Your horse is getting fit, and you are getting excited. You visit the AERC.org website and check the calendar: There’s a ride that you can attend! It’s only two months away…
Here’s a bare-bones calendar of stuff you’ll want to do before ride day, arranged in a countdown format. The schedule isn’t set in stone, but it is a handy list of stuff to remember.
Ride day minus 2 months:
- Check the fit of your saddle, and make necessary adjustments.
- Take a riding lesson (on trails, if possible). Ask your instructor to focus on helping you and your horse move freely and comfortably at various speeds over different terrain.
- Call your farrier NOW to set a farrier appointment for 1-2 weeks before the event.
- Administer any needed vaccinations.
- Ask your vet about medical paperwork that may be required for the ride. If you need to cross state lines for your event, be sure to alert your vet so that the paperwork can be readied in time.
Ride day minus 1 month:
- Safety-check your rig: tires (check your spare tire, too!), wiring, brakes, floorboards. Fix anything that needs fixing.
- Check out your camping arrangements: do your sleeping quarters leak? Do you know how to set up in windy or rainy conditions? Does your campstove work? Repair or replace anything that will fail in camp.
- Practice administering electrolytes to your horse via syringe. Start with a diluted dose mixed with applesauce or yogurt. If your horse does not take the syringe quietly, start teaching him now to accept it.
- Farrier work is optimally done within 2 weeks prior to the ride.
- If you need to make any feed changes for the event (switching from your usual feed to weed-free hay, for example) start making those changes gradually 2 weeks before you leave home.
- Test the arrangements that you will use to contain your horse in camp. Keep your horse in it at least overnight, preferably 2 or 3 nights.
- Check that your paperwork is current and stored in the rig: horse’s health papers, vehicle papers, etc.
- If you need a short-term health certificate from your vet, get it now.
- Make a list of “emergency contacts” to use while on the road. The list should contain phone numbers for roadside assistance, a vet hospital in the area of your destination, and emergency contact information for every person and animal travelling with you.
Ride day minus 1 week:
- Load your trailer with horse feed and tack.
- In addition to your usual gear, you will need a LARGE water bucket (harder to tip over), a feed pan, and an extra bucket because you can never have too many buckets.
- Take a warm blanket if nights will be cool in camp, even if your horse is not normally blanketed at home.
- If the ride flyer mentions bugs, take a fly sheet, fly mask or bug spray (or all of these).
Ride day minus 2 days:
- Pack your own gear:
- clothing for ride day
- stuff for camp and clean clothing (and shoes!) for travelling.
- Purchase and pack groceries for the people in your group.
- You may wish to give your horse a dose of electrolytes prior to leaving home, preferably the evening before you leave. This will encourage drinking before the journey begins.
- Pre-mix electrolytes into syringes for the ride. Seal the syringe-ends with duct tape, and store them in a large ziplock bag for convenience.
- Make sure you have directions to camp.
- Check road conditions if travelling through a city, over a mountain pass, or any other places where problems might occur. I print out everything and leave it all on the dashboard of my truck.
- Some people leave home 2 days before the event, which is nice but not necessary unless the travel is extensive.
Ride day minus 1 day:
- Pack up and go!
- When travelling, stop every 3-4 hours for 15 to 20 minutes (or more).
- Fuel stops count as rest stops—while your rig is filling up, offer water, plus carrots or soaked beetpulp to your horse
- My horses travel with haybags in the trailer with them, so they can munch as we drive
- If travelling in very hot conditions, consider driving at night or in the very early morning to minimize heat stress on horses.
- Another tip for travelling in hot weather: set up a manger in the trailer and place a pan of very sloppy beet pulp in it for your horse to eat on the road.
Arrive in camp, at last!
- Find the ride manager’s rig and ask for directions re: parking and camping.
- While you’re there, ask how they would like you to clean manure from your pens—some locations require that you haul it home, others ask you to scatter it. Find out and follow the protocol!
- Set up your horse containment, and put your horse in with access to feed and water.
- Set up your own sleeping quarters
- Walk your horse around camp or go for a short ride (or both)
- Register for the ride.
- Be sure to pick up copies of the trail map and ride criteria sheet (if available), as well as your vet card.
- Get a number painted on your horse if this is part of the ride custom.
- Vet your horse.
- Don’t be afraid to tell the vets that you are new—they will often take extra time to explain what they are doing and why.
- Thank the vets politely.
- Feed your horse.
- Set out your clothing and food for morning, especially if you will be getting up in the dark!
- Set up morning feed for your horse, and put it where it can’t be grabbed by a midnight snacker or a passing raccoon.
- Assemble a bag or box of supplies to send to the vet check.
- Send out horse food, people food, and any electrolytes you may need (for horse or rider)
- You may also wish to send a fleece or wool blanket for the horse, and a warmer or cooler layer for yourself. Fresh socks are a luxury that don't take much room and are wonderfully welcome if your socks have gotten wet.
- Keep your vet supplies in a tidy, compact container marked clearly with your name and the distance you are riding.
- Attend the ride meeting.
- Take your trail map and criteria sheet with you to the meeting, and take notes when the trail is described.
- Pay close attention to the ribbon colors that you will follow—trails for different distances will be marked with different colors, and you want to be sure to take the correct route.
- If there are watersets or landmarks to note, draw them on your map.
- Listen politely through the entire meeting, and please don’t talk—others are trying to hear what is being said.
- If the vets have concerns about the trail or the weather conditions, pay close attention! Follow their instructions as closely as possible.
- Save questions for the end.
- If ride management asks to meet with new riders, go with them, and listen to what they say.
- Feed your horse a final meal for the day, make sure his water bucket is full, and give him a dose of electrolytes.
- Go to bed and sleep
- If you can’t sleep, try to obsess quietly through the night in a comfortable position so you don’t keep me awake.
- Set your alarm!
Coming soon: RIDE DAY: how it rolls.