Prepare for All-Day Trail Rides

Nutritionist and fitness expert Kelly Altschwager shows you how to prepare your body for long days in the saddle and how to stay fueled for your ride the day of.
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When you head out for an all-day trail ride you can expect to spend most of your day riding your horse. But with long days in the saddle comes soreness and an aching body by the time you dismount.

You condition your horse before a ride like this and provide him the nutrition he needs to stay happy and healthy, so why not do the same for yourself? Here I’ll cover a few stretches and exercises you can do leading up to your long day in the saddle to ensure your body doesn’t hurt halfway through your ride. Then I’ll go over ways you can keep yourself fueled on the day of. I’ll also offer some of my favorite travel and riding tips I’ve picked up during my time riding in the backcountry.

Condition Yourself

If you know you have a ride coming up that you know is going to require long hours in the saddle, prepare for it ahead of time by incorporating a few pre-ride/post-ride stretches and exercises to your daily routine.

Stretch. I recommend doing about 10 to 15 minutes of stretch both before and after your ride to keep your body nimble. Some of my favorite stretches before I ride include the standing quad stretch, modified pigeon pose, single-leg chair, and child’s pose. It’s also a good idea to do a little bit of stretching when you wake up and before you go to bed.

[Sign up for Horse&Rider OnDemand's free 7-day trial to see these stretches and exercises in action.]

Strengthen. Some exercises you can include into your workout routine (that can easily be done at home) are planks and reverse planks, which will help build strength in the trunk of your body and build stability in your core. Reverse planks will also help strengthen your glutes. Depending on your fitness ability, pick a certain amount of time to hold each plank for. A good starting point is 30 to 45 seconds. As you get stronger, try to hold your planks for longer periods of time.

Bodyweight glute bridges are another favorite of mine as they help your hamstrings and glutes, which are two muscles that easily get sore and tired when you’re riding. Once you can do glute bridges with both legs on the ground, up the degree of difficulty and try single-leg glute bridges. By using a single leg at a time you’ll also have a better idea of which side is your weaker side and needs more attention.

Bulgarian split squats will work your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and your inner and outer thighs, but it also helps improve your balance and stability—both necessary skills when you’re in the saddle.

Kelly Altschwager on a bay horse surrounded by green grass and trees in the mountains.

When I head into the backcountry for an all-day ride, I like to make sure I'm physically fit for the job and that I have access to food that'll help fuel me during my ride.

[READ: Fit for Your Ride]

Fuel for Success

When the day finally arrives and you’re getting ready to hook up your truck and trailer and drive to the trailhead, there are a few things you need to keep in mind to help you stay well-fueled during your adventure. If you’re only going to be out during the day or plan on returning to your trailer to sleep at night, I recommend investing in some insulated saddle bags that’ll keep your water and food cool while you’re riding.

Stay Hydrated. You need to stay hydrated through the duration of your ride—especially if you’re riding in the summer and are more likely to sweat. Pack plenty of water ahead of time, so you have some at the trailer and when you’re on your ride. (It’s also beneficial to research your trailhead before your ride to see if you’ll have access to water or if you need to pack extra water for your four-legged friend, too.)

In case of emergency, I also recommend carrying a water bottle that uses ultralight to purify water with you while you ride. (You can find this kind of water bottle on Amazon or at an outdoors retailer.)

Bring Snacks. Plan your snacks ahead of time. If you’re going to be doing a multi-day ride, make sure you have enough food for each ride. I also recommend packing some extra food each day, in case you run into any unexpected weather, one of your riding buddies need additional food, or you find yourself a little hungrier than you thought you’d be. Protein and carbs with fat will keep your muscles energized and your body fueled and keep you thinking clearly. If you don’t have a living-quarters trailer, bring a Yeti cooler, or something that can hold ice for multiple days and keep extra water and snacks in there. A small jetboil and dehydrated meals also come in handy for overnight rides.

Some of my favorite must-have snacks when I’m going to be trail riding all day are:

· Pre-made sandwiches and/or tortilla wraps

· Beef jerky or sticks

· Cliff Bars

· Cliff Protein Builder Bars

· Honey Stinger Waffles

· Honey Stinger Energy Chews

· Apples, oranges, or other easy-to-carry fruits and veggies

· Pickles (these also provide added salt)

· Trail mix

three horses wearing trail riding tack, standing in a grassy field.

I always like to pack extra snacks and water in my saddle bag just in case something happens and we're out longer than we planned on being. 

Safety First

After spending many years packing horses into the backcountry, and doing all-day rides, here are a few of my favorite tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Saddle-Bag Must-Haves: There are a few non-food items that I also like to make sure I have in my saddle bags when I head out for a long ride. Including:

· First-aid kit for horses and humans

· Hoof pick

· Sunscreen

· Chapstick

· Waterproof jacket

· Gloves

· Waterproof Maps

· Knife

· Lighter or waterproof matches

· Onyx app or iHunt app or any other tracking app to ensure you’re on public land/on the trail you’re supposed to be on

Tack Check: Before you load your tack into the trailer, take a minute to examine all of your gear. Look for any loose screws or dried out leather. You want to replace any equipment before you go out on the trail. 

[READ: Be Aware on the Trail for Safety]

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