Conditioning the Endurance Horse
A Guideline for Beginners
The following program is a hybrid of the various training /conditioning tips for starting a horse in endurance / distance riding.
Rule #1 Make sure your horse is old enough by checking the rules of the organization for which you plan to compete, and the the rules for the distance which you plan to compete.
Rule #2 Is your horse suited for the goal you are aspiring to? If you have a goal of completion only or miles only the heavier built breeds will serve you well. If you want to chase points, and compete for faster and faster times, start thinking about owning an Arabian, 1/2 arabian, Anglo Arabian, Morab, or other light breed horse. The conformation of the horse should be correct from the hoof up. Meaning a sound and healthy horse.
Rule #3 A distance horse is not born overnight. A distance horse is not born in a year. A competitive athlete will take up to three years to build with LONG SLOW DISTANCE and slow gradual increases of speed. Mess your horse up the first few years, and you may be looking for another horse due to injury or lameness issues.
Rule #4 Feed the horse for the work you are asking for avoiding high sugar content feeds. Research feeds for endurance and performance horses and supplement with a good quality grass hay.
Rule #5 Make sure your horse has any vaccinations, Coggin’s testing, required for the places you will go. Policies may vary by state, or by destination. Know the rules and handle these issues ahead of time.
Rule #6 Condition, condition, condition! I’ve seen a lot of training programs out there that say ride almost every day. Then I speak to people who are doing the endurance thing and they have jobs, family, and other commitments. Many are riding their horse’s for conditioning two or three evenings a week, and once on the weekend. I found riding Puddin’ that you can “over train” the horse. Watch the horse's weight, attitude, and overall appearance. If the horse starts dropping weight , looking dull, or becomes resistant to going out on trail, then something is up. Pay attention! Note any equipment that rubs, any soreness of the mouth, back, and pay close attention to condition of the hoof, and legs. Feel the horse's legs by sliding your hands down the legs after each ride. Soon you will know what feels right, so that you can detect a change quickly.
Start off with slow mileage of about five miles per ride, three days per week. Do this for about a month. Each day you ride add a little more trotting until by the end of the month your horse can pretty well trot out for five miles.
Keep your two week day evening rides to about five to seven miles, gradually working up to extending the trot. Your third ride of the week should be some long slow distance at greater mileage. Week one ride eight miles on the weekend. Week two ride 9 miles on the weekend. Week three ride 10 miles on the weekend. Week four ride 12 miles on the weekend.
Continue your two evening per week schedule at seven to eight miles, while increasing the amount or the speed of trotting. On your weekend ride bump up your distance to about fifteen miles, then eighteen miles, and finally twenty miles of long slow distance with some intermittent trotting.
Learn to rate your speed. If you are high tech, use a GPS to learn to rate your speed at about 6 mph. Know what it feels like. For us low tech types (that would be me), measure off a six mile trail, or find a six mile training loop and finish that six miles in an hour. This should put you at a pretty steady trot that is consistent with completing your first distance ride.
Learn to take your horse’s pulse. Note your horse’s pulse rate after completing your six miles, wait ten minutes and take the horse’s pulse again. Keep a little notebook and see if the horse is improving by watching the drop of the heart rate. If you are lucky enough to have a heart monitor, you may want to record the recovery time. How long after you stop does it take the horse to reach a set baseline pulse. (ie., 60 bpm in 10 minutes vs. 47 bpm in 10 minutes tells you your horse is achieving a better recovery). If your recovery rates are failing to come down, take a look at your overall training program and determine what new strategy might enhance your horse’s performance.
Enter your first 25 mile LD with a mindset to finish. Ride that ride at your horse’s training pace. Try not to get caught up in the race……first time out, better to leave at the back of the pack, it is very easy for the new horse or rider to start running with a group and over ride the horse. Don’t do it! It can take up to three years to really build a horse that has bone, ligament, muscle, heart and lung capacity to run at the front. In the beginning think of racing only against yourself and the trail. Maybe first time on that trail loop your time was six hours. Next time try to decrease your time by five minutes, or ten minutes. Keep a log of the distance ridden, and the time to complete. This will tell you if you are gradually improving. Somewhere along the way you will find your comfort zone, be it as a front runner, middle of the pack, or the turtle who likes to enjoy the view on each trail, stack up their mileage, and shoot for only good completions.
My knowledge is limited to my own experience and my own horse. For other training and conditioning plans please visit the following links:
You are only about twelve weeks away from your first distance ride if you already own a well broke, healthy horse. What’s keeping you?
Ride on ~Endurance Granny
Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance
Favorite Links for training, gear, and memberships!
- National Association of Competitive Mounted Orienteering
- HOW TO CMO
- What is CMO?
- Old Dominion Endurance Rides
- Renegade Hoof Boots
- Riding vs. Racing a discussion with the Duck.
- Trumbull Mountain's INTRO TO ENDURANCE RIDING
- Principles of Conditioning
- Conditioning the endurance horse by SERA
- Short Article: Feeding & Training the Endurance Horse
- Feeding the Endurance Horse, Swedish Author
- Preventing Dehydration In the Endurance Horse, Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association
- Jim Holland's fantastic training links here!
- South Eastern Distance Rider's Association