With stay at home orders in Indiana lifting, it’s time to hit some trails, while maintaining proper social distance, of course. My family and I were able to take our first long ride of 2020 over Memorial Day weekend. We rode for about 7 hours at the Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area.
For my Quarter Horse, Colonels Doc San Bar (Dusty) and I, it’s not uncommon to ride 8 or more hours in a day, three days straight, during peak trail riding season. Here are four things I’ve learned that make long-distance trail riding more comfortable and fun.
Fitness. Dusty and I start conditioning in early spring, building up from three, to five, to seven or more hours per week of riding. This year, conditioning consisted of taking virtual riding lessons to polish our skills, paired with riding the trails and gravel roads around home. I’ve also found that practicing yoga several days a week to maintain my own fitness and flexibility helps me last all day in the saddle and bounce back more quickly from any saddle soreness.
Equipment. Clean, good quality equipment is absolutely necessary to keep both Dusty and me comfortable on long rides. It took years of trial and error to find a saddle that fits Dusty’s short, wide back properly, but that’s a story for another day. The magic combination for us is a wide tree Tucker saddle on a 1” wool or fleece pad. I have multiple saddle pads that I clean regularly with a stiff bristle brush between washes; I like to be able to use a different clean, dry pad each day when riding multiple long days in a row. I also like a neoprene cinch that I can wipe down or clean with a soft brush to prevent sores and galls. I add a fleece seat cover for extra padding and to help my seat have more grip.
Packing. Here’s what I put in my saddlebags for a day ride: an apple or carrot for Dusty, beef jerky, granola or trail mix, 2 large bottles of water, hand sanitizer, compass, trail map, poncho, hoof pick, pocket knife, rope halter and lead, poncho, phone, car keys, Epi pen, and a couple Ziploc bags with toilet paper.
What to wear. Jeans are great for riding around home, but I’ve found English riding tights are absolutely the best for long distance riding because they are soft, breathable, and lack seams that can rub tender body parts raw. I also prefer lace up riding boots that can double as hiking boots when you want to (or have to) get off and lead your horse. Sometimes, I like to get off and lead Dusty for a mile or two to stretch my legs and give him a break. Sometimes, I like to tie Dusty and let him rest while I hike to see an interesting landmark. Sometimes, hiking is necessary, like the time Dusty developed a stone bruise while still a few miles away from camp, and I had to lead him, limping, all the way back.
I’d love to hear about your trail adventures, and how you pack and prepare for long distance trail riding. Find me on Facebook or Instagram @Dusty_Flame_and_River