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Ride and Tie Equine CompetitionBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 7, 2005

The name “ride and tie” explains the essence of this interesting blend of running and riding. A team is made up of one horse and two humans. Races involve competition among several such threesomes. A race begins with one person from each team riding and the other running along the same trail. Riders pull ahead of runners, traveling several miles before they jump off, tie their horses securely to a tree or fence beside the trail, and set off on foot. The original runners catch up to the horses, mount up, and ride ahead, passing running teammates (the original riders) and leaving their horses at the next tie station. A team's finish time is determined when all three members cross the finish line, although they don't need to complete the race at the same time.


What happens in a typical race?

As in many equestrian sports, each event has its own flavor based on climate, season, terrain, and length of race. Races for beginners are usually in the range of ten miles, while more advanced teams tackle distances up to 100 miles. Trails may wind through open meadows, wooded areas, and rocky terrain. Abandoned logging roads can alternate with stream crossings and steep climbs.


A mass start is used, so the first part of a race is an exciting time as horses, riders, and runners try to go as fast as possible without bumping into other participants. Energy and enthusiasm sometimes combine to produce a loose horse or two, adding to the dust and congestion. Protective goggles and a bandana or dust mask are almost essential for at least the first two to three miles of many races.


Each team decides on the length of riding and running segments. Again, terrain and weather conditions must be considered so that each participant can maximize his or her strongest abilities. “Runners-who-can-also-ride” probably will choose to run several miles at a stretch, while “riders-who-can-also-run” are likely to opt for shorter on-foot sections and more miles in the saddle.


How are the horses selected?

Any breed or type of horse or mule can be ridden in this sport, but there are a few mental and physical characteristics to look for and some others to avoid. Arabians and Thoroughbreds are favored because they tend to excel at distance events, while their leaner bodies are efficient at shedding heat. Long-legged horses may cover the ground with less effort than pony-sized steeds, but when riders consider how many times they will have to mount and dismount during a competition, a smaller horse may be a sensible choice.


A calm temperament is important for the horse as well. The horse's day will involve a lot of excitement as he is ridden over new trails, tied in strange places, and then frequently left behind as other horses move on.


Unfamiliar horses and humans will stand near him, run past him, and possibly bump or jostle him at the start and along the trail. He will be ridden by two people whose weight, balance, and signals are likely to be quite dissimilar. In the midst of this confusion he must eat and drink when the rider wants him to, and relax to conserve energy while tied. He must be ready to take off again at a few seconds' notice—and also stand quietly to be mounted (very important!).


It goes without saying that any horse used for ride and tie must be in excellent health and good physical condition. Asking an unfit, overweight horse to cover ten, twenty, or more miles in a day is a recipe for trouble.


How is the horse cared for during the race?

Each horse's fitness to continue is evaluated before the race and at least once (often two or three times) at mandatory vet checks along the race path. Pulse and respiration rates are monitored, and the horses are encouraged to eat, drink, and rest. Any horse that is lame, sick, dehydrated, or nearing exhaustion is immediately pulled from the event. A final vet check at the end of the ride must indicate that the horse is recovering from exertion at an acceptable rate. At any stage of the race, excessive fatigue or distress in the horse is grounds for disqualification of the entire team.


What sort of training do riders and runners need?

It's not necessary to be an excellent rider, and many participants come to the sport with very little riding background. However, common sense dictates that a rider must be able to control the horse, especially during the start and at vet checks where many horses and riders congregate. At the least, riders should be able to help the horse by staying balanced, using the aids sympathetically, and knowing how to detect signs of fatigue or lameness.


For any race, simple mathematics dictates that each human team member will probably cover about half the miles on foot, though not necessarily at an all-out sprint. Regardless of pace, runners should be fit enough to complete the distance. Trail segments may include all types of terrain—up and down hills, through rocky areas, across creeks—so fatigue and lameness can be problems for humans on foot as well as for equine competitors. Walking is permitted, and may be the most sensible way to negotiate the trail in order to avoid falls or sprains.


Are there any particular tips or secrets for success in ride and tie?

• Pick an event that suits the abilities of the equine and human teammates. Races are scheduled from New York to California and are designed to cover a range of distances and difficulties.

• Identify your horse with distinctive tack, saddle pads, or grease-pencil markings on the shoulder or haunches. Sure, you know which horse is yours, but when twenty chestnut horses are tied along a one-mile stretch of fence, are you sure your riding partner will get on the right one?

• You don't want to ride a crazy horse, and you don't want a crazy person riding your horse. To avoid either situation, practice with your teammates before entering your first race. This might seem like unnecessary advice, but it's the only way to address important issues like temperament, tack preferences, stirrup lengths, and riding styles. Will your horse stand quietly while he's tied, both alone and in the company of other horses?


How will he react when a runner suddenly appears, unties him, and attempts to mount? Finding out before the race is the best way to ensure that everyone will enjoy the event and will finish safely.


How can I get started in this sport?

The Ride and Tie Association promotes the sport in the United States, publishes a calendar of events, and keeps annual point totals. The Web site at has a list of frequently asked questions as well as information on locating the closest ride. For ride and tie events in Canada, go to or type “ride and tie Canada” into a search engine. These associations will help you locate a mentor, someone in your area who can introduce you to regional participants and assist you in finding human and equine partners.


So check it out, saddle up, don your running shoes, and good luck at your first ride and tie!

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