Ask the Grumpies: Horsie help! (Calling Bogart…)

Linda is going to Scotland for 16 days and asks a bunch of stuff:

So here I am again getting excited about including some riding into my trip to Scotland. This will not be a riding-only vacation, but I’m hoping to include two to three half-day rides while I’m there. Physically I’m in decent shape and go to the gym regularly. I’ve already told my personal trainer about my plans and we’re including more core exercises and work on my inner and outer thighs. I’m also taking a spin class once a week to increase my aerobic conditioning because I know how much of a workout riding can be.

O yeah.  This is where I’d recommend starting lessons ASAP so you can see which muscles on you personally will hurt the most, and you can work on those in the gym.

What questions do I ask stables to find one that will help me be a competent rider for my trip?

Heck if I know!  I would tell them what you want, and ask if they can accommodate your goals in the time you have.  Ask about schedules, price, etc.  Ask them if you can work on a wide variety of techniques because out on the trail you won’t be *as* concerned about diagonals, etc., as you are about communication, control, and working over a variety of terrain.

While I’m sure I’ll have to do indoor and arena riding, I’m also looking for practical experience riding a horse on a trail with an English saddle. Is it naive of me to try to locate someplace that offers this option?

I don’t think it’s naive at all, because that’s what I do!  The place where I am does EVERYTHING in an English saddle:  dressage, trail riding, cross-country, jumping, games of skill, even the occasional barrel race.  We also ride outside in every weather (sometimes bareback), which I imagine is very beneficial to what you want to do.  I guess it depends where you are.  Where are you?  I guess my only advice is to call around.  Experiment with what length of stirrups feels good to you most of the time — for an English-trained horse and an English saddle of any type, you will want the stirrups a good deal shorter than Western riders use them.  You will want them short enough that you can stand up if you end up having to jump a ditch or something, but long enough that your legs are relaxed, and bent some-but-not-a-lot.  Ask your instructor.

Any recommendations on riding gear?

Never get on a horse without a helmet.

You can get one for $50 or maybe the place you’re going will have them to borrow.  You can also get helmet covers that are fleecy things that pull over the helmet and keep your ears warm when it’s nippy.  A ventilated helmet will be cooler in the heat.  Good fit is essential.  Ask someone who knows what they’re doing to help you fit one.

Always wear gloves.  If things get out of control and you have to really haul on a rein or a lead rope, the last thing you want to worry about is rope burn.  There are lightweight summer gloves (~$25?) if it’s going to be warm.  Plus, this saves you from sunburning your knuckles.

Wear sweat-proof sunblock and lots of it.  Tie your hair back so it doesn’t blow in your mouth when you need to concentrate.

While I can afford riding lessons now, I don’t have any equipment. I plan to also be doing a lot of hiking and walking

I think you should be able to borrow whatever you need, with the possible exception of footwear.  Ask around.

in Scotland, and since I am planning to pack light and carry it on the plane, I don’t want to bring hiking shoes *and* riding boots or any clothing that doesn’t have multiple purposes. I’ve been looking online and am hoping that a pair of boots like these could be dual purpose. (I likely won’t need a heavy lug sole for the type of hiking I’ll be doing.)

Gosh, I really don’t know.  Especially for English riding, good footwear is essential.  You’ll need a heel on your shoe or boot so that your foot can’t slip forward through the stirrup (you can break your ankle).  You also don’t want a lot of deep tread on it, because you want your foot to be able to slip backwards out of the stirrup if you fall off (if it doesn’t the horse will drag you along willy-nilly by your foot — very awful; or if you can’t get your foot out fast, the horse might fall on top of you).  If you have big ol’ Western stirrups, this is probably less important.  If you are riding bareback or with no stirrups you can wear whatever you want.

It’s probably down to your comfort level and instructor’s recommendation.  You can get ankle boots (search for paddock boots such as these  http://www.equestriancollections.com/storeitems.asp?department=Ladies&cc=136  )
which could double as daily-wear shoes, and optionally pair them with half-chaps.  I don’t know that the half-chaps are strictly necessary; I guess it depends on the pants you’re wearing.  Certainly paddock boots + half-chaps might be cheaper and more versatile than good field boots.

Personally, if I were going on a riding vacation, I’d bring my own tall boots, helmet, and gloves, because that is what i’m comfortable in, and I would borrow the rest of what I needed.  Maybe I’d actually borrow the helmet too, for space/packing reasons.  Again, it’s up to you.

Are half-chaps necessary when only doing a few days of riding here or there? A pair of gaiters or gaiter-like gear (which is what half-chaps sort of are) could come in handy under water-proof pants while I’m hiking so I’m thinking they may not be a waste of money. And I may need half-chaps for lessons, too. I expect there to be days when it will be wet so I’m already committed to buying and packing some water-proof hiking pants; hopefully I can also use them while riding if we’re out on a wet day.

If you take lessons somewhere, they probably have guidelines about this.

Do you do much riding outside in the wet? What do you recommend to wear when just getting into riding?

Layers.  Lots of layers.  Remember that cotton and wool are crap when wet.  I wear underarmour underwear (compression gear or heat gear) to wick away the sweat, and in the winter I put long underwear over all that.  Then come my riding tights, and then sometimes another pair of extra pants over that to stay warm and dry.  layers on top, too!  Bring extra socks!  A headband or bandanna is very useful.

Maybe I’m over-thinking the preparation for this particular trip, but I am hoping to include some horsey-type vacationing and leisure more regularly in my life. Any advice you can share — even if it is just suggested forums where I can ask more people for advice like this — will be very helpful.

I’m sure there are forums but I’m not on them so I don’t know.  Good luck, it sounds like so much fun!!

Can anybody fill in the missing gaps for Linda?

18 Responses to “Ask the Grumpies: Horsie help! (Calling Bogart…)”

  1. bogart Says:

    Ooh! Yes! Call on me.

    Lesson barn that includes trail-riding: conceptually, sure. Realistically, may depend a lot on where you are and perhaps where you’re willing to drive to; where I live, there are increasing numbers of barns that don’t have ready access to trails. But, they should be willing to talk to you about alternative, e.g., are there fields (pastures) you can practice riding “out” in and when (you typically don’t want to ride in fields that also have horses turned out in them; too much can go wrong with the loose horses as agitators), or is trailering to trails an alternative, even if only an occasional one involving extra costs?

    I’d talk to the instructor(s) and some of the lesson-takers. You should expect to sign a release and to be asked for an emergency contact number. You definitely want a place that requires ASTM-approved helmets and insists on appropriate footwear (reasonably smooth sole, real heel) for lessons. Horses should be healthy, happy, and (usually) calm, and good footing (in rings and in general) is a definite plus. Tack should be in good quality; rotting stitching or wearing-out leather are a flag of not paying appropriate attention to safety (obviously this applies particularly to the bridle, reins, girth, and stirrup leathers, which are the parts that help you stay on and communicate with the horse). Allowing the occasional retired mount to wander around unfenced spaces grazing during a quiet moment isn’t necessarily a red flag, but horses not being appropriately confined behind fences or in stalls, or being allowed to run in (to the barn unconfined, not while they’re still in the field, obviously, that’s their time) from pastures at feeding time is.

    I’d say you want an instructor who expects you to be comfortable cantering quietly around the ring and trotting over a pole or small X jump before they take you out on the trail (feeling your horse break into a canter or hop over a log or ditch should be something familiar, not cause for alarm). Generally speaking, I think it is good practice not to ride out on a trail until/unless you are capable of getting onto your mount from the ground without needing a mounting block or human assistance (a slight slope, or needing to lengthen your stirrups to mount, is allowed). Before you ride out on the trail you should have been taught to, and have had the opportunity to practice, adjusting your stirrups and tightening the girth while mounted.

    Western riding has you “with” and on the horse, absorbing its motions with your body, while English riding can take that form (dressage, long stirrups, legs wrapped as far around the horse’s barrel as they’ll do and your hips rocking back and forth and side to side to accommodate the movement of the horse’s body), or put you “above” the horse (the extreme would be a jockey), balancing your weight on your legs/heels and keeping your bottom/body (mostly) above the horse’s motion. For any real trail riding you want the latter; stirrups will typically be about long enough that the leathers + stirrups reach from where they attach to the saddle, if you put the tips of your fingers there, down to your armpit.

    For what you are describing, trip-wise, what I have done is pack short boots (something like the Ariat Terrain), leggings or light breeches, half-chaps, and my helmet. Helmets are clunky but absurdly light (go to a real tack store and try them on. Some are oval-shaped and some are round and you want one that embraces your head and is just snug enough that when it is on without the harness done up, if you wiggle it gently on your forehead your eyebrows move with it), and you can fold up clothes and pack them inside the helmet into your suitcase. I am all about the layering on top and not at all on the bottom (except to have enough total layers for warmth; chances I’d pull bottom layers off during a ride are virtually zilch). For Scotland, packing some long undies like N&M describe + a light pair of breeches might give you good options if it is chilly or rainy. I do not even try to keep my legs dry when I ride (for really cold wet weather, polarfleece may be called for, but it’s bulky to pack; OTOH, you can probably find polarfleece breeches on sale now, cheap), but I do use goretex on top + other standard “outdoor” gear (long undies, turtlenecks, polarfleece). Basically, I’m standard-issue breeches + tall boots + a t-shirt/sweatshirt, subbing in whatever needs to be polarfleece for warmth, at home, and about the same when travelling but sub the short/hiking Ariats, half-chaps, and possibly leggings for breeches. Do what works for you.

    Endurance riding is a sport that welcomes all sorts, including me and nut-cases (those categories may or may not overlap), but that also has lots of people logging lots of miles on lots of horses in all kinds of weather and conditions. Ridecamp is a message board for endurance riders and while there’s lots there that won’t be relevant or directly of interest, it can be a good place to get advice on gear, riding out, and so forth. You can find it here (hoping this will let me post a link!): https://groups.google.com/a/endurance.net/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/ridecamp .

