Distance Riding Primer

Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association
‘ Come Ride With Us’

OCTRA is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the enjoyment of distance riding. We are a group of enthusiastic and supportive people who enjoy exploring fabulous, well-marked trails throughout some of the most picturesque regions of Ontario and Quebec. Distance riding provides challenges that expand your horsemanship abilities, enhance your partnership with your horse and refine your trail riding skills.

The worldwide motto of the sport of distance riding is ‘to complete is to win‘ . This standard ensures that participating horses finish the distance ‘fit to continue‘ .

Basic OCTRA Rules, simplified:

Please refer to our current Rule Book for exact wording, By-law and Article.

  • OCTRA Membership is required with a Day Membership available at each sanctioned distance ride
  • Proof of Off-Farm Liability Insurance, minimum $1 ,000,000 or Ontario Equestrian Federation Membership, (OEF) membership also available at each event
  • Negative Coggins test within the previous twelve months(applies also to companion equine) unless the event is a sanctioned Training Ride
  • Equine must be four years. old for a Training Ride, Mileage Ride or Competitive Trail and five years old to enter a Ride ‘n’ Tie or an Endurance Ride
  • Equine showing signs of a contagious disease are not permitted. Entry is denied to equine that are totally blind or have been nerved.
  • Corrective shoeing, pads and Easyboots are permitted. Unshod equine may enter. Equine leg protection is discipline specific, check first.
  • Stallions must be ridden by an adult and display a yellow tail ribbon, known kickers must display a red tail ribbon and novices, equine or human are encouraged to display a green tail ribbon.
  • Unruly behaviour, equine or human, will lead to disqualification. Any equine abuse will not be tolerated.
  • Administration of any internal drug or fluid, other equine drugs or medical regimes are strictly prohibited. Drug testing is permitted and endorsed with ride registration. No salves or liniments.
  • The Head Veterinarian will direct and supervise immediate medical intervention if required. All equine participants must receive a final veterinarian check before leaving the ride site.
  • Knowledgeable use of electrolytes is permitted and encouraged for distance athletes. (Riders need to be cognizant and replace their own fluid loss)
  • Equine will be presented on time for a pre-ride veterinarian inspection, any mid-ride veterinarian checks and a post-ride veterinarian inspection
  • Equine must be judged ‘ fit to continue’ before, during and after the completion of a distance ride
  • Helmets are required at all times while riding, riders must give way to other participants when requested to do so
  • Junior riders require sponsors at all times, refer to the complete Junior Rule

Interested in Distance Riding?

The best place to start is by volunteering at an OCTRA event increasing your knowledge while preparing for your first distance ride. Consider using your current horse and current equipment, as your first challenge will be between you and your horse, the time and the terrain. Achieve your own goals, for you and your equine partner, before competing against others. Check out some OCTRA videos of actual past events and documentaries. ‘ Hidalgo’ is not a recommended source of info.

Assessing your current horse

In partnership with your veterinarian assess your horse’s breed,temperament, conformation, soundness, body condition and current level of fitness. Note your horse’s gait, impulsion and attitude. Learn how to do the Horse Health Check that includes pulse rate, respiration rate, hydration skin pinch, mucous membrane check, capillary refill time, gut sounds, rectal temperature, anal tone and muscle tone. The ability to take your horse’s vital signs will be beneficial even if you decide not to participate in the sport of distance riding. Purchase your own stethoscope.

Your veterinarian will explain possible injuries to back, legs,tendons and joints, and how to detect heat, swelling, pain along with suitable first-aid treatments. Have a dental check-up done. Seek their advise on electrolyte use for distance riding, dose, method of administration and types.

If you receive the go ahead for distance riding, now is the time to request a Coggins test be done, as well as the recommended vaccinations. A regular deworming program is mandatory to the health of your horse.

Inform your blacksmith or farrier of your plans to participate in distance riding and ask for advise on shoeing, lack of shoes or alternatives to shoeing.

Discuss with an equine nutritionist the energy requirements and levels for distance athletes, the importance of quality hay, possible grain rations, salt and selenium for your specific location and horse,vitamins and mineral supplements.

