You are heading out for a dream vacation on horseback. How do you pack, and what do you need to think about before you go? What do you need to figure out when you get there? No worries, I have a handy checklist for you.
by Liv Gude
Before you go on your riding vacation:
-Plan on what to wear. This is perhaps the hardest part of getting ready for any vacation, and for a horse vacation you have a few more things to think about.
The easiest way to plan your vacation wardrobe is to ask! Talk to the managers of your riding destination to find out if it’s jean or breeches, formal or casual.
Next, get to know the climate of your destination! Is it rainy season? Are the temps in the triple digits, or is your destination extra windy? The weather will dictate the general theme of your riding apparel.
Now for a few extra tips: Pack clothes for riding that you know are comfortable for extended hours in the saddle and on the farm. If you are using jeans, flat inseams are the way to go. Test drive any new clothes at home. During warmer seasons, you may be tempted to go with a tank top. Opt for a light colored long sleeve shirt instead to ward off sun, bugs, and dust. Collars are great for popping up and protecting the back of your neck, and for channeling your inner 80’s. Shoes should have a heel and ankle support. Paddock boots are a good place to start. Resist the urge to wear a giant pair of cowboy spurs to fit in. You will probably spook your horse, and when not on your horse they make for a wonderful way to fall over yourself.
Bring your own riding helmet to assure a proper fit. Otherwise, you may be stuck wearing a helmet that also doubles as a science experiment.
-Research the surrounding areas and culture of the region to which you are travelling. Ask the organizers about local customs, sayings, and traditions. Treats may not be appropriate for your horse in a new culture, and tips may be the only source of income for your guides.
-Plan on taking care of sore muscles. A long day in the saddle can impact your bum, and you may have stiffness or soreness in your back, neck, or legs, too. Pack necessities for relief! Salts, topical creams, and anti-inflammatories are handy to have. You can never have enough ointment cream and bandages for any new blisters that pop up. Be sure the quantities you pack meet all travel guidelines if you are flying or travelling to another country.
-Take a few lessons if you are not a seasoned rider. Learn how to groom horses first! This will teach you a lot about reading their body language, as well as the safe places to stand and work around your horse. It will also boost your confidence with horses in general, and allow you to bond with your mount. This will also be a crash course as to how grooming really works – you transfer the dust and dirt from the horse to you.
You should also learn to post the trot. Posting the trot requires less balance, less core strength, and less practice than sitting the trot. Some horseback vacations offer trotting during the rides, in which case posting is the way to go. It can be done in all types of saddles, as long as you have correctly adjusted stirrups.
The last thing to learn is the emergency stop. You don’t need to find a runaway horse to learn this. (Thank goodness!) A horse at the walk or even standing will work. It’s important in an emergency stop to know to hold the reins and how to position your body. Even experienced riders need a brush up lesson on this!
When you arrive:
-Safety first. Your pre-travel lessons should help you here. If you feel unsure, ask for help. If you see others acting unsafely, alert the guides.
-Get to know your horse before grooming. Ask about quirks, favorite itchy spots, dislikes, etc. Spending some quality time with him on the ground will only benefit you as you ride. Watch for signs that your horse is not really grooving with what you are doing. Pinned ears, angry swishing tails, and horse teeth on your bottom are all signs that you need to change your communication methods.
-Use both hands to groom. This is double duty – it’s safer, and it helps you get to know your horse. Having a hand on your horse while the other one brushes can alert you to sudden movements, and reminds your horse to move in the direction away from you, just in case. It also works to create a bond, and will alert you to any lumps, cuts, or sore spots on your horse.
-Don’t be shy about asking for help. There are many cases where you may need to speak up. You may need a different horse if you are not comfortable around the horse with whom you have been assigned, or perhaps your saddle is about as cozy as a bed of nails. You may also need directions back to your hotel!
-Be aware of the varying skill levels around you. If you are an expert rider, cantering your horse off in front of a beginner can create a dangerous situation. If you are a beginner, ask for an appropriate horse and stick close to your guides.
-Have fun, take lots of pictures, and share your stories!
About the author: Liv Gude is a professional groom. After many years of grooming full- and part-time for several Olympians, Liv saw the need to bring professional grooms of all disciplines together in a supportive, informative community and to acknowledge them as skilled individuals, deserving of all the rights and respect that other professionals earn. She started Pro Equine Grooms, a community for Professional Equine Grooms which supports their short and long term career needs.
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