Most people get into horses for recreation. They envision an invigorating ride through the woods with some camping along the way. Trail riding can also be competitive. Serious trail riders seek out competitive events, such as the Cross State Trail Ride (a longtime long-distance ride that originates in Vermont) or the Tevis Cup endurance ride. Both involve serious planning, conditioning, and preparation before you and your horse can undertake them safely.
The Tevis Cup is to trail riding what the Iditarod is to dog sledding. Its slogan is “100 miles in one day,” and the terrain is rough. It is said to have 19,000 feet of uphill riding and 22,000 feet of downhill riding. The trophy is awarded to the first rider to finish “whose mount is fit to continue.”
Land use for recreational horseback riding, whether public or private, has become increasingly restricted with urban sprawl and development. Even if you live in a rural area, you should obtain permission to ride on someone else's land before you do so. Otherwise, you will be trespassing on private property. If a landowner is neighborly enough to allow you to ride on his property, stay in his good graces by shutting all gates behind you, not littering, and respecting the environment in general.
Avoid riding alone whenever possible, especially if you are an inexperienced rider or if your horse is new to the trails. If you must ride alone, let someone else know where you're going and when to expect you back. Always wear proper riding gear, including a safety helmet, and carry a cell phone (preferably with global positioning capability) with you in case you get lost or need to call for help.
Competitive trail rides are typically sponsored by a riding club or organization. They average around twenty-five miles in length (which is about five to six hours of riding) and are judged. You wear a number and have a time frame in which you can complete the ride, although these rides are typically not won or lost on time. Judges are situated at key locations along the trail and rate your performance over a given obstacle — crossing a creek, a wooden bridge, a low jump, and so on. When you finish the ride, a judge usually examines your horse, checks his heart rate, looks for saddle sores, and determines how well your horse was ridden within the level of her fitness and ability for the ride. These rides can be a lot of fun and are often great for those who not only like to compete but also like to be somewhat solitary and don't enjoy performing in front of an audience.
Endurance riding takes competitive trail riding to the next level. Endurance trail rides usually average 100 miles in length, are spread over a longer period of time, and involve more challenging obstacles and terrain than the local competitive trail ride. Time is a huge factor in winning, as are the physical conditions of you and your horse. Terrain can include rocky slopes, mountain ridges, and large, deep rivers. Like competing in the national horse show circuit, you should be at the top of your game for this type of horsemanship.
If you're interested in endurance trail riding, check out the website