If you’ve got a horseback ride planned as part of your vacation, you’ll want to make sure you pack the essentials to keep you comfortable and safe in the saddle.
Horseback riding while on holiday is a great way to mix up your itinerary. I grew up horse riding, so getting in the saddle is one of the most natural things for me, but besides the fact that I feel most comfortable when there is a thin layer of dirt on my fingers and horse hair covering my clothing, every time I seek out a place to ride while on holiday I end up somewhere I never would have otherwise gone. Whether it’s riding in lush green forests on the outskirts of Seattle or the coffee plantations of Cuba, I love the explorations rides take me on.
It’s easy to overlook the things you might need on a ride, especially if you’re just doing a one or two hour ride on a single day and not a long-distance or multi-day ride. But, having the right gear will definitely make a huge difference to how much you enjoy the ride. So, here are some of the things to think about packing whether you’re headed out for a short trail ride or a multi-day expedition.
Before you head out on any ride, make sure you have insurance. Trip insurance will likely cover horseback riding. But do check as some providers may classify it as a higher risk sport and require enhanced insurance. I can’t stress how important travel insurance is. On any trip, but definitely when you’re going riding. Horse are animals, they have their own brains and things can and do go wrong. This is not to scare you, but to make sure you are being realistic about though ‘oh I’ll be fine’ bit of your brain. Just get insurance. My preferred provider (who I’ve had to claim from twice now – through a very simple and quick process) is World Nomads.
Short trail ride
Even if you’re only going to be in the saddle for an hour or two, you still want to pack and/or wear the right clothing. The most important thing to think about is your legs.
Or, here’s a multi-day trek packing list.
1. Long, Fitted Pants
Your legs will thank you for covering them. The reason you need to be so vigilant about covering your legs is mostly because of the leathers of the stirrups. They will rub and potentially pinch your legs if you’re in shorts. This can also be an issue in thinner pants like linen or even leggings. Jeans are your best bet, plenty of riders wear them on casual days in place of riding pants anyways. I’d recommend going with fitted jeans as they are less likely to shift around or up your leg meaning less chance of rubs. Plus, bugs love horses, the more skin you have exposed the more bites you’re risking getting.
2. Tall Socks
The goal with your legs is to leave no skin exposed. Again: rubs, bugs. Wear a pair of tall socks, and pull them up over the bottom of your pants. I know, it’s not the most stylish look, but I promise you will be much more comfortable this way.
3. Shoes With A Heel
This one is about safety and it is really important. The heel of your boot will keep your foot from potentially sliding all the way through your stirrup and, in the event of an accident, a leg sliding through the stirrup is incredibly dangerous and could mean being dragged. The boots pictured here are a pair that I own and love. They are not riding boots and I wear them in everyday life, but they are totally adequate to wear on a short ride as the heel is more than sufficient to keep you safe. I will be honest here, I’ve gone riding in sneakers. Mostly that’s happened in hot countries where I would have absolutely no need for these boots outside of riding, and as a backpack traveler, couldn’t give up the space. I really advise against doing it. However, the big absolutely no chance, no way, no how is open toed shoes. I don’t think the vast majority of ride providers would even let you near a horse in open toed shoes – that’s because you very well may walk away with a few toes fewer. Horses don’t mean to do it, but they very easily could step on your feet.
Even if your ride starts out cold, you’re likely going to warm up pretty quickly. Despite what certain parts of the population say, riding is a workout. Plan to wear light layers that are easily removable and breathable. Top layers should not be anything that needs to be removed over the head. That means your jacket or sweatshirt needs to be open at the front. You won’t be able to get anything over a helmet, and that amount of movement in the saddle can potentially spook some horses. Two other pro-tips: avoid fleeces, they attract hair, and avoid light colors, they attract dirt.
5. Sports Bra
Ladies, trust me, you’ll be glad for the support.
6. Rain Jacket
Depending on where you’re riding this may be totally unnecessary. But, if you are somewhere that is prone to wet weather, pack it. No trail ride will stop for a bit of drizzle or even heavier precipitation. If you do wear a rain jacket, be sure it cuts off at your hips, trench type jackets won’t allow you to move easily in the saddle.
While gloves are completely not compulsory and are probably a bit extra for some basic rides, they can add a lot to your comfort, so if you have them, throw them in your bag. They will both protect your hand from the reins rubbing, and keep your fingers warm if you’re out on a cold or damp day.
8. Camera Harness
We all know you’re going to be taking pictures doing your ride. And if you have a DSLR that means figuring out how to carry it. You DO NOT want to put it in a backpack. Getting to your backpack while you’re in the saddle is not only going to be tricky but it is potentially dangerous. You could stick with your regular cross body strap but your camera will bounce around and bang against your saddle. Ideally, with a DSLR, you want it on the front of your body so it bounces less and is easily accessible. Also, make sure your lens cap is attached to your camera. I dropped mine in the Cairo desert. Luckily, I can hop on and off a horse with ease so it was not lost to the pharaohs forever. If you plan to use your phone as a camera, you’re going to want some type of wrist strap attached to it to make sure it doesn’t end up smashed on the forest floor.
9. Camera Rain Cover
Again, your need for this will depend on the weather. But, if there’s any chance of rain, throw it over your valuable DSLR. No trail guide, much less the other riders out with you, are going to be happy to turn back because you didn’t come prepared and now your camera is getting wet. If you’re not sure about the weather, stash this in your fanny pack and pause to put it on if the weather changes.
10. Lens Hood
It’s honestly a good idea to always have a hood on your lens. While they help with glares in bright light they also help to protect your valuable lenses. And in the saddle, where there is, unfortunately, a lot of potential for jostling and banging, this is a really invaluable piece of plastic worth its weight in gold.
11. Fanny Pack
You’ll want to limit what you have with you on a ride but you may find you still need a few essentials. Wallet, car keys, things you can’t safely leave behind. The best way to carry these small bits is in a fanny pack. Anything in your pockets will likely poke and prod you or possibly fall out. A backpack, as mentioned earlier, isn’t easy to access while you’re riding and can also bang agains the back of your saddle. A fanny pack will sit nicely in front of you and leave you uninhibited to ride comfortable and safely.
The need for sunglasses obviously depends on the weather. But, they can also be useful for keeping debris, and horse hair, out of your eyes.
My mother will be so proud of me for what I am about to say: wear sunscreen. I prefer a spray bottle like this one, especially if I’m going to have to reapply during the ride. While I love dirty fingers they’re not especially conducive to a nice new layer of sunscreen. Also, make sure your sunscreen is reef safe, even if you are miles away from any reef.
14. Bug repellent
You’re definitely going to want to spray yourself. While bugs love horses, and will likely bite them before biting you, they’ll be around and if you’re not sprayed up you’re likely to get a few nibbles as well. Again, I love a spray for its ease of application. Whether you decide to go DEET or something more natural should really depend on where you are. If there are lots of mosquito born diseases to consider, DEET will help protect against those. If it’s really just the nuisance of getting bit, something less chemically will do the trick. And, if you forget to pack any spray, ask your trail provide, they’ll have a spray for the horses which you can dose yourself in.
15. Hand sanitizer
While I love the thin layer of dirt left on my fingers after a long day with horses, if you’re not used to it, you probably won’t. And, depending on where you are riding, hand wash facilities may not immediately be available. Throw a little purell in your bag and have a quick on-the-go rinse off after you pat your pony goodbye.
16. Treats for your horse
Everyone deserves a little treat for a job well done! If you really want to invest in your thanks, some horse treats are easily obtained. But, any equine will just as happily accept apples, carrots, or sugar cubes. Do, of course, ask permission from your guide before handing out treats. Likely they will say yes, but you can never be too safe!
