If you're getting your gear together and packing up your trailer for a fun trail-riding adventure with your trusty steed, you may be wondering how much ground is safe to cover on each day of your adventure. You will need to consider several factors when making your riding plans -- terrain, overall fitness of all the horses in the group, weather conditions and pacing are all important factors.
Picking the Pace
The total distance covered by a horse in a day will be determined largely by the pace that you set for the ride. A horse's speed depends on gait:
Walk: 4 mph Trot 8 to 12 mph Canter 12 to 15 mph Gallop 25 to 30 mph
A typical horse may be comfortable walking for eight hours, meaning he could cover 32 miles in that time. Many weekend-warrior riders can't stand eight hours in the saddle, though. A more fit horse may cover more distance if he is able to trot or canter for part of the time.
Terrain and Footing
It is important to consider the terrain your horse will be navigating when determining how far to ride each day. Navigating up or down steep hills is more taxing on your horse's limbs and cardiovascular system than travel on even ground. If the terrain is hard or rocky, the concussion on your horse's hooves and joints will be more pronounced, so you will want to reduce the distance you travel on that terrain and slow your pace. Very deep mud or sand is more stressful on the tendons and ligaments of your horse's legs than firm footing, so take care under those conditions.
Consider weather conditions when planning your ride. Horses lose a tremendous amount of body water and electrolytes through their sweat. If a horse becomes dehydrated or electrolyte-depleted during a ride, he can suffer severe health consequences. In very hot and humid weather, plan to make frequent stops. Administer electrolytes during long rides when your horse is actively sweating. In hot, windy weather with low humidity, sweat evaporates quickly -- so the horse will appear dry even though he is losing electrolytes and water through his sweat. Horses should always be willing to eat and drink throughout a ride. If your horse is unwilling to eat when you stop to offer a bite of grass, he may be getting exhausted and may need to stop for the day.
Overall Health and Fitness
All the riders in a group should plan their pace and distance based on the least fit horse in the group. Older horses may have a touch of arthritis in their joints. They might be willing to keep up with their younger trail partners but may become lame following an intense ride. Horses are strongly in tune with other members of their groups and will push themselves beyond what is safe in an effort to stay with the group. It is the rider's responsibility to prevent a horse from overexerting himself. If your horse is not in a regular training program to build up his cardiovascular fitness, do not let him overdo it on a long trail-riding adventure. Tired horses are more likely to stumble and injure themselves. Keep the pace slow and relaxed, and enjoy the company of your fellow riders and the beautiful scenery.