As you get your gear together and pack your trailer for a fun trail-riding adventure with your trusty steed, you may be wondering how much ground is safe on each day of your adventure. You need to consider several factors in your riding plans – terrain, general fitness of all the horses in the group, weather conditions and pace are all important factors.
Selecting the Pace
The total distance a horse will travel in a day is largely determined by the pace you set for the ride. A horse’s speed depends on its gait:
Walk: 4 mph Trot 8 to 12 mph Canter 12 to 15 mph Gallop 25 to 30 mph.
A typical horse can walk comfortably for eight hours, which means he could cover 32 miles in that time. However, many weekend warrior riders cannot stand in the saddle for eight hours. A fitter horse can cover more distance if he is able to trot or beat for part of the time.
Terrain and stance
It is important to consider the terrain your horse is navigating when determining how far to ride each day. Going up or down steep hills puts more stress on your horse’s limbs and cardiovascular system than traveling on level ground. If the terrain is hard or rocky, concussion is more pronounced on your horse’s hooves and joints, so you will want to reduce the distance you travel in that terrain and slow your pace. Very deep mud or sand is more stressful on the tendons and ligaments of your horse’s legs than firm footing, so pay attention in these conditions.
Consider weather conditions when planning your ride. Horses lose a tremendous amount of body water and electrolytes through their sweat. If a horse becomes dehydrated or electrolyte depleted during a ride, there can be serious health consequences. Plan frequent stops during very hot and humid weather. Administer electrolytes during long rides when your horse is actively sweating. In hot, windy weather with low humidity, sweat evaporates quickly – making the horse appear dry even though he is losing electrolytes and water through his sweat. Horses should always be ready to eat and drink during a ride. If your horse is not ready to eat when you stop to offer a bite of grass, he may become exhausted and may have to stop for the day.
Health and fitness
All riders in a group should plan your pace and distance based on the least fit horse in the group. Older horses may have a touch of arthritis in your joints. They might be willing to keep up with your younger trail partners, but may become lame after an intense ride. Horses are strongly in tune with other members of your groups and will push themselves beyond what is safe to stay with the group. It is the rider’s responsibility to prevent a horse from overexerting himself. If your horse is not exercising regularly to build up his cardiovascular fitness, don’t let him overdo it on a long trail-riding adventure. Tired horses are more likely to stumble and injure themselves. Keep the pace slow and relaxed, and enjoy the company of your fellow riders and the beautiful scenery.