For the vast majority of us, horseback riding is not a part of our daily life. In fact, that’s a gross understatement. Most of us can probably count on our fingers the number of times we’ve been on horseback in our lifetimes. Despite the advent of ATVs and the use of other motorized vehicles as primary transportation on many hunting adventures, sometimes horses or mules are the only legal way or only practical way to access fantastic hunting adventures. So as you’re booking a hunt, one of the big questions that needs to be on your list is, “Will we be riding horses on this hunt?”
If the answer is “yes,” then you and your group need to decide if you’re okay with that. If you are, then you need to commit to as much preparation for horseback riding as you can make. As anyone who has been there can tell you, even on the most gentle, trail broke horse there is a lot more to horseback riding that sitting there and letting the horse take you into camp or out to the woods! And horseback riding excerises muscles that seldom see use for most of us.
Obviously, the Number One best preparation is to get out and ride — as often as possible. Locate a stable close to your home that offers riding and preferably riding lessons. Go talk to the folks there and explain you have a horseback hunt coming up on which you’ll be riding Western style in mountain terrain. Chances are they’ll line you up with a horse and a coach that will help get you more comfortable on horseback, if nothing else. Comfort is the most important thing. If you are constantly tense while on a horse, you are going to be sore and the horse you’re riding will sense your stress and take advantage of it.
Short of actually riding, the next best advice is to be in as good of overall physical condition as possible. Spend time riding a bicycle. At the gym use those work out machines that work your legs by squeezing together at the knees and spreading your legs against resistance. Stretch, and do excercises the promote flexibility.
The greatest pain-saving advice is to make certain that the wrangler on the hunt sets up your saddle precisely to fit you. In the excitement to “get going” at the beginning of a hunt, you’ll be tempted to hurry and say “good enough” when it comes to tedious saddle adjustments. Don’t do it! If it takes 15 or 20 minutes to get it just right, it’s definitely a better deal than losing hunting time later on because your legs are so sore you can’t move — and that WILL HAPPEN — if your saddle isn’t adjusted properly. Length of the stirrups is critical. You want them at a length where you can comfortably rest the balls of your feet on the stirrups and stand up in the saddle if you need to, but not so short that there’s much of a bend in your knees when you’re seated. Getting this right will save you pain starting 15 minutes into your ride and through out the entire hunt.
One final tip, consider your footwear for riding. There are reasons cowboy boots are built like they are. A big, bulky-toed booth with lots of grip may be a good choice for hunting, but it’s not for riding. You want something that can easily slide in … and out … of the stirrups when you want them to. That’s why you see so many western guides wearing wrangler style boots. If you’ll be on a hunt where you’ll be doing a lot of riding, check these out for yourself. As far as other gear, a light pair of leather gloves will add some comfort. And wear sunglasses or shooting glasses of some kind. Often you’ll be riding in the dark and it’s smart to wear the glasses to protect yourself from limbs, brancheds and leaves overhanging the trail.