cool down.

Horse riding in the Netherlands on an arabian horse
Bats and I on our first long trail ride!

How can I prepare my horse for a long trail ride?

This can be because you'd like to do long outrides with your horse, or to train for a long horse riding trail elsewhere. Either way, building condition, balance and stamina together with your own horse is a great way to train. This means going on increasingly longer trails together, and getting fit out of the saddle for the both of you too. You can help your horse with strength training in the arena, for example with dressage exercises, groundwork or liberty. You can strengthen your core and improve your cardio during that time too. If you ride twice a week now, I recommend (depending on your schedule of course) going on a trail ride twice a week and doing arena work once. To make progress, be sure to go on plenty of trails (around 80% of your rides), but keep your riding varied by introducing liberty or doing arena work. If you are doing four arena rides per week with your horse now, make three of those trail rides. Every week, you can increase the duration of your trail ride and most importantly increase the amount of trotting on your trails. Trotting is the best tool to train endurance for both you and your horse.

If you are training for your horse riding vacation and aren't planning to take your own horse with you, you and your horse can still build condition and stamina together. I've mentioned before in other blog posts that an experienced rider could just throw themselves in the deep end, and without any training do five to eight hours in the saddle on holiday. However, your body will certainly not thank you after a week of pushing through the pain. No matter how experienced you are or how good your seat is, it's nice to increase your hours in the saddle gradually to enjoy your horse riding adventure the most. If this means you and your horse get to do more outrides together at home, all the better! 

The word long, or the definition of a long trail ride may vary a lot from person to person, and from horse to horse. To me, a long trail ride as opposed to a regular one would be way over six hours long and covering a large distance. This is because my regular day of trail riding as a horseback guide abroad would be around five or six hours. However, when I was a driven dressage rider in my teens, I considered a two hour trail to be very long as my dressage training in the arena only lasted twenty to forty-five minutes each day. The same goes for your horse. If your horse normally only trains for dressage or showjumping in the arena for a maximum of one hour a day, they will consider a two hour trail ride quite long. Also take into account how experienced your horse is on trails, as stress can make your horse feel like the trail ride lasted three hours, while in reality, you were out for only an hour. On average (this would be a horse that's somewhat used to going on outrides and is reasonably fit in the arena), your horse should be alright to start with one hour trails. Each week, increase the length of your trots by about five minutes and the length of your ride by twenty or thirty. If you have a very nervous horse with little experience riding outside of the arena, you could start with as little as fifteen minutes out on trail. My horse and I took it very slow, and we started with ten minute walks outside. We built up to twenty, thirty, etc slowly, so that we both felt comfortable and happy to head out. I backed and trained Bats myself, and she had never set foot off the property except the occasional trip to the farrier by horse-box. That's also why we took everything so slow, and I'm very happy we did as she is now confident, fit and excited to go on trails. You know your own horse best, and only you can estimate how much he or she is able to handle out on trail. Whether you start with ten minute trails or two hour trails, all that matters is that you increase the length over time.

Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any more questions about training yourself or your horse for long trail rides. At the moment, we are also busy creating a course about horse riding adventures, how to train, what to expect, adventure rides and extreme trail riding. It's a great way to educate yourself before heading out on an adventure and I will go into much greater detail about fitness too. In the course, experts in the field will also give you their best tips and tricks to prepare for trails that cover great distances. Currently, I am in the middle of the filming process and hopefully the course will be up for sale in September or October.

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