Contact information:

Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

January 7, 2009

A question about cantering vs. trotting

I'll have to admit that I'm a little bit fumduggled on the issue of the rate and gait that is necessary for a reasonable finish at Limited Distance. If you have done limited distance I'd really appreciate some feedback as to your rate of speed on the average, and what gait is used most. If you respond please let me know what type of rider you are, forward and competitive, middle of the pack, or just happy to survive and beat the deadline? I've only attended 3 rides, and rode two of those. But I did notice that there were a lot of cantering horses, and fast finishing times. Yet, when I read about conditioning, training, and competing the literature suggests you trot, trot, and you trot as that is aerobic, while cantering is not. My mare seems much happier at the canter, but I don't want to do that if it is going to harm her in the long run. Thoughts? Anyone? My early goals are mid pack completions. I'd like to build up to being competitive by the time she is seven years old, though that will depend on if I can ride better, and if I get fitter through this process.



  1. Hello,
    I have ridden lots of miles and I hardly ever canter my horse in a 50 or a 100 mile ride/race. I have won the Tevis cup without cantering. You can see more at my site
    I don't like to ride in freezing cold so I live in California.

  2. I've done 5 LD's and 2 50's. The first 3 LD's were slow. I rode with Daunna Sellers and she is known for getting the Turtle Award. On a 6 year old Shagya Arabian mare that I no longer own.

    The first was Hoosier Daddy (not terribly hilly) in 2005. We started 5-10 minutes after everyone else. Walked, trotted, and cantered. But I think did too much walking. And we stopped at EVERY water stop for too long. (I know it's important to drink on the trail but not 5 miles into the trail in the morning when the weather is still cool and the horses just want to go!) We ended up finishing the ride but being about a half hour over time.

    My second LD was Big South Fork 2005. This time we started with the pack because I basically told Daunna that I was and if she wanted to ride with me she'd better come now. Of course she kept yelling to slow down. But we started out much faster and did our first loop coming in about the middle of the pack. But the second loop my horse was tired and we went a lot slower. Lots of walking and I walked her in the last 3 miles or so to the finish. We did finish within time and were about 3rd or 4th from last place. With a ride time of 6:18.

    Both of those rides my horse was completely barefoot. But by my 3rd LD I wised up and used Easy Boots on my horses front feet. This was KY Diehards the end of September 2005. Very hilly and rocky. We started late this time. We came in late the night before and my horse got kicked at and went thru our electric fence then thru the neighbors causing quite a ruckus. So we had to vet in the morning and start later. Also, my horse did not want to stand still for putting on the boots, and I wasn't as good at putting them on as I am now. So we struggled with that. I think Daunna used boots in the front for her horse as well. But about 2 miles into the ride one of my boots came off. Not easy getting an easy boot on a "hot" young horse at the start of an endurance race. But I finally got it on and they both stayed put the rest of the ride. The terrain was just too tough for us though. I got off and walked some of the ups and downs. It nearly killed us but we finished over time. My horse was the stronger of the 3 this time, if that is any consolation to me.

    Then I didn't ride in any competitions again until 2008. I rode my first 50 with Michelle Mattingley at Chicken Chase on her horse DS Aristoi. She told me at the beginning that she just wanted to use this ride as conditioning and that we were going to go slow. We started at the back of the pack. And started out trying to walk, or slow trot. Until she felt the horses were warmed up enough where we finally moved up to more of a working trot. But on every downhill we slowed to a walk. This was on the first loop and it was a long one close to 19 miles I think. On our last 2 loops we went faster. Trotted and cantered the whole way, except on steep decents and uphills then we walked. We finished in 16th place in about 6 hours 36 minutes. I just checked my record on AERC record to know for sure.

