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Trip Preparation

So you have booked your trip.  You are bouncing with excitement to spend all day in the saddle for a week…maybe even two weeks!  But it may be that you haven’t ridden in a few years, or maybe you just recently started.  The following information is here to help you prepare for your adventure so you can make the most of every minute. 

Getting Fit / Safety / Grooming / Saddle Up / Bridling / Mounting / Riding Manners / Top

Getting Fit to Ride

A bit worried about being sore after spending 6 or 8 hours a day in the saddle?  Maybe you have just started riding, or haven’t ridden in a few years – but you want to make sure you get the most enjoyment possible on your Hidden Trails adventure.  The following are several easy out-of-the-saddle exercises you can use on a daily basis to help stretch, strengthen and tone important muscle groups to get you in shape for a great week of riding!

Shoulders, back, overall body
Practice good posture with your shoulders pulled back, and your back stretched tall.  Think about this when sitting at your desk, driving your car, and walking down the street.  This will help you have the correct position on horseback and strengthen your shoulders and back. 
An exercise ball is a great tool to improve your balance, strengthen your core, and can be used to strengthen specific muscle groups.  Trade the couch for the ball! An easy and effective start is to simply sit straight up on the ball with your feet on the floor and your knees at a 90 degree angle while watching TV or sitting at the computer.  Other exercises using the ball can be found here or ask for some tips at your local gym. 

Abs – sit ups and the Plank
Good riding is abs riding. This means that you need to really use your abdominal muscles to balance yourself, rather than clinching the horse with the legs. If your abs are weak, spend five to ten minutes a day doing crunches, and other abdominal exercises. Doing sit-ups with an exercise ball is up to 20% more effective.
Another good abs exercise is the Plank.  This is a yoga move but it is great for your core muscles. Put yourself into the pushup position but instead of leaning on your hands, lean on your forearms. Push yourself up so that only the balls of your feet and your forearms are touching the floor. Crunch your inner muscles as well. Hold for about 15 -30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 5 times depending on your fitness level. (A modified version is just being in the upper pushup position and holding). 

Inner thighs – beach ball, leg lift and/ or hip abductor
Your inner thigh is likely to be the sorest part of your body after a long day of riding, so be sure to do some exercises to strengthen these muscles!  Having a strong inner thigh is a great way to increase your ability to hang on to your horse with your legs.

Beach ball exercise:
Use any rubber or plastic ball as long as it is at least a foot in diameter.  Sit on the very edge of a hard chair so that your thighs are completely off of it and your knees are at right angles to the floor.  Place the beach ball between your knees.  Squeeze the beach ball between your knees, hold for fifteen seconds, and then release. Do this thirty times per day until it is easy, then increase to forty.

Leg Lift:
Lie on your left side with your head resting on a rolled-up towel to maintain proper alignment of your head, shoulders, and hips. Bend your right leg and rest it on the floor in front of you while extending your left leg straight with the foot. Slowly lift your left leg about six inches. Hold for a moment and then gradually lower the leg, beginning the next lift before your foot touches back down on the floor. After ten lifts, roll onto your right side and repeat. Complete 2 sets of 10 lifts with each leg. 2 sets of 10 repetitions each is a good starting point.
If you are a member of a gym use the "hip abductor" machine.  It is a very effective machine that works your inner and outer thighs. 

Calf - Stairs
Using a stair, stepstool, box or step, of a similar height (between 6” and 12”), stand on the stair with just the front part of your foot at the edge (about as much as would be in a stirrup). Slowly stretch down and lower your heels until you feel the stretch in your calves, and hold for ten seconds. Then, rise up to your tip-toes and hold for another ten seconds. Do fifteen repetitions until it is easy, and then increase to twenty.  This will help you learn to lengthen your leg in the stirrup. It will also give you more flexibility in the saddle.

Cardiovascular Conditioning
Try to fit in 30 minutes of cardio activity at least 3 times a week.  Walking, jogging, biking, dancing, a game of squash…anything that gets your heart rate going!  This will help you especially on rides that include greater amounts of trotting and cantering. 
Don’t forget to stretch!
WikiHow.  <http://www.wikihow.com/Get-Into-Shape-for-Horseback-Riding > Accessed February 24th, 2009. 

 BNET.  “Slim your inner thighs: three new moves to get you sleek and sculpted – Targettraining.” <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0846/is_4_23/ai_111146668>. Accessed February 24th, 2009. 



