Life was good. It had a pleasant pattern.
--Marguerite Henry, "Album of Horses"
--Marguerite Henry, "Album of Horses"
Breaking out of your everyday routine and riding a horse around the country sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Well, yes it is… but even this unusual lifestyle has a routine too. Which is a good thing! Routines help Apollo stay calm and comfortable in new and potentially frightening situations. They help me make sure I remembered to pack everything, every morning. They allow me to enjoy the good moments and get through the hard ones.
It took about a month for both Apollo and myself to really get the hang of the routine, and to feel like it was our new normal. Once the routine clicked, life in the saddle became easier and more fun for both of us.
I start my day at sunrise. Up with the light, I quickly throw on my riding clothes and go out to check on Apollo. I make sure he’s healthy and happy, and has plenty of food to eat while I get everything else ready to go. Then I can also eat my breakfast, chat with our hosts, and pack up all our stuff.
Packing is a project. First I have to get everything back in the bags. There is no wasted space, so that means it all goes back in the same way every day. However, some items such as Apollo’s feed get used daily and refilled as needed, so the packs need carefully loaded for even balance each morning. Otherwise, they’ll make him sore or even cause the whole saddle to pull sideways.
Next I have to pack everything onto the both of us. My boots, spurs, half chaps, vest, and layers. Apollo’s boots, saddle, and all the packs loaded and secured. At this point, I’ve warmed up and have to remove some layers before we start walking! So the bag with the jacket always gets attached last.
Three hours after waking, we’re finally ready to hit the road. We begin with me leading Apollo. This gives us both time to stretch and warm up our muscles, and for Apollo to settle into the day’s work (no lunging for this horse! He gets enough work without having to trot circles in the morning). It also allows time for the packs to settle and shift if they’re going to, so I can adjust them before they become a problem.
Once I’ve determined everything looks good and Apollo tells me he’s ready, I will begin riding. Depending on the weather, the day’s distance, the terrain, and the traffic, I may ride most of the day or none at all. I walk more when it’s cold, so I can stay warm and because the cold already is hard enough on Apollo’s “mpg” (miles per grain) without him carrying me too. I walk more when there is fast traffic, when he’s nervous, when there are tall bridges, and really just as much as I can physically handle, so I can make it easier on my horse. Even when it’s a good time to ride, I dismount hourly so Apollo can rest his back, and I can stretch my legs. His comfort comes first, regardless of how many blisters I’ve got on my feet.
We also stop frequently. Whenever I find a good patch of grass, Apollo has the chance to eat it if he wants it. Same if there is fresh water. This also gives me a chance to rest and snack – this is a workout for both of us! We travel about 3 to 4 miles per hour when moving, but with the frequent stops some days we only average 2 mph.
When we are done for the day depends on whether I’ve been able to arrange in advance for a place to stay. Typically I am able to network with previous hosts and strangers we meet along the road (and occasional Google searches) so that we reach our day’s destination by 3pm. However, sometimes we have to go further or run later, and some days are short and easy. I try to never ride at night, for safety (due to visibility on the road).
Once we stop for the day, Apollo is still first priority. He gets to eat while I remove his packs and boots, and finally his saddle. A quick massage, and then he can move into his pasture or stall and enjoy his evening grain and all the hay and water he wants. Then it’s my turn to settle in, bathe, eat, journal the day’s ride, and rest up to do it all over again the next day!