    My second 50 was at Dead Dog Creek in Illinois. Not a very hilly or challenging ride. Again the plan was to go slow. We finished in 7 hours 46 minutes near the back of the pack. We started at the back of the pack on that ride and had trouble right from the beginning. A naughty horse came bucking and plunged into our friends horse and sent her flying off onto the pavement. We took her back to camp and doctored her up. So that set us back quite a bit right from the start. We mostly trotted that ride with some cantering and just a little walking.

    My first LD with my new horse was at Scioto State Park in OH in September of 2008. I had been conditioning my horse very well over the summer. On hilly terrain. I knew my horse and my husband's horse were going to do fairly well before we went to that ride. (I didn't ride with Daunna this time) I rode with Laura Spinnette, and she rode my husband's arab mare. Laura and I started with the pack and somehow ended up in front after the first couple miles. And never saw anyone after that. We cantered a lot that first 4 or 5 miles. Then settled into a good working trot. Near the end of the first loop Laura fell off. So I stopped and got off and Jazz kept trotting down the trail. But finally we got her to come back! That was probably about the only time we walked that first loop. Besides down steep downhills (we're not the man from snowy river!!)We did the second loop at about the same pace. Jazz has a really big trot and Stormy has to canter to keep up with it. I let her. (maybe I shouldn't I don't know) but she seems fine with it. We finished first and second with a ride time of 3:44 for 25 miles. Each time we came in to the vet checks both horses pulsed in under criteria. With Stormy being a little lower than Jazz. (Also we had the horses booted on all 4's)

    My second LD on Stormy was Spook Run November 1st 2008. The plan was to go slower. Then we found out that Jazz had scratches and couldn't start the ride. I was going to do the ride anyways. But then Lois kindly offered her 50 and 100 mile horse, Tonka Toi, for Laura to ride! Laura and I started at a walk in the front of the pack then started trotting after a couple miles or so another rider was right on our heals so we moved up to a faster trot, and cantering for me and Stormy. Stormy got really mad when the other horse passed and Tonka really didn't want the other horse to pass so they took off galloping. Stormy was mad when I wouldn't let hergo with them. Although we were still doing a pretty decent canter. Those two ran on ahead of us for a while then Laura slowed down Tonka to ride with me and Stormy again. But we still kept up a pretty good pace until Stormy lost a boot. We stopped to put it back on. Then continued on but a bit slower. Laura wanted to catch the horse and rider that were in front of us but I didn't want too. I said Stormy was going fast enough. So she decided to stay with me. We came in after the first loop and Lois told Laura that the horse ahead of us took a while to pulse down and that she thought we could easily cathch her. I told Laura she could if she wanted too but that I wasn't going to worry about it and that to feel free to leave me alone on the trail. I knew Stormy and I would be alright. But Laura decided to ride with me. Stormy started out fine but got tired by the middle of the second loop. I realized that she was probably thirsty and knew I had to get her to drink at the half way point where there were water troughs set out. When we got to the water I got off her and took off her bridle and I didn't let Laura leave until Stormy had drink ALOT! (I give my horses electrolytes) We walked a good little ways after that then Stormy wanted to pick up the pace. And was strong again all the way back in. We trotted and cantered most of the way back. Again, except the hills. Where we would start out running up them then let them slow to a walk. Although Tonka could easily have galloped up every single one of them, she's quite a horse! My back boot fell off and I lost it about 6 miles from the finish. About 5 miles from the finish Laura took off cantering ahead of me and Stormy. She wanted to see if she could catch the first place horse. Stormy wanted to go with her but listened well to me and stayed at a slower pace. I figured someone would catch us but no one did. We ended up getting 3rd in 4 hours 8 minutes. It was a 30 mile ride.

    I'm no expert. I've seen this discussed on ridecamp, wether to trot or canter. And most people said that if your horse wants to canter and is used to it in conditioning that there is nothing wrong with it. So I let Stormy canter. I think she just hasn't figured out yet how to do a really big trot. Maybe when she gets older.