Horse and Rider Equipment

For distance riding, safety and comfort for both equine and human are extremely important. School and train, as well as participate in the same equipment and attire. Do a trial with your rain gear. Do not make changes the day of a distance ride.

Check your current equipment for appropriate placement, fit, comfort and ensure everything is in good repair. As your horse becomes toned inspect the saddle fit more often. Standing martingales and spurs are not appropriate equipment for distance riding. Crops are permitted as aids for cuing. Breast collars and cruppers are very acceptable.Consider leg protection for both horse and rider, i.e. simple splint &amp rear ankle boots, riding tights &amp half-chaps. If you currently own a traditional riding helmet, investigate the new lightweight, vented equestrian use sport helmets.

Note: Equine leg protection is discouraged in Competitive Trail however, it is allowed but assessed penalty points. Base your decisionon the welfare of your own horse. Contact a CTR Ride Manager for the specific rule.


Ground control is essential for everyone’s safety. Horses need the ability to trot in hand, in a straight line and complete a perfect figure eight. Lunging at the trot, both directions,is also a prerequisite. A lunge whip is allowed but only as encouragement, it must never touch the horse or be cracked. Horses need to be safe on trail. You may encounter pavement, dirt, sand, stone,rock, mud, water, and bridges or other trail obstacles. Also, other trail users: hikers, bikers, motocross vehicles, ATVs, snowmobiles and dog sled teams. Horses must learn to ride in the company of others and also solo with confidence. Passing horses should not unsettle your mount. Do you possess stopping and steering control? Can you disengage forward movement.

Practice at home, sponging your horse from the ground and from your saddle. Can you pour water down both sides of their neck? Attach sponges and scoops, plus water bottles for yourself to your saddle or your waist. How does your horse deal with these on trail? Encourage your horse to drink from different water sources, at different locations and take advantage of water on trail. Practice this skill.

Horses need to load and travel quietly. You may need to borrow or rent a trailer, make sure it is safe and road worthy. If you are lucky enough to hitch a ride, ask first, what the cost will be. Remember trailer owners pay not only for fuel but all the extras associated with a truck and trailer! Make sure you are no bother. Be ready, be packed, and be useful. Bring all your own supplies including hay. Think about providing the driver with snacks, drinks or possibly a meal.

How will you contain your horse once you get to the ride site? Practice at home. Tied to the trailer or a picket line, in an enclosure of electric fencing or a portable corral? Practice at home an overnight. Practice feeding and watering.

Remember at a ride site, even the best prepared horse will still be very excited at their first distance ride, so don’t be alarmed as you’ve refined all your skills at home first!

Training and Conditioning for distance riding

Every other day ride three to five miles or 1/4 to 1/3 of your goal distance. Do this for four to six weeks, knocking off five minutes every third ride over the same distance, until you can do the distance in an average of six mph or ten km per hour at a steady trot. Include variations of the trot from jogging, posting and extended. Be kind,know your diagonals! When successful lengthen the distance and begin the process again.

Injuries are most likely to occur at the beginning of your conditioning schedule. Tendons and joints need time to adjust to the added workload. A very unfit horse should start with twenty minutes of riding divided into ten minutes of walking and ten minutes of trotting. Monitor for heat, swelling, pain.

Wear a watch, condition over a marked route so you know how far and how fast.

  • Fifteen minute mile equals 4 mph or 6.5 km per hour
  • Ten minute mile equals six mph or 10 km per hour

Prevention of Injuries

  • Injuries are more common in fatigued horses
  • The faster the pace, the more things go wrong
  • Stress related injuries equal too hard, too fast, remember stress to build not to break

Rider Fitness

A fit knowledgeable rider enhances the horse’s abilities. A distance rider’s riding technique must be in harmony with their horse in order to complete the ride. Improve suppleness with stretching your leg muscles and tendons. Consider walking, jogging, running, yoga or an individualized fitness routine. Riders need to remember to maintain their own well-being, especially during a distance ride.

