How to prepare for an Equestrian Journey
We at The Long Riders' Guild have had so many queries from people wanting to make a horseback trip that we have put together these few notes. We have assumed that you are familiar with horses and that you can ride! By this we mean that you have REAL experience of caring for a horse on a daily basis , that you can recognise a horse that is lame or sick, or even just a little 'off-colour', that you understand the principles of feeding and first aid. In the absence of this essential understanding of 'the way a horse ticks' you put your horse, and therefore yourself, at unacceptable risk by embarking on such a journey.
The first piece of advice from The Long Riders’ Guild is – do not listen to anybody who has not ridden at least five hundred miles on one journey! Trail riders, weekend riders, and equestrian tourists lack the necessary experience to advise you, for example, on how far you can travel in a day and how much weight you can expect your horse to carry on a Long Ride. If you want first-hand knowledge about the rigours of Equestrian Travel, then ask a Long Rider, not a weekend warrior!
Beware of predators! There are those who trawl the Internet looking for people like you. If they find you, they will almost certainly approach you and offer you assistance. If, therefore, you are contacted by anybody who is not on The Long Riders' Guild website, please take great care. If they're not in the Guild, there's a reason.
On the other hand, do ask for advice about local conditions from local people. They will know about poisonous plants, quicksand, and other perils.
CHOOSING YOUR HORSE
Your "Road Horse" should be neither too old nor too young, but between six and sixteen years old. He should be calm, sensible in traffic, and able to be tethered and hobbled.
Do not look for a show horse! Horses intended for the show ring have been bred for looks, not performance.
Do not set your heart on a particular breed! The ideal Road Horse is one who enjoys travelling, can eat and drink anything, has good, strong feet and is happy being in a new place every day. This is a state of mind, not a breed.
Try to find a horse that is not too big and not too small. There is no point in getting a 17 hand (172 cm) horse unless you are exceptionally tall! Some of the smaller native breeds are very strong, and need less grazing than bigger horses. Bear in mind that a horse should not be asked to carry more than a fifth of its weight. The ideal Road Horse has to be strong enough to carry you through adverse conditions for months on end, as well as having the emotional courage to face the hardships of the road with you.
Consider having the horse vetted to check its heart, feet and eyes, but do stress to the vet that you will be travelling with the horse, not galloping or jumping, and that it is his stamina that needs to be ensured.
If you already own a horse, ask yourself if it is fair to take this horse on a Long Ride? Does it have the emotional and physical stamina that he will require? If you have any doubts, leave him at home and buy another horse. Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgement, otherwise you and your horse will both suffer.
Saddle-sores are the greatest danger for Long Riders. It has been estimated that no less than 80% of saddles do not fit correctly! The majority of saddles have been designed for sporting events, not for travel.
The saddle you choose should be fitted to the horse (preferably by a saddler) and be as light as possible. Do not economise – cheap saddles are often expensive on the horse. If it does not fit correctly, no amount of padding will correct the problem after a saddle sore has occurred, but a good saddle pad – made from natural material like wool – is a worth-while investment.
A lightweight, correctly fitted saddle will make or break your horse – and your trip.
Long Rider Lisa Wood used two pads - a cushion felt pad folded inside a woven wool blanket, and she used the pads under her bedroll at night. As she points out, "The nice thing about a folded wool pad is you have four clean sides to work with and you can move it around as one side gets soiled."
While the old-fashioned leather ones are smart and durable, they are heavy and require saddle soaping. Saddlebags made of new, high-tech materials are lighter, need no attention other than a quick wipe-over, and are waterproof. The disadvantage of nylon saddlebags is that they will cause the horse to sweat where they touch his body. Really tough canvas is a good choice, too.
The main danger in using saddlebags is that they have been designed for the weekend trail rider, whose horse only has to carry him and the bags for a couple of days. The temptation to fill up these nylon "trunks" may lure you into putting far too much weight on your riding horse.
These too can cause terrible saddle-sores so, again, make absolutely certain it is a good fit for your horse. Consider an adjustable pack saddle, which will enable you to adjust it if the horse loses or gains weight on the trail. They have the benefit, too, of fitting various horses, an important consideration on Long Rides through various countries.
Our motto at The Long Riders’ Guild is, "The more you know, the less you need." Almost everybody starts out with far too much gear, and jettisons most of it along the way. Obviously what you actually do need depends on whereabouts in the world you are travelling – requirements for Long Riders in the Rocky Mountains are different from those who are riding around in Europe. See "Equipment" below.
In any event, for a Long Ride you should not ask your pack-horse to carry more than a hundred pounds of gear. 100 pounds of dead-weight on your pack-horse is much harder for him to carry than a human being’s weight. Experience shows that it’s not the kilometres that are the enemy of the Road Horse, it’s the kilograms.
Because of the inherent difficulties associated with Equestrian Travel, your daily mileage will vary, depending on the terrain, weather, availability of water and grazing etc. If you are graining your horses, then you might aim to average about twenty miles in a day.
