One of the greatest pleasures of riding is a day out on horseback with friends. A little planning beforehand means you and the ponies enjoy the long picnic ride in safety.
The first thing you should do when organizing a whole-day ride is plan the route on a map. You should not attempt to do more than 34km (20 miles) – and even this distance assumes your pony is fit for long, steady riding.
A horse or pony on an average hack travels at about 9km (5 1/2 miles) an hour, so 34km (20 miles) would take some four hours. Add on another hour for lunch, and a bit more for rest breaks on the way, and plan to be away for no more than six hours. Aim to ride for two and a half hours before stopping for lunch.
Ask somebody with a car to drive over your planned route with you, so you can check it is suitable. This also gives you an opportunity to choose a good picnic spot – with grazing and water for the ponies.
Discuss with your friends who is going to join the ride. Don’t take totally inexperienced riders who won’t be able to cope. All the ponies must be fit, not too fat or too thin, and none should be under five years old (the distance would be too much for them). Try to select ponies whose paces match. A flighty, erratic pony with long strides, for example, only upsets the day.
Now is also the time to choose the group’s guide someone efficient at map reading and able to use a compass.
Check your pony’s shoes – good shoes are vitally important at any time, but you don’t want the slightest sign of wear if you’re planning a long ride.
The evening before the ride, clean your tack and check it thoroughly for any sign of damage. The tack must be used this is not the occasion for trying out new equipment which may chafe. Make sure the bridle and saddle fit correctly and the numnah and girth are clean.
Before you leave, you must, for safety’s sake, tell somebody exactly where you are going, who is with you, and the time you expect to be back.
On the morning of the ride, feed your pony at least two hours before you set off. Your breakfast, too, should be eaten long before you leave, and should not be greasy or fried, which might make you feel queasy.
Front and rear files
Before you set off, appoint a sensible front rider, or ‘leading file’. When the ride is proceeding one behind the other, leading file has to keep a wary eye out for broken bottles, rusty cans, rabbit holes or boggy ground.
The leading file should call out the danger, for example ‘beware glass’ or ‘hole on the left’, so that everyone can hear. If there are a lot of you and the people at the back can’t hear, pass the message on down the line.
The leading file also sets the pace, which should be comfortable for all of you so that no-one has to struggle to keep up. At the front of the ride, you always have to think about the others behind. For example, don’t start cantering on open grass as soon as you emerge from a wood – the others may still be ducking low branches!
Tuck the least experienced riders in the middle, and have another responsible rider for ‘rear file’. The rear file warns the others of hazards from behind, such as overtaking vehicles on roads, and uses hand signals to drivers.
The rear file is also responsible for keeping the ride together so you don’t end up being too spread out. He or she should tell leading file to slow the pace if people are getting left behind.
Although you should keep close together, don’t tread on each other’s heels – keep your distance from the pony in front. And don’t just rely on the lead and rear files to point out any dangerous objects or overtaking traffic: this is a joint responsibility, and part of good riding is to be alert.
A fun day out is no excuse for careless or sloppy riding. In fact, on a day like this it is more important than usual to think about your hands and seat.
Lolling about in the saddle and being careless with your hands over such a long period of time makes a pony extra tired and sore. Don’t continually nag the pony with your legs, or drag on his mouth while you turn round to chat or admire the scenery.
Adopt a light, balanced seat and use your hips, knees and ankles as shock absorbers. Avoid sitting trot, and change the diagonal every so often in rising trot. Take the forward position when you are cantering, and vary the leading leg.
The ride is not a sweaty dash across country, jumping everything in sight. It involves plenty of walking, steady trotting periods, a few short canters and no galloping.
Let the others know if you want to jump an obstacle, so you don’t upset the other ponies by suddenly rushing off.
Go down hills slowly – especially if they are long and steep. Lean forward going up the hills, and give the pony enough rein to stretch.
Walk on stony, rough or rutted tracks, and keep to a walk or slow trot on the roads. Only canter on soft ground in safe places, and never on verges next to roads.
Walk at least the last mile of the ride so you arrive home relaxed. Allow for this when planning your timetable for the day you should never have to rush back to be on time.
When you get home, thank your pony for his hard work by making much of him. Check him over for any little injuries. Wipe off sweat patches, brush him down and pick out his feet. When you have done all this, give him his feed.