Always fancied trying a horseriding trip? Read these tips first: they'll make the difference between an enjoyable journey and a literal pain in the backside!
So you want to do a multi-day horse trek. The first thing to choose is your destination and tour operator (the former usually dictates the latter). Now for the trickiest decision: what is your skill level?
Are you a regular rider? Or did you last ride when you were a child? Find out what level of rider you need to be for the specific trip you’re interested in. Do not overestimate your skill level. Yes, a lot of operators want you to pick their trip, but the good ones won't put you in a dangerous situation if you're not equipped to cope with it.
Don't choose an African wildlife safari on horseback if you're not able to handle a horse spooking at a lion or potentially needing to gallop away from an angry charging rhino. Equally, don’t choose a mountain trip if you’re scared of heights: a narrow mountain trail is ten times scarier on horseback.
What equipment is provided? Will the operator/organiser be supplying hard hats? And to what standard? Whatever the terrain you'll be traversing, hard hats should be worn. If you're thrown from the horse, it only takes a bang against the ground to cause life-changing injuries. And if hats aren't provided, are you willing to risk those sorts of injuries on a horse you don't know in terrain you're unfamiliar with?
Also, what about saddle bags? Will there be saddle bags for your day needs, to hold a water bottle and your camera? How will your big bags make it between overnight stops? If they're moved by horse/donkey then any bags normally need to be soft-sided duffel bags and certainly not hard sided suitcases.
Do they provide boots, waterproofs or chaps? It may save you from buying your own – or you might feel more comfortable in your own kit.
Pony trail adventure, Africa (Shutterstock)
What clothing will you be taking? Which trousers, for example, will you be riding in? While jodhpurs or riding jeans (not normal jeans!) are ideal, your packing space may not stretch to a full riding-only wardrobe if riding is only part of the trip.
Walking trousers are a good replacement for jodhpurs if they have a flat seam, but you risk the trousers riding up and your leg chafing on the stirrup leathers. Men in particular will find it uncomfortable as the hairs on your legs will get caught and pulled.
The solution is to invest in a pair of chaps: leg coverings. However, if you don’t want the complete cowboy look, half-chaps (covering from below your knee to your ankle) will suffice. If you don't want to buy a pair, double check whether chaps can be provided on the trip.
You will also need good boots with a stiff sole and a bit of a heel. If you're not taking dedicated riding boots then walking boots will suffice – just make sure they're not too wide for the stirrup as you run the risk of your foot getting caught if you have an accident.
If you're not a regular rider, have some lessons and hacks (rides out) before you go. This is probably the biggest tip to avoid becoming saddle sore and getting that John Wayne walk. It's all to do with lengthening the muscles in your legs and getting them used to holding a pose for hours at a time.
If you're going over up and down terrain, you need to be shifting your weight back and forth to help the horse with its balance. Also, if you're trotting, you need to be bringing your weight out of the saddle and gently back again – you can make yourself and the horse very uncomfortable by banging up and down.
The preparation will depend on the length of your trip, the terrain you'll be going over, your existing experience and how many hours per day you'll be in the saddle for. At a minimum for a five-day trek, you should be riding 2-3 times per week for 1-2 hours per session.
Horse riding in Monument Valley, United States (Shutterstock)
Despite not being on horseback for years, riding 2-3 times a week for 6 weeks before my 5-day riding trip on the Salkantay trail in Peru avoided any saddle soreness.
Lessons will give you much more confidence when getting on an unknown horse, and improve your balance too. You should be comfortable walking and trotting at the very least and – depending on your trip requirements – you may also need to master cantering, galloping and even jumping.
No doubt you'll want to take photos on your trip but think about the logistics first. Trying to hold a large DSLR camera while on horseback (even stationary) is not easy. It's also not comfortable to have it bouncing up and down on your chest when trotting.
Check whether a saddlebag is provided so you can keep your camera within easy reach. Or is your phone camera good enough for any in-the-saddle shots? You'll want an option that you can use one-handed, so you can still keep grip on the reins...
Are you covered for any mishaps? Most travel insurance companies need to be told you'll be horse riding – especially if it's over multiple days. Even though 'Activities' may be included in your policy, check exactly what is included. Horse riding tends to be seen as a high-risk sport.
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Don't forget to relax and have fun! Doing a trip like this creates a real bond between man and beast, and you'll get a unique perspective on your destination.
Main image: Silhouette of horse riders (Shutterstock)
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