Long distance riding is a discipline that is becoming increasingly popular as a way of experiencing areas of countryside on horseback, but it can put the horse under the extremes of physical endurance in sometimes appalling conditions.
A wide cross-section of breeds are used for long distance including:- Arabs, Anglo Arabs, Appaloosas, Cobs and Thoroughbreds, and both horse and rider need to be very fit to undergo the stresses of the ride.
There are a range of distances which can be covered, the short distance fun rides organised by local riding clubs will usually be under 15 miles. The recognised long distance rides are the Bronze which covers 15 - 20 miles, the Bonze Buckle covering 30 miles, the Silver Stirrup over 50 miles and, the Golden Horseshoe which covers 100 miles of varied terrain, in darkness as well as daylight.
It does tend to be the shorter distance rides, under 15 miles, which present more problems to horses due to the fact that riders are often novices to the hazards of long distance riding. In all classes the main problems arise due to tiredness in both horse and rider. The riders need to be very fit themselves and, should use jogging, cycling and swimming on a regular basis to achieve their peak fitness before entering rides over 15 miles. The horse must be exercised on roads to increase his fitness and stamina, but should equally be kept supple, using schooling on the flat. When only roadwork is emphasised, the horse becomes hard muscled, but loses his range of tolerance to cornering and is more likely to strain the muscles through the spine and hindquarters.
In the advanced rides, the terrain the horse is expected to cover, will include roads, stones, hard rocks, soft sand, bog, water and even swimming: they may also be expected to slide down hills of 10 - 15000ft. This mixed terrain over long distances will cause the horse to tighten up in the withers and behind the saddle. Sliding down hills can result in pelvic problems, due to the angle the horse is descending and the obvious tension in the shoulder region, which may even result in forelimb lameness. On rides over 40 miles the horse is more likely to show signs of fatigue, muscle cramps and at worst azoturia or "tying up".
As with other disciplines, the tack used is of great importance, but taking into account the length of time the tack will be worn on long distance rides, it is essential that it is regularly checked throughout the ride. In the advanced stages some horses will lose weight, so the girth and breastplate must be checked at intervals and numnah changed to provide extra padding under the saddle by the end of the ride.
As minimal rubbing from bridles is an advantage, the horse may have the noseband removed, or hackamores are often used. The rider will also have a direct affect on the horse over long distances if they have a tendency to ride with unequal stirrup leathers, or are compensating for their own back pain in the riding position.
Chiropractically, both horse and rider will benefit from regular treatment to allow them to compete in long distance rides, which will act on a preventative level to ensure peak performance in such enduing conditions. Any falls or injuries incurred on the ride may also benefit from chiropractic treatment, after a vet has assessed the horse and considers the treatment to be suitable.