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Safety, and Caring for your Horse 

Many (most?) of Hidden Trails’ tours ask that you help care for the horse you are partnering with for the duration of your trip.  The purpose of this is not to make you work while your guide sits down with a cold one, but instead it is an opportunity to create a special bond with your horse.  While you won’t find yourself picking stalls or scrubbing water buckets, you will likely be asked to groom, tack, tie, and maybe feed your equine sidekick.  Be assured, there will always be a staff member around to help and teach you, but the following information can be used to refresh your memory on a few key horse-care points.   


No matter how gentle your horse, there is always the chance for injury when you are around it. A horseman keeps in mind that, in the wild, a horse is a “flight animal.” His defense from danger is to run away. If you are in the way, you could easily be hurt.  Here are a few tips to keep you out of harms way.   

1)      Plan ahead.  Make sure you know what you are going to do with your horse, and that there is adequate space and equipment to take those actions. 

2)      Do your best to not surprise your horse.  Speak to him when you approach so he knows you are there.  Don’t make any sudden loud noises that could spook him.  Be aware of activity and commotion in the surrounding area that could potentially surprise your horse.  While you may not be able to prevent a spook, it is important to be aware of what may startle him so that you are prepared to get out of the way.

3)      Don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t get out of the way when grooming, saddling or unsaddling your horse. For example, DO NOT push your way between the horse and the fence, barn or trailer to which he is tied. He might suddenly jump, step on you, or crowd you into a solid wall.

4)      When you walk around your horse’s hindquarters, either:

a)   stay in close and place your hand on his hindquarters so he knows where you are. By staying close, if he does kick, you will not receive the full impact; or

b)   Keep a wide birth, staying well out of kicking range. 

5)      Be aware of signs your horse is giving you.  For example, if he is pinning his ears, be very careful around his face and feet, as he may be preparing to kick and/or bite. If your horse is tense and focusing on something in the distance, he may be about to spook.  You may want to untie him if you are afraid he may pull back.  In any case, be sure you have enough space so you will not be stepped on if your horse does jump. 

6)      Tie your horse to a sturdy object and at wither height to prevent him from getting loose or stepping over his rope.  Use a quick-release knot so you can quickly free your horse if he sets back.  If you are unsure at all, ask your guide for assistance. 

7)      Always wear boots or leather shoes to protect your feet when you are working around your horse.  Nothing ends a trip’s fun like a broken toe!



Getting Fit / Safety / Grooming / Saddle Up / Bridling / Mounting / Riding Manners / Top



Grooming your horse is an important part of your riding experience.  Not only does it clean your horse, reducing the chance of him getting a sore from the tack, it also gives you the opportunity to get to know your horse.  The following are basic steps to safely groom your horse. 

1)      You should have quick access to a curry comb, body brush and hoof pick.  You may also want to use a finishing brush and tail comb. 

2)      Curry any dirt from your horse, paying special attention to where the tack will sit.  Follow with a body brush to whisk away all the dirt and dust that has been lifted by the curry comb.  Be sure to check for any cuts, scrapes, or swelling and alert your guide to anything you find. 

3)      Pick your horse’s feet before and after your ride to ensure a rock or other object is not lodged in his shoe.  Check his shoes to be sure they are all nailed on tightly.  Watch that your feet are out of the way if your horse was to drop his foot unexpectedly. 

4)      If you have a tail comb, be sure you stand to the side while you brush out the knots.  This keeps you out of kicking range. 



Getting Fit / Safety / Grooming / Saddle Up / Bridling / Mounting / Riding Manners / Top


Saddle Up!  

Since many types of saddles are used on Hidden Trail tours, your guide will give you a run down on how to saddle your horse with the specific tack you are given.  However there are a few things that apply to any saddle. 

1)      Check the blanket or pad for foreign objects such as dirt, straw or sticks. These will cause an irritation if placed against the horse’s back. Put the blanket and pad in place, always a little forward of where they actually belong. They are then slid back into position to “set the hair” on the horse's back.  This helps eliminate the possibility of saddle sores.

2)      Ensure all parts of the saddle are secure (cinch/girth, stirrups etc.) when you heave it onto your horse’s back.  You don’t want anything to slap against your horse’s side and spook him. 

3)      Check that the blanket or pad is not pressed tightly against your horse’s withers.  This is uncomfortable for your horse and may make him irritable. 

4)      Make sure you re-tighten your girth/cinch before you mount, and then check it again after riding for a moment.  Many horses will take a deep breath as you tighten the girth/cinch the first time, causing the saddle to be loose when you mount. Give him a chance to relax and completely exhale so you can get your saddle tight.



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Improper bridling habits can quickly teach a horse to shy away from the bridle when you attempt to put it on.  To prevent this, always remember:

1)      Fasten your (untied) halter around your horse’s neck when bridling and unbridling.  This allows you to remain in control of your horse. 

2)      Be gentle when putting the bit in your horse’s mouth.  Don’t try to push it in, instead using your thumb in the corner of his mouth (where there are no teeth), wait for him to open his mouth before you slide the bit in. 

3)      Handle your horse’s ears carefully, don’t grab them suddenly, and bend them through the bridle gently.  Be sure the headstall is sitting comfortably in the proper place.

4)      When you remove the bridle, slide the headstall over the horse’s ears and allow him to “spit out” the bit. Just pulling the headstall down will bump the horse’s teeth and make him head-shy.



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Mounting and Dismounting

In most trips, you will be expected to be able to mount and dismount on your own.  A few key points to remember when mounting:

1)      Make sure you check that your girth/cinch is tight before swinging up. 

2)      Be sure you have good footing so you don’t chance slipping under your horse.

3)      Always mount from the left side, unless the location you are in makes it impossible. 

4)      Retain control of your horse when mounting.  Don’t let him walk away or step sideways.  Not only does this teach him bad manners but it is dangerous for you. 

5)      If you are on a hill, make sure your horse is on the downhill side. This will make it much easier for you to step up into the stirrup.  If available, use a box or step stool to mount from.  This is easier on your horse’s back because you don’t have to pull yourself up as much. 

Ensure you sit down gently once you swing your leg over.  Plopping down can make your horse’s back sore. 

Getting Fit / Safety / Grooming / Saddle Up / Bridling / Mounting / Riding Manners / Top


Riding Manners 

One of the best parts of the Hidden Trails experience is riding with your new friends.  Just remember, good horseback manners go hand in hand with having an enjoyable time. Whether riding in an arena or out in the back country, being considerate of other riders and aware of footing conditions keeps the chances for an accident at a minimum.   

  1. Keep your horse under control and maintain a secure seat at all times. Clowning around, trotting or galloping when other riders are walking, or cutting across switchbacks on the trail can be dangerous for everyone.
  2. If your horse becomes frightened at a strange object, remain calm (your fear can be transmitted to the horse), speak quietly to steady the animal and give it time to overcome the fear. (Remember, a horse’s initial response to fear is to run away.) Then, ride or lead the horse past the obstacle.
  3. When riding in an arena, pass riders going the opposite direction to you left shoulder to left shoulder.  Yield the rail to riders going faster than you unless directed otherwise by an instructor. 
  4. When you wish to pass other riders, be sure that there is plenty of room. Let them know that you wish to pass, then, when there is an opening, ride by.
  5. Hold your mount down to a walk when going up or down hills. If he begins lunging, he could lose his balance and fall.
  6. Allow the horse to pick his own way at a walk when riding on rough ground, in mud, or on ice or snow. It’s easy enough to slip when he’s being careful. Trotting or loping could cause the animal to fall. Always walk when crossing paved roads or on rocky ground. Your horse might slip and fall on the slick surface.
  7. Never ride away from a group until ALL the members are mounted and ready to go. The other horses may want to move when your mount does and someone might not be secure in the saddle. If you ride through a gate, be sure to wait until it has been closed and the person who has done that chore is mounted and ready before you ride off.
  8. Ride abreast (if there is room) or stay a full horse length behind the horse ahead of you. This helps reduce the possibility that you, or your horse, might be kicked.
  9. If your horse becomes frightened and tries to run away, pull on one rein to turn the horse in circles, gradually decreasing the size of the circle. Eventually you will be able to bring the animal to a halt. The same technique can be used when you are on foot and leading your horse.
  10. If you notice another rider having troubles controlling his or her horse, halt your horse in a space that provides ample room for the rider of the out-of-control horse regain control.  This will help the rider to focus on his or her horse rather than worrying about running into other moving horses.  It also may help calm the horse.  If the out-of-control horse gets the other horses worked up, you may want to dismount until all horses are calmed. 


Getting Fit / Safety / Grooming / Saddle Up / Bridling / Mounting / Riding Manners / Top

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