- Means of transport-Mezzo di trasporto-Moyen de transport:
On horseback-A cavallo-A cheval
- Geographical description-Riferimento geografico-Référence géographique:
Some Practical Advice for Long Distance Riding
On Choosing a Horse
The horse is the most important on a long ride so I begin with him. In choosing a horse you should look for a sturdy type with strong hooves and tendons, one that has, above all, a long forward and ground covering walk. It is preferable that he be over rather than under seven years old. He should be fearless and used to different stables so that he will eat and drink wherever he is.
On Choosing Equipment
Equipment is the second most important consideration. The army has had the most experience in testing what is practical. I have therefore used a cavalry saddle (its bearing surface is larger and the pack has a better resting place), officer’s model and their voylock, a six-folded saddle blanket, having the advantage of always staying soft and that you always have a blanket along, but with the disadvantage that it is very difficult to fold in such a way that there are no uneven parts, which immediately would scald the horse.
Because of this, I have used a thick pad during hot weather, cut square, so that the saddle bags would not touch the horse directly, (which would cause immediate chafing) lined with tight canvas so that sweat is easily washed off. I have used an ordinary civilian model bridle, the army issue has attached halter, but I have found it best to have a halter made of soft material to trade off with, otherwise the horse is easily chafed around the ears and so on when wearing the same headgear all the time.
The pack, stored in four French Army saddle packets, (2 in front, 2 behind the saddle) have consisted of the following:
In one front pocket; brush and curry comb; wraps, blanket surcingle and sponge, plus halter and lead. In the other front pocket; my toilet articles, soap, nail brush, toothbrush, creams, powder, slippers, camera and a few smaller items. Back pocket number 1: pajamas, a change of silk underwear, ditto of French knit ( for riding, when thick underwear is preferable) three pair of stockings, diary, books, maps, writing utensils. Back pocket number 2; shoes, hand bag and two dresses (in winter a thick wool dress that does not wrinkle, plus a lighter one of muslin cotton; summer time a silk dress with a flower pattern that does not show wrinkles, all in as simple a cut and using as little material as possible). You have to consider that each item, no matter how small, still weighs something.
Pack, saddle and blanket weigh 23 ½ kilos (52 pounds) and with my own weight of 72 kilos (158 pounds) in addition, that is a grand total of 95 ½ kilos (210 pounds) to carry. Besides this I carry a rolled up trench coat behind the saddle.
Care and Feeding of the Horse on the Road
The care of the horse has been as follows; When the day’s destination is reached around 4-5 p.m., sometimes earlier, sometimes later, I try to obtain the best stable possible. I prefer those where privately owned cows and horses are kept as opposed to public livery stables. (Cows and horses don’t have the same illnesses). If the horse is to be boarded in an open stall, it should be roomy and well bedded with clean straw. Better yet is to stable the horse in a box stall, where the horse is able to rest properly. Regardless, my first task is to wash out that night's manger with hot saline water. After that I request ten kilos (22 pounds) of oats, which I carefully weigh in a bag.
Next, I wash first the hooves and legs, then the saddle area, of the horse with cold water. Then I wrap the legs with wet linen wraps (they stay on until dry) and the horse is blanketed. You have to rub him with straw if he appears too cold. After this he is allowed to drink as much water as he wants. I then give him 3 kilos (6.6 pounds) of oats and as much hay as he will eat, usually around 5 kilos (11 pounds). Many horses will not eat until they have had water and as the main objective is to have the horse consume as much feed as possible, I have always given him water first and never noticed any adverse effects.
The feed in every stable has to be thoroughly inspected, making sure that no rats have been in the oats and that the hay does not smell moldy. You must never leave the barn until you have made sure that the horse is eating with good appetite. The horse’s condition is crucial on a long ride and you must monitor his appetite. The more he eats, the better. A few hundred grams of sugar cubes per day (about 20-30 sugar cubes) is very beneficial for a long distance horse.
When everything in the barn is done, I go to the hotel and change from top to toe and have a bath, if one is available. At 9 p.m., after my own dinner, I return to the stable, give a light grooming but let the blanket stay on over night and feed another 4 kilos (9 pounds) of oats and let the water bucket stay in the box. Between 5-6 in the morning, the remaining 3 kilos (6.6 pounds) of oats are fed, followed by a thorough grooming and application of hoof conditioner.
A Day on the Road
I start between eight and nine in the morning. Wraps applied on the horse's front legs provide support and rest. If that day’s march is not to exceed 60 kilometers (37 miles) I take no other rest than a half hour break at mid-afternoon, during which time I loosen the girth and let Castor graze. It is tempting to take rest during the course of that day's travel at inns along the way. However it is even more advantageous to arrive at that night's proposed rest stop as early as possible. This provides the horse better rest.
When choosing roads, I mostly follow the main roads. Shortcuts are often tardy. Castor prefers the hard even road over soft meadows and uneven loose ground.
Our pace has been mostly at the walk on a long rein, to allow the propelling power of the hind end to work freely. Castor walks in paso like walk (where you sit as quiet and still as in a chair). He normally covers 10 kilometers (6.25 miles) in 70 minutes. He keeps this pace all day, every day. Trot is occasional, perhaps a total of 10 kilometers (6.25 miles) over a distance of 60 kilometers (37 miles) traveled in a day. We practically never gallop, unless we are nearing a destination where we will have an extended stay. When it isn’t a competition and you have all day, it is smart to save your horse. In spite of this, I seldom dismount to lead my horse. This would only occur in difficult mountain terrain or on very hot days. I often ride 60 kilometers (37 miles) at a stretch without leaving the saddle.
Lodgings and Problems on the Road
If the horse feels tired or sore, the best thing is to rest a day. In any case, the horse has to have one rest day a week. Should he become saddle sore, you can cut a hole in the saddle blanket, but the best thing to do is to continue on bare back. If the saddle is properly fitted to the horse, sores should not occur. But it can happen easily enough and is a very sad and troublesome occurrence on a journey like this.
The itinerary should be arranged so that there are not too many long segments in a row, but rather every other one. On even ground 40-50 kilometers (25-30 miles) a day makes for a very pleasant ride, while riding more than 60 kilometers (37 miles) starts being a bit long. In mountainous regions, 40 kilometers (25 miles) a day is quite enough. It is a good idea to plan rest days in cities, where you can hope to find a good stable and interesting things to do yourself. It is also a good idea to book a hotel room in advance in a larger city. However in smaller towns it is quite sufficient just to ask someone, preferably a policeman, where to find lodgings for you and your horse. If there is no stable at the hotel, they can easily recommend someplace.
You must never forget that the horse is your primary concern. Your needs always come secondary to his. But even if he is stabled in the best of barns, never leave his care to anyone else. I am my own best servant. I attend to the smallest details of a journey in advance myself, down to every strap, buckle and horse shoe.
Financing Equestrian Travel
Finally a few words about the economic aspect. Most people believe that this is a tremendously expensive proposition. Of course, this will depend on how you live, but I want to stress the fact that the year has the same number of days, whether you keep a horse here or there. The cost of basic maintenance for Castor and me cost pretty much the same everywhere I travel. Only if I live in a large city does it becomes much more expensive, what with entertainment, car, clothes, dinners and so on. However on a long ride you most often stay in small hostels and you are always moving.
Life on the Road
Plus, when you are traveling no one worries about the look of your dress. Secondly, after a 60-70 kilometer (37-44 mile) ride out in the fresh air, you are glad to hit the sack early! You have a wonderfully good tiredness and sleep well anywhere. My meals I divide into: breakfast with coffee, egg, bread and butter at 8 a.m., followed by a cup of chocolate between five and six p.m. after I arrive at my destination. I normally have my dinner at eight p.m.. It consists of an omelet and bread, plus some fruit.
Many people cannot understand how you can ride alone. First of all, you are not alone, since you have your horse. Secondly, no two horses walk alike, and thirdly two people seldom think alike. When one wants to stop, the other one wants to continue and so on. Additionally, in foreign countries you never get close to the people if you have a compatriot along, since the two of you will naturally speak your native tongue. This erects a wall put up between “them” and “us”.