Choosing your first Distance Ride

  • The best option is to participate in an OCTRA Training Clinic and Ride
  • Check the Ride Schedule for advertised new shorter distance rides
  • Pick a ride close to home, that offers terrain similar to your training course
  • Contact directly the Ride Manager for recommended requirements, i.e. shoes/pads, bring your own personal drinking water, etc.
  • Ask about ride site amenities and their method to dispose of manure and discarded hay
  • Most distance rides require pre-registration a minimum of ten days before the actual event with day entries being surcharged a late fee – ask about refund policy

What to pack

Logbook containing membership cards, proof of liability insurance,original copy of Coggins, horse registration papers if applicable and in time, completed Judging Cards and an OCTRA rulebook

Horse needsRider needsUseful stuffMid-ride check
BridleHelmetHoof pickFeed, dish, hay
SaddleRiding attireSpongeApples, carrots
Saddle padFanny packScoopSalt
Grooming toolsWaterExtra halterElectrolytes
Feed, dish, bucketNutritious snacksExtra leadBeet pulp
Manure fork, tubWatchExtra syringesBlanket
Containment equipExtra clothesTumsSheet
BlanketsRaingearHard candyCurry, brush
SheetsBootsSunglassesRider food, water
Fly spraySunscreenWipesTissue
First Aid kitHatBananas
Shipping bootsLawn chairExtra hay
Hay, hay net

If trailering with someone else, have all your supplies in convenient, easy to carry, easy to pack containers – labeled.

The more involved with distance riding, the more stuff you’ll need and bring!

Ride Day

Up to and including six hours before the start of the distance ride,feed as normal. After six hours, no more grain only hay. Arrive approximately two hours before the start of the distance ride. Enter the ride site and find the registration area. If your horse remains quiet, leave it on the trailer while you go to the registration desk. Make sure the Ride Secretary knows this is your first distance ride. Ask for the time that vetting will begin. Inquire about where would be the best place to park your rig. Once settled, quietly unload your horse. With your horse investigate the ride site. Find the Pulse and Respiration area and the Vetting area. Introduce your horse to their water source. Be patient. Give your horse time to decide to drink. Wander back to your rig. Secure your horse for safety. Start to get organized for the ride and the mid-ride check. Meet your neighbours.

It is very important to attend the pre-ride talk. Don’t miss this. Ask lots of questions. Make sure you fully understand the process, the vetting, the trail, and the day’s parameters. If the TrailMaster has specified restrictions, these must be obeyed.

On Trail

Ride your own ride. Stay in control of your horse. Give way when safe if an approaching rider requests trail. Passing on trail is very common. Veteran riders will approach steadily, pass and check on you before picking up their speed again. If you are in trouble, ask for assistance immediately.

Trails are marked with white marking tape indicating continue straight ahead. A combination of red and white marking tape is a warning of an approaching single red marking tape signaling an immediate right turn. A combination of blue and white marking tape is a warning of an approaching single blue marking tape signaling an immediate left turn. Trail marking tape is hung on the right side of the trails. If you have traveled a distance without seeing marking tape return to the last tape and check, perhaps it was a turn.

There is nothing wrong with allowing your horse to eat and drink on trail just be sure not to obstruct the trail for others. Remember, riders also need to keep themselves fed and hydrated. Make good use of your fanny pack!

Enjoy your ride. Have fun. Should you fall behind the pace, don’t worry the Ride Management will know where you are. The safe return of you and your horse is more important than any completion certificate. Should you not wish to finish, send word to the Ride Manager for a trailer ride back to the ride site. If you arrive too early, you’ve over-ridden your horse!

After the ride

Your priority is to your horse. Once vetted through, return to your rig. Provide lots of water, some feed and hay. Massage and groom. Blanket if necessary. As your horse continues to eat and relax, change your clothes, clean your equipment and organize for your trip home.

Quietly walk your horse around the ride site. Observe their attitude and movement. If you have any concerns, return to the vetting area.

Most horses once returned to their rig and fed, will want to snooze. This is the time for you to attend the awards dinner. Check your horse on your return. Again with your equine partner wander around the ride site. On your return, breakdown your spot. Dispose of debris and manure. Take your garbage home.

If you have any concerns regarding your horse make sure you check with the Ride Vet before loading and traveling home.

Once home, settle your horse. Observe him carefully. Once you feel ready to ride again, probably so will your horse! See you on the trails.

Education Committee, 2004