Trail riding is one of the most enjoyable equine activities, and riding with friends makes it even more wonderful. It’s also much safer to ride with a friend than to ride alone.
Areas with a significant number of equestrians in residence often have active horse communities with local riding clubs. The clubs are usually open to anyone who lives in the community and rides. They often host gymkhanas, schooling shows, group trail rides and other horse-related activities. They may also have horseless social events, such as holiday parties and bake sales.
Local riding clubs are great places to meet other trail riders. Most clubs have regular meetings, and you can get to know your equestrian neighbors by attending these gatherings. At the meetings, you’ll find out when and where various activities are taking place, including group trail rides. Start participating in the group’s events, and volunteer to help put together activities. In the process, you’ll make friends with people who are probably just like you—looking for someone they can ride with.
If your trail horse is of a popular breed, you may have a regional chapter of your horse’s breed association in your area. These clubs often hold shows and other events, such as group trail rides. To locate a breed association chapter in your area, visit the website for your horse’s breed registry. Get in touch with the contact person listed for the club, and find out about meetings and other activities organized by the group.
Discipline-specific clubs are also good places to find riding partners. If you normally ride dressage, barrel race or participate in another arena discipline, the club that hosts your events may include people who also trail ride. When attending meetings and shows, ask around to find out who likes to trail ride and is looking for a riding partner. Your club may even sponsor an occasional group ride, or members may hold their own informal rides.
Before you sign up for any group trail ride, be sure to ask questions to determine if the ride is suited to you and your horse’s abilities. Find out how long the ride will be, the type of terrain and the pace of the ride: all walking, mostly walking and some trotting, some cantering, et cetera. If you aren’t comfortable with the pace, distance or terrain, keep searching for a group that is more in line with what you are seeking.
One of the most popular types of group trail rides is the poker ride, an event that is easy for small clubs to stage. Poker rides are nearly always held to raise money, whether for the club itself or for a local charity.
At a poker ride, participating riders are given playing cards as they pass designated areas along the trail. The object of the ride is to end up with the best hand. Riders can purchase as many hands as they wish ahead of time. The rider with the best hand usually splits the pot, taking home half the proceeds while the other half goes to the club or charity.
Poker rides are a fun way to meet other trail riders, and to enjoy an outing on the trail for a good cause. Socializing is a big part of poker rides, and it’s hard to come away from one of these events without having made a friend or two along the way.
Another great way to socialize on the trail is to participate in trail competitions. Depending on how serious you are about trail riding and how much time and energy you want to put into preparing for the event, you can choose from a number of competitive trail activities.
Short-distance competitive trail events are growing rapidly in popularity around the United States. The American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) currently sponsors trail competitions across the country. The rides are anywhere from six to 10 miles long, are done at a walk and feature judged technical obstacles along the trail. If your horse knows how to back up, sidepass and drag a light object, you are ready to participate in an ACTHA ride. The obstacles vary from ride to ride, but all are within ACTHA’s rules for the event.
ACTHA rides are leisurely, and plenty of socializing is built into the day. You don’t even have to compete to be part of an ACTHA ride. You can enter as a “buddy rider” and skip the obstacles entirely, simply enjoying the trail.
The ACTHA also has a service called Find a Buddy that helps you locate other trail riders in your area. You don’t need to be a member of the ACTHA to use this service, which is located on the group’s website at www.actha.us.
If you spend a lot of time trail riding already, consider a longer-distance competitive ride. The North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC) sponsors rides all over the country. Competitors are judged on how well they negotiate the obstacles along the trail, as well as on their horsemanship skills. The novice division of these rides runs anywhere from 20 to 25 miles, paced for a fast walk with some trotting. The rides take about seven hours total, which includes two vet checks and an hour-long lunch break, giving you the chance to dismount and rest.
Because NATRC rides start very early in the morning (around 7 a.m.), riders camp out the night before with their horses. They socialize at dinner on Friday night and then again after the ride on Saturday, when awards are presented. NATRC ride managers also help new riders find a partner to ride with, usually the night before at the ride briefing.
Details on long-distance competitive trail rides can be found on the NATRC website at www.natrc.org.
If you are really serious about spending time on the trail and like speed, endurance riding is an activity you should consider. Endurance rides sanctioned by the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) run anywhere from 25 to 100 miles, all completed in one day. Novice riders can sign up for Limited Distance rides, which are 25 miles in length. Designed for horses and riders new to endurance, Limited Distance rides give you the chance to see what the sport is all about.
You can find plenty of people to partner with on the trail at endurance rides. The endurance riding community is a friendly one, and endurance riders love to get new people into the sport. The AERC has a list of local and regional distance riding clubs on its website at www.aerc.org.
Another trail riding sport that is less well-known but extremely popular with its participants is ride and tie. In ride and tie, two people partner with one horse in a relay race. While one person is riding, the other is running. When the rider completes a distance that she feels her running partner can cover while keeping up a good pace, she ties up the horse and continues on foot. When the runner gets to the horse, she mounts up and rides to meet her teammate. They can then switch again, or the rider can continue down the trail. It’s all about strategy because while they work in this leap frog manner, they must cross the finish line together. Rides are around 20 miles long.
The Ride and Tie Association sanctions competitions and has a mentoring program to help new participants get started in the sport. A list of contacts in various areas can be found on the group’s website at www.rideandtie.org.
It’s easy to find trail buddies if you know where to look. Once you start making connections with other people who love to ride, you’ll find yourself surrounded by great horsey friends to accompany you on the trail.
Audrey Pavia is the author of Trail Riding: A Complete Guide and Horses for Dummies. She participates in competitive trail riding with her Spanish Mustang, Milagro.
This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe.