One of the most difficult problems with understanding conditioning and horsemanship in general, is there is no way to quantify the vast differences in the art. My conditioning course is about 9 to 12 miles depending on the loops I add. It is all hills and rough terrain, so there is no way to compare that to 12 miles on a flat road or track.

There is an old adage in sports; you practice harder than you play. I think that is even truer in horsemanship. Your conditioning process should exceed what you ask your horse to do in a competition. It that is not true, then you are telling yourself that winning is more important than the horse.

When you are building a campaign horse, then you conditioning trail has to be more difficult than you competition or normal riding. There is no logical reason to think a horse conditioned on flat smooth terrain will be able to traverse rough hilly terrain carrying a rider and not injure himself.

The other part of this, the rider’s seat is critical. If you cannot ride the course in balance with the horse, then the rider weight will accelerate the injury rate in rough terrain.

Description of a Campaign Riding Course

By W.G Langdon jr



Cross country riding at the gallop over a certain kind of course is a very fast way to achieve an excellent seat. The certain kind of course needs to include a good set of moguls (8 foot ruts) and some good up and down hills. This may not be available to you in your area, but is worth trailing some place to do this a couple times a week for a summer. I don’t know anything that will make you a better rider and learn faster than this.
Let me explain further. This is an old program used by the cavalry units around the world, over the years past to teach troops to be combat ready. The U.S. and Mexican Cavalry used Polo and Cross Country courses to teach and keep the riding skills of all the troops proficient. We have an old fort near our ranch that still has the rolling hills (denuded of trees) where the recruits rode up and sown the hills at flank speed to learn how to ride, and the polo field is not a track and football field.
For myself, after years and years of all kinds of riding, I developed a course and it did a great deal for my skills.
I found it by accident as I endurance trained horses and the trail had these special features. It was about 14 miles long and I used to take 2 or 3 horses to lean along with me on each ride. The ground was sanding and packed with our any rocks or chuck holes. The first 2 miles were flat, and then into rolling hills, eventually the trail came to a very steep bank that went up a great mound of hill that looked like a gumdrop. It was a struggle for the horses to gallop to the top, and then it dropped off just as fast as it had come up. The trail was smooth and just like a roller coaster, down you would go then up again. The horses loved these hills and would easily get out of hand racing up and down.
After leaving the last hill, it dropped away fairly steep and over a bank where a road had been cut into the side of this ling smooth hill we were coming down. This bank was 4 to 5 feet high onto the road, and then there was a three foot drop. But there was a ditch on that side and the horses, after learning the trail, would jump it with great enthusiasm and drop off the road and down the steep hill. Holding those charging horses, lead ropes and riding at the same time always gave me a super charge about the same as the worst roller coaster I’d ever been on. But it was teaching me to ride or crash and lose all the horses. This covered a run of maybe a quarter mile.
Then the road weaved through the trees like a lazy river and up and down. This was also fun. Covering about another 4 miles the road crossed a highway and then dropped off down a long bank. Like going into a river bottom, eventually coming to a set of 3 marvelous moguls, but much bigger and steeper. They were like three gullies or ditches running side by side and about 8 to 12 feet high. Like three waves side by side. And of brother, was that something to ride over at a gallop. You no more went over the edge and down then in one stride you were going up again on the top of the next and the horses were sort of up in the air, trying to get the front end down, to go up the next one while the back end was still going up. These were the best riding educators I had ever seen. The motion of these horses over these was unbelievable. Up one side with a terrific thrust into the saddle, then as soon as you reached the top, it was drop off city and you were out of the saddle, practically straight down. Where the horse just dropped out from under you and you really had to grip to stay with him. Each one making it more violent.
After I cleared the moguls, it was a long slow drop off down a dirt road for about a mile, and then it went up a low bench, then down a narrow long path and made a 45 degree turn up a long steep bank of soft sand, called gut buster hill, for 150 yards. Here I would run the horses as fast as they could go for about 300 years to get up all the speed we could to get up the bank. They knew they were coming up to this hill and they’d run like crazy to get up steam to get to the top. The turn to make the hill was at the bottom and this always made the negotiations wild as heck trying to get all the extra horses around the turn at the same time so they weren’t pulling my arms off getting behind. Or wide or ahead. It took effort by the horses to run to the top and I’d watch them, their heads down their front legs all in unison driving up the hill, grunting, blowing like a wild chariot team, but so beautiful this close up. Every muscle and tendon showing though their hides, like Greek sculptures. This was the end of about a 12 mile run and I’d walk them the last 2.5 miles to cool them out.
(excerpt from W.G. Langdon book ride right.)