In mid-February this year, I went on a two-day horse trail ride in the Howqua river region, which is up near Mount Buller. It had been a good 15 years since I had last been in the saddle, and it was a tad concerned about how my body would cope with the challenge of riding after all that time.
I had been doing pilates once per week, the odd short jog or walk (~5km) and a gym session or two most weeks, so I had some good general fitness. But nothing can prepare you for rising to the trot or holding on strongly with your legs during a fast canter! I knew I was going to be in for a challenge!
We departed from the main ranch once we had been allocated horses – and much to my relief we spent the best part of the morning ambling through lovely bushland and over rolling hills towards our camp site, admiring the view and getting to know our mounts. I had been assigned to Mitch the Mountain Pony, who was a laconic and friendly pony who loved to snack constantly. This meant that my efforts to hold the reins were tested as Mitch sampled the passing greenery.
Just before lunch we tried our first trots – Mitch and I had a great time, his patience generous as I figured out how to get a good rhythm going with my legs. We finally hit our stride and I discovered that I had some leg muscles that I had not been aware of in some time! But I was still feeling smugly optimistic about keeping it together.
After lunch and a snooze by the river at campsite, we got back into the saddle. I immediately discovered some bones that felt all together new to me – but I was happy with how my body felt. We enjoyed a meandering ride along the banks of the Howqua river, where there were several high-speed and daring canters along winding and twisty bush tracks – it was a matter of holding on and keeping our heads down as our horses (and my pony) enjoyed giving their legs a good stretch!
The end of the day was welcomed, all riders dismounting and waddling off for a refreshing swim in the river. A brief spotting of a small Yellow Belly snake didn’t deter any swimmers, and we soaked our aching muscles in the cool mountain waters. A night swagging under the stars passed quickly, muscle fatigue guaranteeing a sound sleep.
The next morning we mounted our steeds again, and I knew where my knees were! Thankfully one of the guides lengthening my stirrups and it felt easier on the knees, but the quad muscles didn’t notice the change! We rode out back over a series of long rolling hills with incredible vistas, and then rode past the famous hill from the downhill chase scene in the film Man from Snowy River – the hill almost as steep as a cliff! We descended slowly from the hills down towards the ranch, where there were grumbles from the group about various body aches. The group – I suspect both humans and horses alike – were pleased as we rolled into the main ranch stalls to complete our ride. Both my two friends and I compared body checks – my adductors and shoulder muscles were sore, whilst they both complained of aching sit bones and quads muscles. We groaned all the way home in the car, and I was convinced that we would all be very sore the next day.
The next day came along, and I was pleased to discover that I had some minimal soreness in my thighs and shoulder muscles, but otherwise felt great! I rang my two friends to see how they were feeling – turned out they were both still hobbling about with sore backsides, legs, shoulders and arms. I decided that all the leg work and core strengthening I had been doing in pilates must have made the difference, as it was the only thing extra that I had been doing in preparation for the ride compared to the other ladies!
So, my top tips for surviving a horse trail ride:
- wear jodhpurs or light super flexible jeans
- prepare your legs, core and shoulders with pilates or similar exercises 8-6 weeks prior
- stretch and cool down after each riding session with a gentle walk (or a river swim!)
- stay relaxed whilst riding
- wear sunscreen
- pack some muscle heat rub in case of aches!