In days of old, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to travel long distance on horseback, but with the creation of horseless carriages and personal wealth to afford one, travelling this way had become a rarity. The horse became a luxury possession and initially was the domain of the wealthy for recreational riding.
Nowadays this isn’t the case. It has become a hobby and many horse owners are supporting their equine’s keep by doing more than one job. There are many equestrian activities, mostly to do with competition but there is one which is growing in popularity outside of the menages and cross country courses and that is Long Distance Horse Riding. There has always been a small contingent riding this way, but since the coming of the internet it has become much easier. It is no-longer a hack (a distasteful word!) which was a ride out for a few hours to a day, but the serious business of riding over days, weeks or years depending on what the rider wants to achieve. It is non-competitive and the rider travels at their own speed and is able to appreciate the area they are travelling through. The horse/rider relationship most definitely takes a change for the better and communication between them improves!
The internet is a fantastic tool to be able to plan ahead for accommodation, routes, advice and anything else the rider wishes to organise leaving less to chance. It also has created another tourist industry, accommodation providers specifically geared to riders with their horses and also Horse Holiday organising companies.
True Long Distance Riders decide their route and their daily travelling distance and will travel as light as possible without back-up, sometimes taking a pack-horse with them. Some camp and some B&B. It is surprising how little you need and how much you can pack into a small space! Whereas the Horse Holiday-er will choose to take back-up in the form of another person driving the vehicle and trailer to rendezvous points and carrying their luggage from one place to the next, often taking more than is necessary.
One thing that is important is personal safety especially if going into remote areas. It is wise to carry basic first aid kit for you and your horse and to inform someone of your route – do not stray intentionally from it. Mobile phones do have large blackspots so take a whistle and emergency food and water. Include in your kit an emergency blanket which is a small tightly folded sheet like bacofoil and can be bought from outdoor pursuit shops. There are a few low powered GPS type emergency beacons you can subscribe to, but there should be higher powered ones (Personal Locator Beacons) legally available on land towards the end of 2010 that are just purely a panic button and do just what they say on the package! Search and Rescue teams will be able to find you by accurate GPS locating co-ordinates. To take one with you is a matter of personal choice. It goes without saying it is really important that a rider is able to map read and use a compass. (There are places you can go to learn this skill by keying a search on the internet and finding one nearby.) Paper maps will never become redundant with use of GPS units as there is always the possibility of a flat battery!
Lastly feeding your horse. Most true Long Riders do not want to carry heavy feed with them. The exception could be with a pack horse in tow. During spring, summer and autumn there is usually enough herbage and water about for the horse to survive. Some riders stop once every hour and some stop for a good break, removing the saddle, midway through the day. If grass/herbage/water is scarce then they take the opportunity when it’s there. At the end of the day it’s better for the horse to be turned out on grass as it will prevent it getting stiff and will satisfy its natural instinct and graze freely. If riding really long distances then it is advisable to have rest days slotted in to the agenda.
To get started in Long Riding go to some of the ‘holidays with your horse’ companies or search for Long Distance Riding. There are people out there that can help get you going. Some will even ride with you. Above all its not rocket science, just a lot of common sense! Happy riding!