If you’re headed out on a holiday for the sole purpose of riding and will be in the saddle for multiple hours over many days, your luggage will likely look a bit different. While much of my guidance as to what to carry with you in the saddle will be the same as above, parts of your horseback riding outfit can be more tailored towards the actual riding. There aren’t a lot of tops specific to horse riding clothes – or at least any that will make much of a difference. The guidance for that remains as above, fitted layers and nothing on top that goes over the head.
If you’re going to be riding for multiple days, bring your own helmet. While many ride providers likely have ones that you can borrow, the chances of them fitting you exactly are slim. This not only puts you at a much higher risk of head injury, should you hit the ground, it also means you will be much less comfortable. Believe me, I’ve ridden in ill-fitting helmets, it ends in nothing less than a pounding headache. You don’t want that day after day after day. The above picture helmet is a Charles Owen. These are a pretty standard helmet which are well made and meet safety standards. They are an investment, but head safety isn’t something to be messed about with.
2. Riding pants
While jeans will still be fine for multi-day trips, proper horse riding pants will be better. Not only are they stretchier but they also have reinforced leather patches on the inside of the knee which will keep your legs from excess rubbing (keep in mind there are some pants called ‘full seat breeches, these have a leather patch that goes all the way through the inner of your thighs and crotch, I find these uncomfortable and are likely unnecessary for what you’re doing) Plus, if you wear your jeans over multiple days they might end up developing holes. The pants pictured here are Ariat, a favorite riding brand. Other popular brands are TuffRider, Horseware, and Ovation. There are plenty of different types of riding pants including lighter ones for summer, fleece lined for winter, and waterproof. Shop around to see what makes sense for your trip. I’d recommend (though I like going light on laundry) bringing a pair for very three days of riding.
3. Horseback Riding Boots
Invest in proper riding boots if you’re going out for a long ride. Again, these are Ariats. I love Ariats and have used them for my riding boots for a long as I can remember. Personally, I much prefer lace-ups to zip-ups as I can get them nice and snug around my fit. Not everyone agrees on that. Short boots like these are called paddock boots. You can get tall boots. But, they will not be as comfortable, are likely unnecessary, and will take quite some time to break in well.
4. Tall boot socks
While a normal tall sock will do – as listed above, for longer rides I’d recommend getting something that will fully cover your calf. Tall boot socks are made for this and are also made to be pulled over pants and then put under chaps (or tall boots). Tall boot socks can also be fabulously colorful and fun!
5. Half Chaps
While you could ride every day in tall boots. Don’t. Get paddock boots, as mentioned above and cover them with half chaps to help your legs and your grip. Something to be conscious of if you’re buying new, is how stiff the leather of the half chap is. If its too stiff and not broken in, the top of the chap could dig into the back of your thigh when your knee is bent, which it will be.
6. Riding Gloves
If you don’t wear gloves, and aren’t used to riding daily without them, you’re going to get blisters. A good pair of well fitted, thin gloves will get you through and keep you much happier.
A lot of the way I dress in the saddle comes from my past in the U.S. hunter/jumper ring. I’m sparing you my recommendation of a hair net. But, I’d still recommend a belt. It just keeps the whole thing tidier, it keeps those pants up where they belong nice and snug and secure.
8. Ear Cover
If you’re going horse riding in winter, consider investing in an ear cover. This is the part of your body that will be most exposed and least protected. You’ll want something that goes over your helmet rather than under as if the helmet is fitted properly there shouldn’t be space for another layer on the inside.
9. Muscle Rub
You’re gonna be sore. And if you have to get up in the morning and do it again tomorrow, you’re going to want some relief for your muscles. I love Bengay but Tiger Balm is another much loved ointment. You might also consider arnica gel – bruises are totally possible.
There’s definitely a lot to think about when prepping for a horse ride, but it’s easy to order all of this into priorities. Start with your safety. From there, you comfort, then your enjoyment. And of course, treats for the pony are a must!
Ultimately though, enjoy yourself, don’t stress too much about what you’re wearing or how you look!
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