    Have fun!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Oh yes, I forgot the important point: practice adjusting girth and stirrups while mounted. Thank you for bringing it up! I had forgotten that this was quite tricky at first.

  2. Linda Says:

    Awesome advice so far! Thank you! I am heading to the tack shop today to get my helmet, breeches, and boots. I was really interested in the Ariat Terrain H2O boots as potentially dual purpose for riding and hiking. I’ll have to check out in person how slick the soles are.

    There are two stables not far from my home that both have access to forest preserve trails. I took lessons at one a few years ago and wasn’t that thrilled with how it was going (bored intern-type instructor that had me endlessly riding around the ring to correct my diagonals…there had to be a better way of figuring out why I was nearly always off, but there were no good suggestions). I visited the other stable earlier this week and signed up for a lesson on Sunday. We’ll see how it goes; I’m really hoping I don’t have to drive for an hour each way to take lessons at one of the further out stables.

    • bogart Says:

      Diagonals: unimportant to your (current) goals, and I recommend connecting with someone who “gets” that and is willing to work on the important stuff.

      Practicing (and “getting”) diagonals isn’t useless as an exercise to do while learning to ride, but if your goal is to ride safely out on trails, it’s pretty far down the list of priorities … clearly, you know that so I know I’m preaching to the choir, just saying I feel your pain!

  3. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    This is clearly an ignorant question from someone who’s never been on a horse, but what aspect of horse riding is aerobically taxing?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      oohooh, #2 can answer this

      when you’re riding a horse, you’re constantly standing up and sitting down. “up down up down up down up down”

      • Linda Says:

        Yep! I wore my heart rate monitor to one of those lessons that involved pretty much nothing but posting the trot (the up down up down, etc. movement) for 30 minutes. My heart rate was in the same range as if I were working on the elliptical. (Although not as high as it can get during spin class.)

      • becca Says:

        In martial arts I’ve been trained in, *after* your conditioning is good enough that the punishments of situps, pushups and hundreds of jumping jacks are no longer effective, *then* they start with properly training your “horse stance” (constant up down up down up down, while punching and kicking and things).

  4. Lisa Says:

    For general type of horse/riding questions, the forums at Chronicle of the Horse are a good resource. Good luck and have fun – riding in Scotland sounds like a blast!

  5. J Liedl Says:

    This sounds like a fantastic trip – enjoy it! I’m glad you’ll get some lessons before you go. One good research question is also to see if the trails you’ll be riding have a lot of variance – skills you need to ride in very hilly stretches aren’t the same as you’d master working on the prairies alone. (I grew up in flat farmland of the Midwest – besides a few creeks, we had no riding hills so my instructor built one with a bulldozer that was big enough to train on going up AND down.)

    Core fitness helps a LOT – it’s not only aerobic exercise, good riders are working their core all the time to adjust to and minimize the way in which the horse’s gait affects your balance. That part can be more exhausting than the workout that your legs get and that’s pretty punishing.

    My last advice? Moleskin for blister prevention/protection. Back in the day when I rode lots (these days I’m more a stable mum than a rider although I still mount up a couple times a year) I got some impressive open blisters on my inner calves where my legs rubbed against the stirrup leathers on long rides. Having large moleskins that i could use to prevent rubbing on those blisters the next day made all the difference. (I eventually solved this by not only becoming a better rider but also by getting chaps which I still use, 30 years on!)

  6. Linda Says:

    I had my first riding lesson today and I think this place will be great! The instructor really listened to my goals and gave great feedback. There was good attention paid to safety, like showing me how to check the stirrup length and the girth before I got on. (And of course I was wearing a helmet before I even stepped into the training ring!) The stable was busy, yet everyone was very nice. The horse was responsive and I felt comfortable on him. For this first lesson I did everything at a walk, but next week we’ll start trotting. I had to post at a walk this time and that is even harder than at a trot! I also had to hold myself in two-point position for a full lap around the ring, twice. I am going to be sooo sore tomorrow! :-)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We have a small rant on that this weekend with the links, but we’re a bit sick of it, so we won’t be addressing it other than linking to it. Plus we already caused a wee bit of drama in the academic blogosphere for telling someone that her post was offensive. Apparently telling someone that writing a post about how “Sandberg’s kids are going to turn out like Citizen Kane” is offensive is itself highly offensive. Who knew. Oh, that’s right, we did.

  7. Shaping up | a windycitygal's Weblog Says:

    […] had the idea to take lessons so I could ride during a 16-day trip Scotland in October, I asked the experts over at Grumpy Rumblings for some advice on what skills I should concentrate on building in preparation. While I was excited […]

  8. Riding as an adult: getting started | a windycitygal's Weblog Says:

    […] to wade into the forum because I just wasn’t sure where to post my questions. So I directed my questions to a blog I read where there had been some mention about horse riding in past entries and comments. That […]


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