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What The Heck Is Ride And Tie?

Photo: Anna O’Brien

Tired of relays with people? Add a horse.

Maybe you’ve done it all running-wise. Trail runs, hill repeats, fartleks, track workouts—name it, you’ve done it. It’s time for something new, something unique—maybe something involving leather? If you’re up for a challenge, the sport called Ride and Tie might just be for you.

Two humans and one horse—that’s a team for Ride and Tie, often described as a cross between trail running and endurance riding. As one person rides, the other is on foot, alternating riding and running to cover distances between 20 to 100 miles, depending on the race. Sound like fun? Let’s ride.

First things first: You do not need to own a horse to participate in this sport. Many beginners are non-riders, drawn to the sport through friends. It’s a seasoned mentor that turns city slickers into Ride and Tie junkies. The Ride and Tie Association is the premier organization in the U.S. that organizes races and training practices. The organization also works to pair beginners with a mentor to help guide them every step of the way.

“You don’t need to be an expert rider in order to do Ride and Tie, but you do need to know the basics,” says Melinda Newton, a newcomer to the sport from Yuba City, Calif. “Some riding lessons and choosing the right mount can put you at the start line of a Ride and Tie faster than you think.”

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At the start of a Ride and Tie race, the horse and rider pair runs off, leaving the runner behind to catch up on foot. Ahead on the trail—usually one to three miles in front—the first rider dismounts and ties the horse to a tree, then takes off running ahead. Meanwhile, the initial runner catches up to the tied horse, unties it, mounts up, and continues on, this time bypassing Runner #2. This leapfrog maneuver continues until all three members cross the finish line. Although not required to cross simultaneously, most teams like to finish that way—makes for better race photos.

“You need to be comfortable running and riding on trails,” says Ben Volk of the Ride and Tie Association. “Your skill level as a rider really depends on the horse.”

New riders are usually advised to run at the start and not ride, as the hectic pace of the starting line can excite horses, making them difficult to control. However, once the field spreads out, the pace settles down to—hopefully—your predetermined strategy. Most teams pre-plan how far the horse/rider pair proceeds prior to switch-offs. If one team member is a stronger runner, that person can cover more distance on the ground than on horseback. “This unique combination of both physical and mental stresses within the framework of both a teammate and animal bond is what makes Ride and Tie so addictive,” says Melinda.

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Minus a horse, there’s little else to drag along to a Ride and Tie event (most of which have cheaper entry fees than half marathons). “As far as equipment, all you really need is running apparel, a helmet, and a hydration pack or water bottle,” says Volk. “Most teams run a fleece cover on the saddle so you can just ride in running shorts and regular shoes.”

You might think the transition from hoof to foot is tough, but instead, most Ride and Tie devils are found in the details. “The most physically challenging part is mounting,” says Newton, recounting her first race. “I ran up to the horse, huffing and puffing from the exertion of running up a hill. Mounting, there was a moment where I was suspended in the air, head hovering upside down at the horse’s shoulder. I think the adrenaline from running was interfering with my ability to mount efficiently.”

Ride and Tie races enjoy a spectrum of competitiveness, from the low-key local races to the annual World Championship where competition is fierce. Perhaps not surprisingly, the sport is also known to be highly addictive. “I enjoy the exhilaration of running down a wooded trail, jumping onto a 1000 pound horse, and trotting or cantering forward to catch up with my partner,” says Volk. “Going from a runner’s high to flying down the trail on a horse is hard to describe, but once you’ve experienced it, you’ll want more.”