Have you been enjoying the countryside from horseback all summer and now decided to take the next step and enter your first sponsored ride?
I know a few people who have either done their first one this year or are about to embark on it. They’re a lot of fun, but the only way to enjoy the spectacular scenery is to go prepared. Then you’ll spend less time worrying about the what ifs and more time enjoying your horse and company.
My first fun ride was as a sixteen year old, taking three nine year old girls round on their ponies. Now, I don’t think I would like that sort of responsibility, but ignorance is bliss and if I remember correctly we had a great time.
- Firstly, pick your company wisely. The more people you go with the more excitable things can be, so I would always limit my groups to a maximum of four, and then I would make sure I’d hacked my horse in a group of four beforehand so he was used to groups. Go with people who want to travel at your speed, and are able to. I mean, you don’t want to go with the long striding, bouncy ex-racer on your dumpy, steady cob because either you will be continually jogging to keep up or they will be constantly stopping to wait for you. Likewise, if you want to take it steady go with someone else who also wants to take it steady.
- If you or your horse are a first timer it’s alway worth telling the other person that, or going with someone who’s happy to look after you and has a sensible horse who won’t be upset if you have to stop for a bit or your green horse has a wobbly.
- When you get to the sponsored ride it’s worth setting off at a steady pace – most horses are fidgety with so many others around them, but having a good trot or canter away from the start can get rid of the excess energy and means that they are far happier to walk the majority of the ride.
- Beforehand it’s worth going on a long hack to make sure you’re both fitter and used to being out for a bit longer. After all, you’ll be spending two and a half hours in the saddle. If your saddle is really uncomfortable after a while then you’d better splash out on a seat saver!
- It’s also worth going for a fast canter in an open space. Regardless of how steady and sensible your horse is, a canter in an open field will always feel faster than a canter in the arena or along a track in the woods, so you don’t want to feel unnerved by the increased power and speed. Popping a little log will give you the feel for jumping in the open but don’t worry if you don’t want to because all fun rides have optional jumps.
- This is also a good time to test your brakes. There’s nothing worse than having your arms pulled out of their sockets for twelve miles because you kept your snaffle on. Some horses will be fine in their normal tack, but if in doubt then I always think a Dutch Gag is a useful bit to take because you can adjust the position of the reins on the day, which gives you a bit of flexibility and so confidence.
- I would also invest in a grab strap. Or “chicken strap” as one of my friend’s mother called it! It can be a martingale strap or an old stirrup leather round the neck to give you some security should you feel wobbly.
I think that’s all the preparation you can really do, but remember a sponsored ride is all about having fun, so make sure you go at the pace you want to, and don’t feel that you have to jump every fence, or that every field must be cantered through. Supportive and experienced friends are a must, to give you that extra boost of confidence. And don’t forget to collect your rosette at the end!