    Michelle Detmer

  3. I guess I never really said what kind of a rider I am. I thought about it and decided that I'm not competitive. I don't really care if I win or not. But I do like to go fast. I can't stand going slow on the trail, it just drives me nuts. I'm a fast walker myself, a fast driver, etc. I like speed. But I like my horse more and don't want to hurt any of the horses I'm riding. I just want to "move along" down the trail at a pace that feels right for me and my horse. If I end of placing well that's fine, but not neccessarily my goal. My goal is to have fun on the trail (which usually means going pretty fast) and finishing with a horse that is sound, happy and wants do do more.

    Michelle Detmer

  4. The best way to answer that is to do some rides and check her working HR during a canter versus a trot at various speeds. There is a sweet spot they reach where they drop 10 beats or more by going to a canter than if they were to stay in a trot.

    Some horses do really well at a canter - just build up slowly. I often count strides. Start out with ten or twenty at a stretch and work your way up. On some rides I remember riding Rocky on with great long stretches of good footing we would go 575 or more strides at once. I don't think Chief could do that though, just to compare. However, now that I'm riding him in Renegades he seems to be alot more comfortable and wants to canter more in a relaxed state which is great! I think he just doesn't like the restriction that boots with gaiters were giving him. It's a nice change. We may start cantering more on rides that have good trail for it!

  5. Thank you so much for adding our ride experiences. It gives me a little more confidence that my horse is doing okay. I'm just worried about over riding her. She's four, and will turn five about the time for her first LD. I aspire to be an LD rider, and I'd like to be competitive "someday", but in the meantime want to take care of my horse which is very FORWARD (Michelle can tell you that is an understatement). I'm quite happy at a medium rate trot, but this mare wants to run, and gallop, and when she trots she trots big 9-13 mph. Michelle should probably be riding my horse *LOL*

    Karen I appreciate the input. Maybe I can borrow a heart monitor and see where she pulses in better. I can tell you that she chugs right along and no huffing, panting, just cruises at the canter (though I am gasping for breath because I'm not used to riding fast). She also just seems happier cantering ahead of the pack. I'm trying to determine if I should just build her up and let her go, or keeping fighting her to hold her back which is kind of dangerous *LOL*!

    Potato Richardson, thanks for stopping in to my blog. I follow your Tevis rides, and had a great time with your DVD's. I can only dream of going 50 or a 100 miles in a day.

    One thing I can say about endurance riders is they are a fun loving and sharing bunch of people. That is what attracts me most to the sport. I sure like the people. ~E.G.

  6. Sorry this is so late! But I love your blog and I'm trying to catch up....

    I've completed 6 LD's. I am happy to finish within the time limit....

    Look up my ride record on AERC (last name faubel, melinda). Some of the finish times are not accurate (the time assumes a 1 hour hold when in reality it was 30 minutes etc.)
    Del Valle - I spent the entire time trotting, no cantering. It was a 30 and I ended up first. Don't ask me how. I did try and walk up and down big hills but my mare and I compromised - as long as I could sit the was a walk.

    Mariposa - Went as slow as I could - mostly trotting. Did do a wee bit of walking (~10 minutes total?). This ride had a 15 minute hold, but I stayed 30 minutes because the point was to teach her to relax.....

    4 days at Death Valley -
    1st day was walk/trot with ~75% at a trot. Course was fairly flat.
    2nd day - trot/a week bit of canter. A very brief gallop. A very tiny bit of walking. Course was more hilly.
    3rd day. Flew like a bat out of hell. 30% canter, the rest trotting (EXTENDED). Did more galloping.....
    4th day. Tried to trot....did more cantering. Footing was extremely technical this day with rocks and a pass....lots of single track. Walked ~2%, trot 60%, canter way too much.

    She finished DVE with more gas in the tank and the vet tried to convince us to elevate to the 50...(since the ride the fourth day was more like 32-35 miles).

    Hope this helps (but I suspect it's too much information :(