Time to travel
Give your horse a good feed of grain at sunrise. While he eats, pack up your camp and take a light breakfast. As soon as you have both eaten, saddle up. Give your horse frequent breaks, and consider the cavalry system of 10 minutes’ grazing every hour. By starting soon after daybreak, you will have completed that day’s journey by early afternoon. Only Long Riders understand that you need the afternoon to make arrangements with the locals, find a good campsite, and obtain food for yourself and your horse. Your work starts when the horse stops!
Be considerate about where you let piles of horse poop sit around. In most places in the US it is polite to give it a good whack with your boot so it disintegrates.
Most Long Riders agree that one day off is not enough for either the horse or the rider. The horse does not have time for sufficient rest and feed, while the rider rushes about on his "day off", going shopping and doing laundry etc.
We recommend two days off every seven days or so, or more frequently if you are at high altitudes, in great heat, or where the terrain is very difficult for the horse.
As stated above, the amount of gear you need to pack will depend upon where you are travelling. The basics consist of a tent, sleeping-bag, a canvas bucket to water the horse, brushes to groom him, a hoof-pick, knife, a cooking pan of some kind, a set of scales to weigh the packs, a change of clothing, duct tape, and maybe a stove of some kind. You should definitely take a comprehensive equine first-aid kit.
The outdoor adventure gear market now has the most amazing lightweight fabrics. For example, the equipment which a hiker needs for an expedition in the mountains only weighs about 14 pounds on the average nowadays.
Visit our Equipment pages to check out equipment which has been tried and tested by Long Riders under the most gruelling of conditions!
For a journey in Western Europe or the United States, finding a farrier to re-shoe your horse should not be a problem, although Europeans should bear in mind that anybody in the US can call himself a farrier, without necessarily having undergone any training.
But in many parts of the world, horse-shoes and/or farriers simply do not exist!
If you are travelling in these regions, check out alternatives to the traditional iron horse-shoe. Even if you learn to shoe your horse yourself, iron shoes are much too heavy to carry. If you are travelling with more than one horse, it will make life much easier if they have similar-sized feet!
Many maps are flat-faced liars! They are liable to show springs that have been dried up for years, indicate bridle-paths that have been blocked, omit recently-completed roads and, worst of all, they give you no idea if the road you wish to travel on is safe for horses.
That said, you obviously do need them, and should get the best ones you can afford. Consider having them laminated so you can read them easily even in the pouring rain.
Google Earth and a Long Rider have changed all that! Click here for the 21st Century solution to the "flat-faced liars"!
A Warning about Social Media
The world is full of equestrian travel books that no one remembers. Why? Because they're ‘dreary daily diaries.’ They recount every last detail. They tell what the traveller ate. How he suffered. How he won though - again. Ad nauseam. New electronic technology allows you, the 21st century traveller, to spam the rest of us with too much detail. This recently happened with an expedition in the Arab world. People were so antagonized by the constant deluge of trivia connected to this so-called "amazing" adventure, they disconnected from the traveller. If you reveal every aspect of your trip, what will you have left to say when your journey is over? If you've killed the suspense, who will want to read your story? You are facing an unprecedented type of Long Rider problem. You can tell us everything. Don't. Maintain your dignity. Make them want to read your posts. Keep them in suspense. Otherwise you're in danger of becoming a new kind of mounted phenomenon - an equestrian bore.
Ultimately ask yourself 4 questions
Finally, we cannot emphasize enough the need to listen: listen to your horse, listen to your own body, listen to nature, and listen to the locals.
(These notes were compiled by Jeremy James, Barbara Kohmanns, Basha O’Reilly, CuChullaine O’Reilly, Mary Pagnamenta, Günter Wamser, Sharon Muir Watson, and Lisa Wood.)
If you wish for more assistance from The Long Riders' Guild about your trip, please contact us with the following information, which will enable us to help you most effectively.
What equestrian education have you had?
Approximately how far is this?
How much time have you allowed for your journey?
How soon do you plan to set out?
Will you be travelling alone?
If not, does your companion have any equestrian travel experience?
Tell us about the horses that you plan to use.
What riding and pack saddles will you be using?
Do you have sponsors/charities whose needs must be taken into consideration?
Why are you making the journey?
What will you be doing with your horses at the completion of the trip?
Are you willing to follow the guidelines set out by The Guild? These are:
- a determination to put the horse’s welfare above your own, both during the journey and at its conclusion
- acknowledgement of the assistance of The Long Riders' Guild and a copy of the LRG logo on your website
- a willingness to describe yourself as a Long Rider on your website and to the press
- at the conclusion of their journey, a readiness to share your individual experiences with would-be Long Riders
- It is The Guild’s job to reassure the public that they can trust the word of a Long Rider. Therefore, if the ride is for a charity, then the funds should be accounted for at the conclusion of the journey.
- The election of a new member to The Long Riders' Guild is conditional upon there being no legitimate objections from any current members.
And click here for some advice about where not to attempt an equestrian journey.
This information is trademarked by The Long Riders' Guild, the world’s first international association of equestrian travellers, and may not be duplicated in any way. It is provided free as an educational tool to serious students of equestrian travel.