Recently I was insulted on Facebook with a comment calling me a “lard ass” and telling me to ride a bike instead. Although this language was uncalled for and slightly shocking, that is not the point of this post. I would like instead to address the misunderstandings of horse travel and of horseback riding in general that I think are behind the comment.
False: The horse does all the work
True: Horseback riding, and especially horse travel, is a physical activity. My days begin with shoeing, saddling, and packing Apollo. By the end of this hour long process, I am ready for a nap and my back hurts. Then, I walk with him for several hours a day, and often the whole day long. That is usually 10 to 15 miles. Five days a week. If that’s not a lot of work, I don’t know what is. Then, when I am ready to drop, I have to take care of all his needs for the night – unpacking, unsaddling, unshoeing, toting feed and water, often walking the fence line. Then Apollo rests while I take care of Hermes. And then set up my tent and make dinner. Maybe then I can sit down. But not before checking on Apollo again. Sometimes I wish I had a bicycle!
False: The horse is unhappy with working, especially with horse travel
True: Horses like to have a job. They don’t all like the same jobs, but when the right horse is picked for the right job, they enjoy the work. Apollo is a good long ride horse. He usually waits by the gate to be caught, walks happily along with me, and especially is thrilled when some passing stranger stops to pet him. He enjoys looking at the scenery as much as I do (although he does not understand my need to stop and take photos). Having spent so much time with him, I do know when he is unhappy! And it’s not when he is working a normal day. Often on his days off, he continues to take himself on walks around the pasture – not from stress, but because he likes his job!
False: The rider is lazy and just sits there
If you ride horses and think this, you are doing it wrong. A good rider moves with the horse’s movements. They are limber, flexible, athletic, and have good core body strength. A good rider on a horse is called “active weight” or “live weight” which is exponentially easier on the horse than a rider that sits like a lump and is just “dead weight.” (Dead weight also refers to anything attached to the horse – saddle, packs, etc). Riding for long stretches is tiring, in a full body sort of way. If the roads are good and Apollo is not tired, I may ride a six mile stretch, at the end of which I am certainly ready to walk again!
False: The rider is fat and out of shape (presumably because of just sitting there)
There are obese riders, for sure. But there are no overweight long riders. There is just too much exercise every day! Most long riders have reported losing weight during their rides, and those that didn’t were those that had no extra weight to begin with.